June 27, 2010


No one who sets his hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God . – Luke 9: 62

This is one of those “hard sayings” of our Lord that we tend to gloss over nervously. Today’s Gospel reading seems to be an effort to make us realize just how radical the way of discipleship really is. First, we have James & John reacting quite humanly to rejection: they want revenge. Jesus rebukes them & provides an object lesson my simply moving on. In the Kingdom, revenge is not only out of place – it is counterproductive & destructive for the person who harbors such thoughts. His rebuke is aimed at their whole mind-set.

Then we have a set of responses to the call to follow Jesus. The first man says enthusiastically, “I will follow you wherever you go.” What this fellow does not know is that Jesus is on His way to His crucifixion. Has his unbounded zeal taken THAT into account? Jesus is injecting a note of realism into this man’s romanticism. No one who would join the Kingdom can ever find rest in the socially constructed world in which he or she lives. It involves a continual struggle to bring about a new understanding of God & neighbor & to create a society based on this new understanding. Any desire to follow Jesus must reckon with the difficulties of NEVER belonging to what appears the natural way, the way of creating a home on the earth as it is.

Another responds to the call affirmatively, but wants to allow a filial responsibility to take precedence. Burying one’s father would seem to be proper enough. After all, are we not commanded to honor our father & our mother? We assume that the death has just taken place, but that may not be the case at all. He may very well be asking to go back & be subject to his father until he dies at some indefinite point in time. Only then will his calendar be clear to follow Jesus. This won’t do for Jesus. Past commitments, even the cultural duties of sonship, can no longer have a hold on us.

Finally, there is the fellow who wants to say goodbye to his family before following Jesus. He’s not talking about a farewell party, but their permission to follow Jesus. We all seek the blessing of our loved ones, for their opinion of us is important to us. However, the Kingdom is about steadfastly moving into a future that people must desire more than anything else. Seeking permission avoids the question of personal decision. Our Lord wants a determined hand on the plough, not someone who is going to vacillate. My own father’s reaction to my announcement about going to seminary was unmistakably clear. He stated his opposition in terms I cannot repeat here. That’s when I decided I must be doing something right.

Notice how Jesus targets things we take for granted, ways of thinking that we assume are correct. He is trying to provoke us to a higher way of thinking. He’s trying to get us to think outside the box. Do not waste your time on revenge no matter how justified you may think it is; seek other opportunities. Do not daydream about glory; face the harshness of the path of love in an unloving world. Do not become committed to a way of life that kills the spirit & cloaks it in noble-sounding language; follow what gives you life. Do not always look outside yourself for permission from others; find your higher self. That is the challenge Jesus levels at us today. AMEN!