At the end Luke chapter 9, just after Jesus has suffered rejection from some Samaritans and just prior to Him commissioning 72 disciples to expand His Kingdom, we have some pretty confronting interactions between Jesus and three of His would-be followers. Today I just want to hone in on the third.
Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” – Luke 9:61-62 ESV
To me, this man’s request seems quite reasonable, commendable even. After all, he just wants to go and say goodbye to the members of his household before leaving them behind to follow Jesus. I mean, what could be the harm? Although, I guess his close relatives might try to talk him out of it. “Just how well do you know this Jesus character anyway?” So Jesus’ response can seem complementary or harsh, depending on whether you decide that this man is a shining beacon or a cautionary tale. In any case Jesus’ point is not lost.
We can all imagine a farmer attempting to guide a plow while getting distracted by something behind him. We can also picture the crooked furrow he would leave behind and we can even anticipate the knock on effect of added difficulty for sowing and reaping. Or to modernise the image a bit, looking in the rear view mirror is handy when you are backing up your car but obsessing with it when you are moving forward is bound to end in disaster. Working for God’s kingdom demands we focus our attention on what is ahead, not on what lies behind.
Sadly, for some of us, following Jesus will mean separation or even estrangement from our families, though it is rare in western civilisation. Now that may seem like too steep a cost but we must weigh it against what Jesus says elsewhere, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). That is an exceptional return on your investment. A hundred times what you’ve given up, and life without end.
The passage in Luke calls to mind someone who infamously turned back in the Old Testament. She is slighted in the history of God’s people where her is name omitted. She is known only as “Lot’s wife” in Genesis 19. After being warned specifically not to look back or even stop (she was meant to be fleeing God’s judgment) she was drawn back to the fleeting pleasures of this life which incur God’s wrath. Her judgment was instantaneous as she was transformed into a pillar of salt. Which, I’m quietly confident, isn’t what Jesus had in mind when he said to be salt and light. All of us, then, are called to leave behind our old sinful way of life, of which we should be ashamed, but how does Jesus wants us to move God’s kingdom forward exactly? I think the answer comes just a couple verses later in Luke:
And he said to [his disciples], “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. – Luke 10:2
Earnest prayer to the Lord of the harvest. Primarily we move God’s kingdom forward on our knees. So, let’s pray.
Father, we eagerly ask You to propel forward-focused workers into Your harvest field. We are ashamed of our sin that provokes Your wrath and we thank You for Jesus who bore Your anger in order to shield us. Help us leave behind everything, including our sin, that prevents us from following Jesus wholeheartedly and may we never look back. When we have Christ we are more than compensated for anything we have to give up. We seek first Your Kingdom, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).