03 October 2012

Some practical advice...

In today’s Gospel we hear the words of Jesus to three men who said they wanted to follow Him. Jesus gives them some very practical advice, applicable to all of us who want to be His disciples.

As they were going along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." But he said to him, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." 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 9:57-62

To the first man, his advice was, "Before you follow me, understand that there’s a cost to it – after all, even the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To follow Christ is demanding, but the demands are high for our own good. A religion consisting of “the lowest common denominator” moves nobody. In fact, it can leave a person worse off than having no religion, because it’s quite possible to settle into a non-demanding sense of vague spirituality, something of one’s own making, with no demands, no real worship except towards oneself.

Jesus' words to the second man sound harsh, but that probably has to do with translating a cultural expression. In fact, there was a great possibility that the man's father was not even dead. What he was most likely saying was, "I will follow you after my father has died." This was an Aramaic way of saying, “I’ll do it someday; I’ll get to it later.” The point Jesus was making is that in everything there is a crucial moment. If that moment is missed the thing most likely will never be done at all. The man in the Gospel had stirrings in his heart to get out of his spiritually dead surroundings, but if he missed that moment he would never get out. This is a reminder to all of us, that we need to be mindful about putting off the doing of some good thing or right act until later. If we take one simple example - sometimes we think we should write a letter, perhaps of sympathy, perhaps of thanks, perhaps of congratulations. What happens if we put it off? Probably it’ll never be written. Jesus urges us to act at once, when our hearts are stirred.

Christ’s words to the third man state a practical truth. No ploughman ever ploughed a straight furrow looking back over his shoulder. Any farmer can tell us that. If we’re always looking back over our shoulder, we aren’t looking where we’re going, and in fact we can actually lose sight of the goal God has put in front of us. If we spend our time remembering “what it was like,” we’re in danger of missing out on “what is supposed to be.”