Hello, and welcome to a new week of the STC podcast. My name is Casey Strine, I’m a member of the STC staff, and I’m excited to be sharing a few of my reflections on the Gospel of Luke with you this week.
This week we will be looking at materials from chapters 9, 10 and 11 of the Gospel according to Luke. This section includes a series of conversations between Jesus dealing with the challenge of following him and about prayer.
Today, we will look at Luke 9, verses 51-62, focusing on verse 62. This passage begins with someone—we are not told anything about them—proclaiming to Jesus that ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ This is a bold statement. We might expect Jesus to respond with gratefulness. And yet, Jesus’ response is nothing like that. Jesus reminds this person that he has no way of offering them a place to stay for he does not have a home himself.
Then another nameless person wants to follow Jesus—but after providing a proper burial for his father. This strikes us as a reasonable request, but Jesus rejects it as well. Instead of encouraging this person, Jesus says that his wish is just a distraction from the call to follow Jesus.
Finally, a third unnamed person declares their intent to follow Jesus after they have said farewell to her or his family. Yet another reasonable request, we might think. For a third time, Jesus condemns the request. Here, Jesus says just that ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom.’
Now, I don’t know anything about ploughing. Maybe you do—but I doubt it. Still, we can make out the basic principle in this, the clearest of the three statements Jesus makes: there are some things that can only be done with complete, total focus.
I’m old enough to remember when the first Karate Kid movie came out. It has a funny sequence where Mr Miyagi—the master—teaches Daniel—the student—to focus by challenging him to catch a fly with chopsticks. Every time he fails, Mr Miyagi reminds him ‘You must focus, Daniel-san.’ Who knows why this has stuck with me for decades, but I think of it every time I think about the need to focus totally on a task.
Jesus is not suggesting in this passage that there is no value in giving a proper burial to people or that saying farewell is a ridiculous thing. Rather, I think Jesus’ three statements seek to explain that following him requires complete, total, unrestrained allegiance. Following Jesus means deciding to hold everything else in life loosely.
This passages pulls no punches; it makes it very clear that following Jesus means giving the ultimate decision on things over to God. As Jesus says in the very last phrase, following him means complete focus on what will build the kingdom of God.
I understand that there is a woman called Marie Kondo who’s very popular now for her methods on how to tidy things up. I’ve never seen her show, but the rumour is she instructs people to only keep those things that bring them joy. People struggle with this at first, finding all sorts of other reasons to keep things. Once they start embracing it, ridding themselves of things that don’t really bring them joy, they clear the clutter in their lives.
This passage is a sort of Marie Kondo de-cluttering message for people of faith. Jesus says that anything in your life that does not contribute to building the kingdom of God distracts you from following him. The call to follow Jesus is the call to look at everything in our life—possessions, money, jobs, relationships, dreams—and ask ourselves, ‘does this contribute to building the kingdom of God?’ If so, we get to keep it; if not, then we need to set it aside in order to better follow Jesus.
Of course, this is a deeper way of asking the same question Marie Kondo asks, for all that we do to build the kingdom of God in this life will bring us joy, both now and in eternity.
READING: Luke 9:51-62
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’ But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’
Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’
He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’
But he replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’
Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’
Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’