Today, we continue our Lenten study of verses which are confusing, offputting, and downright weird with Luke 9:57-62. I’ve always found it very odd and, well, even kind of rude.
Jesus has been telling people, “Hey, I am the path, follow me and find yourself, save the world and end global warming.” Well, okay, perhaps I exaggerate a little, but basically, he’s feeding 5000, he’s turning water into wine. He’s being just fabulous.
We get to this passage though where he is on the road from one place to another, and there are three exchanges between him and potential disciples.
The first man says to him, ” I will follow you anywhere.” Jesus says, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest his head.”
Non sequiter, much?
Maybe not. Jesus tells the man that even he has no home (a prophet in his home town gets no respect, etc), gently cautioning the man that if he follows Jesus, he too will likely find himself not just without a house – but homeless. I don’t think Jesus refers only to a physical roof over his head. I think He means two things: first, that if you attentively try to use our skills and gifts where they are needed in this world, you may find that you have a migratory life. A life of service may lead you many places, and in some of them, you may not be welcome. You may always feel like a stranger in the land. One should not expect a safe and comfortable life should one follow Jesus and His teachings. Something to keep in mind before one commits to this path.
We don’t know if this first man decides to follow Jesus or turns back.
The next is even stranger. It is initiated by Jesus himself, who turns to a man and invites him, asks him to come with him. It’s an express invitation for this man’s presence. The man replies, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
By calling him ‘Lord,’ we know that this man acknowledges Christ’s position and identity. But he hesitates anyway and says, “Let me do this thing first.” He tells Christ to hang on a second. And it doesn’t seem like a harsh request – he wants to bury his father. One could say that he’s following the commandment to honor his father and mother by ensuring that these last rites are observed.
I don’t think the caring for the father is the issue here – I think it’s because he told Christ to wait. Not just that, but to wait for something whose status could not change. His father is not coming back to life (he isn’t Lazarus), he’s not sick and might get better, he’s not tending sheep and waiting to be invited himself. His father’s life is over.
I’ve always taken these verses pretty literally (which is always silly when reading the Bible), and because of this found them rather harsh, because Jesus says to the man, “Let the dead bury the dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
I’ve always assumed that Jesus meant it literally — forget about that dead guy at home and just push forward. But, I think I was wrong. I think Christ is trying to say, “Let what is over be over. Don’t keep trying to live now in what is too late to change. Unless you yourself want to give up really living in the presence/present and stick yourself in the past which cannot feed you or comfort you or offer any hope, let what is done be done.”
Jesus doesn’t say “don’t grieve” or “your dad was a jerk.” He reminds the man to focus his attention on life instead of death.
We also don’t know if this man continues to follow Jesus, or if he turns back.
The last exchange is the most bizarre. This man runs up to Jesus and says, “I’m coming with you, I just have to go home and say goodbye to my family.”
What’s wrong with this? He’s saying goodbye to his family and coming right back. No big deal.
Except for what he is not doing: he isn’t going back to try to bring them with him. He keeps one foot with his family, whom he leaves behind (so he can have somewhere to return to when things get rough?), and then the other foot with Jesus – when he gets around to it, that is.
So he isn’t properly committed to either his family or to Christ. He won’t be able to be fully present for either. One can see how this isn’t going to go well. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but eventually one part of his desires is going to backlash against the other, and he’ll likely end up losing both his family and his faith. That’s the way it works when you try to walk both sides of a choice.
So Jesus says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Again, this sounds rough, as if he says that this guy just isn’t good enough. But those aren’t his words. He uses the phrase “fit” for service, which isn’t the same as good enough. It’s more like able-bodied, durable, suited for, able to handle it, and so on. And Jesus doesn’t say anything about which choice this man should make – my inferring the condemnation is MY reading. The actual words written down refer to divided loyalty.
Divided loyalty – or trying to serve two masters – will make a person unable to keep going through the long haul.
Again, we don’t know if this man stayed or left.
So Christ cautions us with three pieces of useful information:
1. Don’t expect to have a comfy cosy life with a big TV and an iPhone. You might, but your skills might be needed somewhere else, doing something else, and it might not be so luxurious. Just an FYI.
2. Live with the living. Don’t tie yourself to what is past.
Now, at some point, I want to return to this, because I think it leads into an important conversation about forgiveness – and not the forgiveness of others. The forgiveness of ourselves. If we withhold forgiveness for ourselves, we continue to live in our past actions, repeating the regret and the sorrow, which is a kind of death in life. So keep that in mind, and we’ll come back to it at some point.
3. You can’t divide your affections and devotions. It is not wrong to love your family or your work, but you cannot fully relate with and to God if you only do it on a part-time, if you like it you’ll do it, attitude. You lose it all that way.
That’s a lot for today. I know I need to pray and think on it more.
Good luck and God bless you and yours as we try to find our way through this life with meaning, compassion, and purpose.