JESUS TURNED TOUGH?
"As they were walking along the road, a man said to them, 'I will follow you wherever you go.' Jesus replied, 'Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place 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.'" Luke 9:57-62 (NIV).
I have deliberately not used The Message for my Bible reference today because the paraphrase misses the impact of Jesus' words. When you read this passage, does He not sound rather unsympathetic and off-handed? It is so out of character that we have to dig deeper into the meaning and impact of what He said to the individuals who wanted to follow Him.
At face value and in response to the first man who wanted to follow Him, it seems that Jesus was trying to put him off because the life of a disciple meant a life of poverty and deprivation. What a horrible misrepresentation of God! Jesus was neither poor nor did He call those who follow him to a life of poverty. He wore the outer garment of a man of means and status --a seamless robe. Wealthy women supported Him and He would have received offerings from people who followed Him and valued His ministry.
Hebrew people did not always take the words of their rabbis literally. They would have asked the question, 'What do foxes do in dens and birds do in nests?' They don't live in them; they reproduce in them. It was a rabbi's intention that his followers reproduce him in the way they lived and what they taught -- his yoke.
Jesus is the head of His body, the church, but the church had not yet come into being because He had not yet died and the Holy Spirit had not yet been given. On the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on the believers, the church was born and began to reproduce. Jesus was telling the man that he would have to wait until He, the head and the church, the body came together to become one so that He could begin reproducing Himself through people.
It is not clear why Jesus discouraged one and called another. Was it a test to gauge the sincerity and determination of each individual?
The second man had an excuse for not following Him immediately. It was not that his father's funeral was imminent. A year after a body had been placed in a tomb the bones were removed and reburied in an ossuary, a box in which they were stored to make room in the tomb for another family member. This man was waiting to place his father's bones in their permanent resting place, and that could be months away. He was putting off following Jesus indefinitely.
Jesus saw through his excuse and warned him not to waste his opportunity. Burying bones could be done at any time and by those who had no interest in following Him.
The third man had another kind of excuse. Going home to say goodbye to the family was not about giving each one a hurried kiss and then catching up with Jesus. It involved a long, drawn-out farewell, homesickness and regret and then trying to find Him when He has long since moved on.
Jesus is not interested in having people follow Him reluctantly with one eye on what they have left behind. He wants those who throw in their lot with him wholeheartedly without giving a thought to the family from whom they have walked away. Although family ties are precious and important, they must take second place behind our loyalty to Jesus because He calls us to participate in the life of a family far bigger and with a destiny more glorious than any earthly family.
Are you following with gladness or regret?
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