As they were going along the road, someone 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, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus[c] said to him, “Let the dead 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 a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
- Luke 9:57-62
I love reading stories of people who gave their whole lives to Christ. They are heros, in my mind. Dorothy Day, Corrie Ten Boom, Martin Luther King, Thomas Merton, Mother Teresa... I could go on and on. They all said Yes to God, and meant it. They, like the disciples, left everything and followed Jesus. It's awe inspiring.
And sure, they weren't perfect, all you have to do is read an autobiography or two to realize that most people don't give up their humanness just because they've said yes to following Jesus. We can see that even in the lives of the apostles! But still, dropping everything and taking up a new vocation, knowing that following means suffering, following means rejection, following means sacrifice- it's a big step of faith!
It's not difficult to see why the people in the passage above, the 'would be' followers of Jesus needed a minute. All they wanted was a farewell to the old life; time to get their affairs in order before they committed to following Jesus to Jerusalem. Understandable, for sure.
To our ears, it sounds as if Jesus responds harshly to each of those "wanting" to follow. 'Why so unsympathetic, Jesus? Shouldn't we be able to say our goodbyes, to bury our dead, to want some type of closure before we drop everything to follow you? And, can't you let us know where we will be going, so we know what to expect, just so we can pack correctly, or prepare for the journey, or at least have that last...(you can fill in the blank with your vice of choice) ... before we start? Gimme a minute, Lord! I just want to finish up here first. Then I'll be ready- Ill be all yours. '
It reminds me of starting a fitness challenge. How many Decembers have we said, "I'm starting on January 1. No more sugar, no more drinking, I'm going to work out every day, join a gym, cook at home, all healthy, all the time." And then quickly think, "Hmmmm, so until then, I can have the rest of the Christmas cookies, finish the wine or that last pack of cigarettes, and continue binge-watching that show on Netflix."
Sound familiar? We often think in terms of black and white, all or nothing, failure or success. Especially when it comes to ourselves: we've either done well, or not. We're good or bad. In or out. Positive or negative.
We know it's not helpful to think that way; we know deep down that we are not either all bad or all good, that life is about balance, and grace. But that means most things are more grey than we'd like to admit, and that's not how we're taught to live- we're supposed to jump in with both feet- and "just do it."
I don't believe that Jesus was chastising or trying to discourage the people who sought to follow him. On the contrary, I believe he was letting them know that the God life is one that embraces the wholeness of life, in all of its ambiguity, and all of the grey areas. That we don't have to wait, or get our affairs in order before we decide to follow God, because God is already IN all of our affairs. Once we decide to follow, our awareness of God's presence in every area of our lives becomes clear. Every area of life becomes an opportunity to worship. Every action becomes a chance to glorify God. Every word, every thought, every prayer, becomes a gift of praise.
Following Jesus is not like a fitness challenge- you don't have to finish up anything, or wait one more minute to start. And the best news of all? You can't fail at following Jesus. Sure, you'll have set backs, and slip ups and times you feel like you've absolutely done the wrong thing. But you will not ever fail. How do I know? Because the God who calls your name, and promises to be with you and cherish you until the end of time, never fails; and loves- you no matter what.
Take a step of faith! What would you do today as a disciple of Jesus, if you believed you couldn't fail?