As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow You wherever You go.” But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay His head.” He said to another person, “Co me, follow Me.” The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.” Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow You, but first let me say good-bye to my family.” But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”Luke 9:57-62
No I don’t think Jesus is being too harsh. I would imagine that I telegraphed my intentions or the direction this would take yesterday when I included the excuses for not going to work and the excuses for not going to church.
Excuses, excuses, excuses:
The first candidate doesn’t offer an excuse, in fact he indicates he is willing to go wherever. Matthew tells us this man was a scribe (Matt 8:19). Scribes were part of the upper echelons of society, well paid and used to creature comforts. Jesus questions whether he is ready to follow Him. Are you willing to follow if it means you have to live like I live? I have no home as such. I have no pillow of my own, no place to lay my head. You will be constantly on the move, living “out of suitcases”. You won’t know where your next meal is coming from nor where you will sleep tonight. Can you handle that? It’s not about comfort, it’s about service. Can you cope with that? Still want to be involved in ministry?
Many people want to be involved with Jesus or want to do ministry. But they want ministry to include the creature comforts. Remember the Twelve have already experienced what is like to go out and minister and not know where their next meal was coming from. That was step one in discipleship training . Interesting that Jesus used the analogy of foxes and birds, both of which roam and only nest or roost for a moment and then roam again. The people of Nazareth drove Him out. He had to leave Capernaum because of opposition and now the Samaritans won’t accept Him. Are you sure you want this lifestyle?
I remember years ago when I was in Bible college and Jackie Pullinger, who wrote the book Chasing the Dragon, spoke at our chapel time and told us how many appear at her ministry centre in the Walled City of Kowloon, Hong Kong wanting to “do ministry”. They are keen to pray for the sick, heal the lame and restore sight to the blind. They are keen to preach and to lead and “minister”. When they were shown to their quarters they complained. It was not as they expected. It was too “down market”. It lacked certain creature comforts like hot water. Jackie was a smart woman and when asked by these potential “ministers” [diakonos – read “servant”] for a chance to help her and her team she would always lead them to the toilets and ask that they clean them. At which point they would protest that they were above such menial and disgusting tasks. Oh well you are not a minister of Christ then.
Let him who would be great in God’s kingdom learn to be a servant of all. With the first candidate, Jesus makes it clear what the basis of ministry will be. While there was no excuse offered by this first man, it is also fair to say he was not heard from again.
The first man came offering himself. The second man was asked by Jesus to join the disciples and become a follower. He effectively responds with “Can I take a rain check on that first, Lord?” Firstly . . . Lord. The two words should not be juxtaposed. First Lord I need to take care of something. It seems a perfectly reasonable request Ian. Come on the guy’s father has just died. Don’t be so unfeeling. This statement means far more than just going to the funeral. There are two possible meanings to this statement.
- He means literally he needs to go and bury his father. The father has just died and the preparations are now taking place for his interment. Just let me do that then “I’m your man”. But it is unlikely he is using that sense of the statement. If he were he would be at the funeral or involved in the preparation. He was not at the funeral or involved in the preparation for it. It most likely he is using the second meaning of this statement.
- His father is not yet dead but likely sick and they are waiting for him to die. Or it could even mean that he is getting on in years and this man will stay with his father until he dies, whenever that may be. This was also a euphemism or idiom for taking care of business. I have some stuff to deal with . . . My father used to say, “I have to see a man about a dog.” I have other priorities. The man has already prioritized his affairs when he said, ‘Lord, first let me . . .”
Jesus response is an interesting one. “Let the dead bury the dead. . . ” What does that mean? Only in Jesus’ case can the dead bury the dead in that only Jesus comes back from the dead. But He is not in the business of burying the dead, He is in the business of restoring life to them. What Jesus was actually meaning by this statement is clear by how the NLT translation has put it in our reading above. Spiritually dead. Let those who are spiritually dead take care of those who are physically dead or even spiritually dead. But let those who are alive to God’s Spirit take care of Kingdom business. Clearly this man was not alive to spiritual things. So Jesus allows him to make his own decision and stick with his priorities.
Be careful where your priorities lie because your priorities will take your life there too. Much to say on this topic but I will restrain myself. Keep the main thing the main thing. Suffice to add one more comment. Who is regarded as being spiritually dead? Is it the potential disciple or is it his father? Or both. In either case, it is best for the man to stay behind and take care of his business and leave the work of the Kingdom to those who have a heart for it and make it a priority.
The third person seems to have come forth of his own accord and said “Yes I will follow”. But there is that word “first” again. To follow Jesus, He must be first. Remember what I said a few days ago related to JOY:– Jesus, Others, You. Jesus is first. It is also clear that the intention here is no short trip home to say goodbye to the family. The sense is this may take a while. The construction is actually an idiom for “putting my affairs in order”. Tying up all the loose ends. There are a few things I have to do. It seemed such a reasonable request but there is more to it than what we first perceive. “You are Lord” doesn’t combine well with “taking care of my affairs”. To call Him Lord means to take care of His affairs. Each of these three people disqualify themselves because there are higher priorities than Jesus. Seek Him first and “all these things” will be added to you. Discipleship is spelled – JC 1st.
Jesus response is interesting too. The sense is of someone who has made a decision in the present but keeps looking back and doesn’t live up to the decision made. Imagine the result of ploughing and looking back. The ploughman must look to a point on the horizon and keep heading toward it or the furrow will be all over the place. Likewise this man appears to have made a significant decision but is now allowing other things to distract him from the goal. The sense may also be a longer term perspective than just the act of ploughing the field. Once the field has been ploughed, the seed needs to be planted, the crop tended, thinned, weeded and finally harvested. The one doing this work can’t be always distracted by the comforts of home and expect to get the job done.
In the last Gem I asked you the question: do you think all of these encounters with these people happen sequentially? One after another on the way to Jerusalem? The answer is no. Matthew has the first two candidates in Matt 8:19-22 but he doesn’t have the third one. That story Luke has plucked from somewhere else. But the interesting thing is that Matthew has the encounters with the first two people set while on the road in the region of Gadara. Luke takes them from that order and re-positions them here on the road to Jerusalem, while adding another similar encounter to the first two. This is planned. All of it is set in the midst of questions as to who Jesus is, demonstrations of His power and authority and finally His glory. A series of accounts of the disciples failures and then a call to discipleship followed by three examples of disqualification for discipleship. Do you think that was planned or co-incidental?
Ponder these things in your heart. Now you can see the excuses I used yesterday in the quotes section war indicative of what was to come.
- What excuses do you use in your walk with the Lord?
- Are there things you condone that disqualify you from service in reality?
- Are there matters that delay your obedience?
- Are there other priorities that you have set above Jesus?
Delayed obedience is disobedience.Ian Vail
If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way; if you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.Anon
When you stop making progress, you’ll start making excuses. When you stop making excuses, you’ll start making progress.Gery Ong
So sad to see people are busy making excuses instead of making changes. Your life won’t get better by making excuses!Jeffrey Rachmat
It’s amazing how we accuse in others, what we excuse in ourselves.Ian Vail
A lack of time is really a lack of priority. We always find time for the things we love.Paul de Jong
Your PRIORITIES are proven by your actions; not by your intentions. It’s time to let your life do the talking!Brian Houston
Be careful where your priorities lie because your priorities will take your life there too.Ian Vail