In blog posts on Luke 9, we have considered three questions so far. “Am I Radical?” , “Am I Following?” and “Am I Proclaiming?” We’ve looked at these teachings of Christ as Luke describes the movement of a group of disciples from Samaria to Jerusalem. We can only imagine what it must have been like to be in this group, and to realize that we have a chance to speak with Christ the Teacher. Now, let’s finish the journey by studying perhaps the most difficult verses:
61Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” 62Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Why are these two verses so troubling? I think it is only natural, as we all face the three elements of verse 62. Do I want to serve? Have begun to serve? Have I stopped serving? Oh boy, I am not fit to serve any more! Sadness, fear, uncertainty, or disappointment in oneself could follow.
Another point of concern is the apparent linkage of following Christ and not being a part of your family from that moment on. Christ’s response sounds harsh – are disciples not permitted to speak to their family? Are disciples not permitted to visit their family? Why is Christ concerned about a person following Him and remaining in the person’s family?
Let’s review the entirety of the passage again, briefly, so we can fully appreciate verse 62. Jesus has been transfigured. Christ has healed the sick. Jesus has predicted His death. Jesus is moving through a people group normally antagonistic towards Jews, and has experienced some hostility there. Jesus has prevented his disciples from acting in anger towards that people group. Now, he is on the way to His crucifixion, and leading a group of men who are declaring their allegiance to Him. In this context, Christ is speaking with individuals who make a discipleship decision – to follow Christ. Are we in that group?
Now, in verse 62, it is helpful to check the original Greek text verb tenses to understand the word picture in its entirety. The verb for “puts a hand” is aorist tense, a past complete action. The verb for “looks back” is present tense, a current continuous action. We see a one-time decision to believe in Christ, “puts a hand to the plow,” but a continuing action of “looks back” after that decision has been made. I wish we didn’t have to “look back” at Greek but sometimes it really helps!
We read in Mark 10:28-31 a heartfelt cry of devotion that mirrors the what we read in Luke 9, the man’s plea to go back to his family. The disciples lament, in a way, what they have done for Christ:
28Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!” 29“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Today our missionaries see what happens to families when individuals make decisions for Christ. Do their families come to rescue them from a “bad” decision? Do they leave their families? Are they shunned by their families? Can they return to their families, often hostile to our faith? And, to be more complete in our view of families and the person’s relationship with them after making a decision for Christ, we can look at Mark 5:19 where a man is told by Christ to return to his family to witness to them. In Acts 10:24 we also read of how a righteous man brings Peter to speak to his entire family, resulting in their salvation.
So, we can see in Christ’s admonition to this man who wanted to return to his family Godly wisdom and direction. It is not so much that Christ wants the man to leave his family, or to prevent him from witnessing to his family. But, it is that in following Christ, we are to avoid losing focus as we return to old ways, to old customs, and to old beliefs. We are to be new creations, to be His disciples!
A friend of mine was on mission in a developing nation, and was given the opportunity to plow a field just like they had done for hundreds of years. The plow was pulled by oxen, which were led by a young man. The plow had to be forced downward into the ground to bust the soil. That’s some hard work!
As my friend plowed, he naturally looked backward to see how he was doing. Before long, the plow was well off the intended line, and everyone was laughing at the result. We can laugh with my friend, as we think about what it must have been like to try something new. But, we can also see why Jesus chose this word picture for people who seek to serve Him. If we want to serve, if we take on the job for which He calls us, we can never lose focus on Him. When the plowman looks back, the results of his service are not what Christ intended. The furrow that is not straight can’t be used. The seed that Jesus wants to plant in that field can’t be sowed. And the harvest Christ hopes for must wait.
Let us not forget the work for which we are called (Luke 9:60). We are to plow a straight furrow in proclaiming the kingdom of God! Remember the meaning of proclaim — we are to make a loud noise about a kingdom that we belong to now, and that is to come in great glory in the future.
As disciples of Christ, let us focus on Christ as we plow, and never look back! Let us answer the question “Am I serving?” with a simple exclamation — “Yes!”