Sometimes the Bible can seem a little harsh. Every once in a while, I have to go back and re-read or research translations of verses that make me say, “Yikes!”
Luke 9:61-62 is one example. Here someone feels called and tells Jesus that he just wants to say good-bye to his family before he hits the road with Him. Jesus rebukes the follower with, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." In other words, “you’re on board now or you’re not. We’re plowing straight ahead. We can’t risk veering off because you’re looking over your shoulder. If you go back to say good-bye, you are showing me you are not devoted to moving ahead with me, so don’t bother coming back”.
Just before that in Luke 9:59-60, another follower tells Jesus he will be right behind Him as soon as he buries his father. Jesus replies, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” At first glance, this is pretty rough. I mean, Jesus really doesn’t let the son bury his father? Some believe the father wasn’t really dead. They think the son was actually explaining that he takes care of his father, but he wants to become a disciple as soon as his father passes away, i.e. when he buries him.
Any way we read it, the metaphorical brilliance of this quote is more obvious. Jesus is sending out disciples to preach the Word. He’s already spoken to the region where the young man’s father lives and He is ready to move on. If anyone who heard Him has not already chosen to follow Him, they have not been reborn and thus are still dead. At this point, Jesus is ready to take his disciples and plow forward. So let “the dead” bury the dead; or let the non-believers take care of themselves. “But (we will) go and proclaim the kingdom of God!”
This section of the Bible going back to Luke 9:57 is called, “the Price of Following Jesus”, and it is one of my favorite lessons. I read it over and over again while I prepared to answer my own calling and move to Guatemala. For a while, I was nervous that I was taking too long! Today, I understand that God was okay with me taking the time to pay off bills, say good-bye to the kids and give away some stuff. More importantly, I think I have a better understanding of how these verses relate to all of us today. And it has little to do with giving away things and moving.
When I read these verses now, I think of how Jesus could have wrapped it all up in a one-word command: “Choose”. Drop everything and follow Him, or don’t. Forget about everything you thought you knew, or don’t. Believe the Word of the Bible, or don’t. Love Him, or don’t. “Choose.” The choice to follow Jesus changed our lives, but it didn’t mean we had to lose everything we had and hit the road.
A while back, someone came up with a simple four-word question that softens this command a little: “What would Jesus do?” We can ask ourselves that question at every decision-point in life from, “should I let this woman take the last parking space?” to choices about abortion and adultery. And this is how the lesson of Luke 9:57-62 comes in to play in modern society.
The answers to many of life’s questions changed after we decided to accept Jesus as our Savior and follow Him. Decisions become simpler, but harder, with only two options. We need to choose.
This weekend, one of my daughters is getting married, so I am in New Jersey with my entire extended family and some other folks I haven’t seen in years. Last night, a bunch of us were together at the hotel bar laughing and having a great time. No one had to drive. No one had children with them. No one had to work the next day. Suffice it to say, there was plenty of alcohol flowing. And I was perfectly okay with that… for them. That was a choice they made; one that I probably would have made myself not too long ago. But one thing I promised God along my journey was that I would never get drunk again. So I had one beer right away and then laughed and joked and told stories for hours with diet cola in my hand. I must say that I had a blast. And I left afterwards feeling great and happy that I held up my promise to God.
Attitudes toward alcohol, drugs, pre-marital or extra-marital sex, using swear words, flirting, and “beating the system”- whether that means stealing or cheating somehow... these are just some of the things we may have had a completely different view on before we accepted Christ. Habits we got into over the years may have been curbed. (Praise God for forgiveness, right?) Now we think, “What would Jesus do?” For some of life’s tougher choices, I find it better to picture Jesus looking right at me and saying, “Choose!”
Christians are supposed to live to a different standard than the world at large. Jesus came down to us and showed us how to live. He inspired his followers to write the Bible for us. We can no longer think it is okay to follow the crowd. We can’t say the Bible is old-fashioned or out-of-date. We can’t go back to those who keep us from moving forward on the Path. We can’t jump off the Way to cater to the dead. All we can do is pray that someday everyone will wander back across God’s path and get another chance to make the choice we made.
What would Jesus do? Whatever that is, is okay by me.