I’m not a huge basketball fan, but over the last couple of years Doan and I have watched the NBA finals. I’ve been disappointed by the outcome both years, if only because I tend to like Kevin Durant and Tim Duncan more than Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. LeBron James is probably a perfectly nice guy, but he comes off a bit entitled, a bit whiny. It’s hard to question his work ethic, though, his commitment to the game. LeBron once said that “Commitment is a big part of what I am and what I believe. How committed are you to winning? How committed are you to being a good friend? To being trustworthy? To being successful? How committed are you to being a good father, a good teammate, a good role model? There’s that moment every morning when you look in the mirror: Are you committed, or are you not?”1
Today’s Gospel lesson from Luke is a study in commitment. “When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem,” Luke tells us, meaning that when Jesus discerned that it was time to physically head toward the Cross, He committed to physically getting there, He set His face toward Jerusalem, toward His own death, toward seeing His Father again.
Along the way to Jerusalem, Jesus meets up with a few souls on the road, and they are curious encounters. “I will follow you wherever you go,” says one man, but Jesus seems to dissuade him, saying, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” Another man came along and Jesus said, “Follow me.” But the man said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” “Leave the dead to bury their own dead,” Jesus said, “but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home,” said another, but Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Scott Hoezee asks “Why would Jesus scare off one man by promising him a homeless existence? Why would Jesus seem so brusque toward a man whom he himself called at the same moment the man was sunk deep in grief over a dead father? Why would Jesus refuse so much as a familial farewell for the final fellow? It all seems rather over the top. Surely we are not to conclude from these verses that followers of Jesus may not sleep in their own beds at night. Surely we are not to take away from Luke 9 the idea that funerals (if not grief over dead loved ones just generally) are forbidden to followers of Christ. Surely we are not to conclude that loving our families and having normal attachments to them count as disqualifying looks back from the plow when it comes to” doing the will of God.2
Surely not. But knowing the hearts of those who came before Him, Jesus lets them know, to their faces and in real time, what will keep them from following Him. “The first case is that of inconsiderate impulse, the second that of conflicting duties, the third that of a divided mind”.3 I always liked the ploughman reference; the “agricultural proverb is as old as Hesiod (the Greek poet who was a contemporary of Homer, about 700 B.C.). Pliny observes that the ploughman who does not bend attentively to his work goes crooked.”4
And so we come to understand that from each, including us, comes impulses, priorities, nagging issues that keep us from following Jesus the way we should. I’m as guilty as anybody; fifteen years ago I would say things like “First I’ll make some money, then I’ll go to seminary.” The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. “No, not all believers are called to leave family and home behind, but some are. William Willimon says that while he was Dean of the Chapel at Duke for many years, he received any number of complaints from parents but many of those complaints all boiled down to just one complaint. His phone would ring and the parent on the other end of the line would say, “What did you all do over there at Duke? Our daughter went to school to become a research scientist but now she says she is going to become a medical missionary to Haiti. You ruined her life. Why did you do that!?”5
Why? Because Jesus is Jesus. There’s no other reason. Nothing else cuts it, not altruism, not charity, nothing. Jesus set His face to Jerusalem, He committed Himself to the Cross, and He bids us to come along. What is it that is keeping you from following Him?
2Scott Hoezee, This Week
3Robertson’s Word Pictures