Commentary on Luke 9:57-62
Today’s passage has to be seen in the light of yesterday’s. Jesus has reached an important stage in his public life and mission. He is now irrevocably on his way to Jerusalem and all that that means for him – and us.
But he does not want to go alone. His whole purpose is to have people go with him. Already there are his disciples but there will be more. Today we see three “candidates” coming forward with a lot of good will but Jesus makes them aware of what following him really means. Their responses to Jesus’ remarks are not given so we do not know whether they became followers or not. The point Luke is making is to show what following entails.
a. The first says very generously that he will go wherever Jesus is going. Jesus answers: “Foxes have their lairs and the birds of the air their nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
These words of Jesus indicate not poverty or indigence but freedom. To follow Jesus fully one needs to be free, not to be tied down by anything and not to be anxious about having or not having things.
There is no evidence that Jesus was poor in the sense of being deprived of the necessities of life. He did not own a house but it is never even hinted that he had to sleep out in the open air. He belonged to a group of people who more than willingly shared what they had with him.
b. The second man was actually invited by Jesus to be a follower. But he asked first to be allowed to go and bury his father. This does not mean that his father had just died and he wanted to attend the funeral. It is more likely that he wanted, as a dutiful son, to wait for his father’s death before going off with Jesus.
But that is not good enough. The call of Jesus transcends needs of family, tradition and culture. The needs of the living outweigh those of the dead. His father might not die for years; what was the man supposed to do in the meantime?
Once we are aware of Jesus’ call the only time to answer is now. In spite of that, we should not read these lines too rigidly. Clearly, for example, there would be times when one would want to be present at the death of a parent, especially to provide support for the grieving spouse. That would be in total harmony with respect for parents and love for the neighbour. But the man in the example is in a totally different situation. He is talking about an event in the future whose time and place are not known.
c. Another would-be follower asked first for permission to go home and say goodbye to his family. It was similar to a request made by Elisha when he was called to succeed Elijah as prophet. Elijah’s answer was, “Go ahead.” So what we have here
seems a very reasonable request but it is rejected by Jesus who says, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, looking back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Like Jesus himself turning his face towards Jerusalem and all that it means for him, once the decision has been made to serve God and his people, there can be no turning back. Again, the words of Jesus should not be taken literally.
Read in that way, they would be totally at variance with the loving and compassionate quality of Jesus’ character. The point that is being made in all three examples is the absoluteness, the unconditionally that is required in the following of Jesus. It is a theme which is emphasised more than once in Luke’s gospel. We cannot be fence-sitters, to have our cake and eat it. Being a follower of Jesus can never be a part-time affair. It is all or nothing. At the same time, the demands of agape-love are always there. It is a matter each time of discerning where the truly loving act lies.
If we are honest, a lot of us are like these men in our following of Christ and in the living out of our faith. We do have our material wants (distinct from needs), we feel we cannot live without “our little comforts in life”.
Let us pray today for a high degree of freedom in being able to accept unconditionally God’s will for us. To have that freedom is one of the greatest blessings and graces of our life.