“And another one said, “Lord, I will follow You, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at home.”
Jesus said to him, “Anyone who puts his hand on a plow and looks back at the things behind is of no use in the holy nation of God.” Luke 9:61-62 NLV
The third man says, “I will follow you Lord, but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family” (Luke 9:61).
This requested delay, in contrast to the second man, seems so trivial, does it not? Our response might be, “Well, sure why not, what’s another thirty minutes? No problem.” In the case of the second man, there seem to be compelling reasons for a would-be disciple to wait to follow Jesus until after the dead have been buried. In the case of the third man, the delay seems so minimal that it hardly appears to matter one way or the other. In fact, we find that when Elisha did just this, he was not condemned for doing so:
“…… he departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Then Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah, and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.”
And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?”
So Elisha turned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen and slaughtered them and boiled their flesh, using the oxen’s equipment, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah, and became his servant”. I Kings 19:19-21 NKJV
Jesus does not see it that way. He responded, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
Why does He say this when the man only wants to go back and say good-bye to his family? Jesus sets down a principle that every farmer would understand: You cannot plow a straight row looking backward.
If you want to plow a straight row, you must keep the plow lined up by fixing on some object ahead, and aiming toward it. Anyone who tries to plow while looking backward is in trouble. It would be similar to attempting to drive while looking only at the rear view mirror.
It is as though Jesus knows that if this man went back to his family to say good-bye, he would be talked out of following Him. His father might take him aside and remind him of his obligations to his family. His wife might remind him that she comes first and that he is making reckless decisions. His mother might start sobbing uncontrollably. It was not his going back to say good-bye that was wrong; it was that doing so would keep him from following Jesus.
After the Israelites were delivered from their Egyptian slavery, when things got tough, some of the people began to “look back” to Egypt, as though returning to Egypt would be better than going on to the Promised Land. They went so far as to talk of killing Moses and of appointing another leader who would lead them back to Egypt. When they looked back, their hearts were not fully committed to going forward. So Jesus seems to be saying that anything that turns our hearts from a full commitment to follow Him should be avoided, even though it may seem insignificant, even though it may look like the right thing to do.
I believe Jesus knew that this man still had a yearning to stay home, rather than to follow Him.
Later, Jesus tells His disciples, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters -- yes, even his own life-----he cannot be My disciple" (Lk 14:26). Jesus is saying in the strongest possible terms that following Him must come before every responsibility we have -- even those which we hold sacred (1 Timothy 5:8).
For most of us, our call to follow Jesus does NOT mean we have to physically leave our loved ones. But we may need to leave them behind spiritually in order to follow Jesus.
The problem is that this man was really looking for an excuse not to follow. He wanted to keep his options opened. He undoubtedly loved Jesus but he loved his family more. He is the distracted disciple who gets real excited and devoted for a short time and then you do not see him for a while. He is off involved in the latest trend or some other emotional moment.