“As Jesus and his disciples traveled along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Human One has no place to lay his head.” Luke 9:57-58 CEB
The final paragraph of Luke chapter 9 focuses on three “potential disciples.” Each of these men offers to follow Jesus. Luke has each man give us one statement regarding his commitment. He then reports to us what Jesus had to say to each man in response to his offer.
There is something wrong with the commitment of each of these three men. The first of these appears to volunteer unconditionally. The second appears to have an emergency, which will delay his commitment, but just for a time. The third seems ready to follow Jesus immediately, but just wants to say good-bye to his family before he leaves. In each case, the commitment to follow Jesus seems sincere, and the level of commitment looks acceptable to the reader.
Jesus’ words in response to each man surprises and even amazes us. Why is He so discouraging to these men? What kind of discipleship does Jesus require? Taken together, the commitments of these three men and the correction of Jesus are very instructive concerning Christian discipleship.
The first would-be disciple approaches Jesus with what appears to be a very simple and unlimited commitment: “I will follow You wherever You go” (verse 57).
What could be clearer? How could Jesus hope for any better volunteer, any better “disciple” than this? But Jesus is obviously not satisfied, as we can see from His response: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (verse 58).
We need to remember that we can only observe “outward appearance,” while God “looks upon the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Jesus knows that this man cannot be a true disciple.
Even if this man’s commitment to Jesus would have caused him to go anywhere Jesus went, is following Jesus only a matter of geography?
This first man is someone like a person that is joining the army. He tells the recruiting officer that he will go anywhere the army will send him. But does this mean that the man is willing to give up his stylish jeans for a neatly pressed uniform? Is he willing to exchange long hair for a buzz cut? Will he submit to the rigors of boot camp? Will he take orders? Will he risk his life in warfare?
Jesus takes this man’s offer at face value. He will now put this man’s commitment to the test. Jesus says to him in effect, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. You say you will follow Me anywhere. I do not own a home. I do not even have a place that I can call ‘home.’ I do not even own my own bed. Are you willing to follow Me under these conditions?”
When this man talks about following Jesus, he is thinking about accompanying Him to this or that town. Jesus says, “No, following Me requires that you imitate Me in EVERY aspect of My life and ministry. It is patterning your life after My life, and that means much more than just being willing to move from one place to another, as romantic as that sounds.”
Jesus’ focus is on what one is willing to leave behind in order to go. Following Jesus requires leaving; specifically, it requires leaving home. Jesus is saying to this man, “You don’t really understand what you’re saying. In order to follow Me you must be willing to leave everything behind, even what you call ‘home.’”