This is our third mediation on freedom in the ninth chapter of Luke’s gospel. Today, we’ll look at verses 61 and 62.
Here we have someone else whom Jesus has invited to follow him. And what does he say?
‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say good-bye to my people at home.’
I will. But not right away.
Wait a minute. This is Jesus he’s talking to, not just any itinerant preacher, of which there were many at that period. Jesus has already displayed his power and his eloquence publicly. It may not be clear yet who Jesus really is, but that he is an exceptional human being, a healer, a genius and a prodigy – that is already clear enough. And the man has responded positively to Jesus – ‘I will follow you sir,’ he says. Something about Jesus draws him. But, our man is also cagey, skittish. I will come, but not quite yet. I must just touch base with the people at home.
But, why is he stalling? Why go home? There doesn’t seem to be any crisis there. There is no indication that anyone at home is dependent on him. So this is something he needs to do, for emotional reasons of his own. Is it that he needs the affirmation he receives from his friends and loved ones and he can’t quite bring himself to cut those ties? Is it that he cannot bring himself to enter into the unknown by following Jesus? Or perhaps he just wants to make sure everybody knows he’s leaving so that they can throw a going away party for him.
Read it again – ‘Let me go and say good-bye to my people at home’ – and there is more than a hint of emotional possessiveness implied in this sentence. My people. Those who have known me ever since I was so high. They are mine. And I am theirs.
There is also more than a touch of arrogance evident in the man’s response to Jesus. He, in effect, puts Jesus ‘on hold’, and expects Jesus to delay his mission from the Father to suit his personal agenda. This all smacks of a petty power struggle. ‘I’ll follow you, but I say when’, he seems to say.
Jesus doesn’t descend to a tussle about power. Instead, he simply goes for the jugular and says,
Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.
Jesus isn’t talking about farming here. He has sussed that emotional issues are enchaining the man, and so Jesus freely admits that there are emotional demands involved in work undertaken for the kingdom. It is one thing to have a generous impulse and to say, ‘I will follow you,’ to the Lord. This requires almost nothing of us. And, it can even give one the slight high that comes of being able to say that one meant to do this excellent thing, one certainly intended to do it, if only one had not been prevented by circumstances totally beyond one’s control.
But what about really following Jesus? Really to do so, and to confront the long haul that this involves – this is to accept very real and long term emotional deprivations on the level of our relationships. The demands of the kingdom, and the itinerant nature of the apostolic calling always comes first. And, the sad fact of the matter is that people at home will get on with their lives without us. Our relationships must all be re-thought. The love of the Lord must outrun every other love.
If only our man today would take this plunge! Luke doesn’t tell us the end of the story. But perhaps we know what can happen. The man will discover that if the love of the Lord does outrun every other love, then every other love will gradually fall into place. But this may take time. His hand will be on the plough and the field to be turned will seem at times to stretch into infinity – which, in fact, it does.
If that happens to us, it is then that we may begin to look back. This is the point at which we must realise that we are chained to our old relationships, and our way of life that we knew before we met Jesus. We are not free. But Jesus asks us to become free in respect to our past life and our past loves, and to follow him into a new life and new and deeper loves.
In these lines from Luke’s gospel, more than one level of freedom is indicated. In order to lay claim to our freedom, we need to become autonomous concerning our comforts, our parents and our past life with its intimate circle of friends and loved ones. The ties that bind us to these things are very strong, and usually quite knotty, as anyone knows who has begun the process of disentanglement from them. But Jesus is always there, and he will show us the way to freedom, if only we will continue to follow him.