As Jesus and his disciples were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’
I will follow you wherever you go. How often have you made a promise on that scale? You have, in the heat of some highly charged emotional situation, committed yourself to a course of action that could bring about profound changes for the rest of your earthly life. Many people make just such a commitment when they exchange their marriage vows with the person they are committing to love, honour and protect for the rest of their earthly lives. But, many make such life-changing promises in other less carefully considered situations.
In this short passage from Luke’s gospel, we are being warned of the danger of making rash promises, and we are being warned that following Jesus is not an easy path to travel. Yesterday we considered the disciples’ argument over status, today we are being presented with other pitfalls that can hinder our journey of faith.
The making of promises is something we all do all of the time. Sometimes they are promises that will change our lives for ever, if we can bring ourselves to honour them. Other times they are minor commitments that may give us a moment’s peace from feelings of guilt or inadequacy. Far too often, when we look back, we will see that we are like those who made their excuses to Jesus for not immediately following him. In the fifth chapter of Luke’s gospel we hear of the call of Levi. In that brief account we read of the tax collector’s response to Jesus’ words: Follow me. Levi, we are told, got up, left everything, and followed him. Whether you read these words in the original Greek or in a modern English translation, they are the same. Levi got up, left everything, and followed him. Today we read of a very different reaction to the call of Jesus; we read of the making of excuses, of the erection of barriers, of doing anything other than fully committing to faithful discipleship.
As when we make excuses for not fulfilling promises that we have made, the excuses sound completely reasonable. In fact, Jesus paints such an unattractive picture of discipleship that, perhaps, we should not be surprised at the reactions of those he has called. However, we are in a different position from those in the gospel narrative. We know what will happen to Jesus. We know of the reality and the power of the resurrection. We know what our reaction should be to Jesus’ words: Follow me!