Following Jesus?

By Pastor Jerry Donovan

We live in a results-oriented world.  Everything from education to performance reviews at work to government projects are evaluated based on “objective measurement.”  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  We need more accountability these days, and the tools that measure results can help with that.  But we seem to think that everything in life can be measured by objective outcomes.  I am afraid that approaching the Christian life from the perspective of looking for results may be setting us up for serious disappointments.

I believe that Luke 9:57-62 has a lot to say about our expectations concerning the decision to follow Christ and what that means for us.  It’s a story about three would-be disciples who met Jesus.  The first volunteered, saying “I will follow you wherever you go” (Luke 9:57 CEB).  Sounds like the ideal candidate.  But Jesus seems to be aware that he doesn’t really know what “I will follow you wherever you go” means.  It means “not having a place to lay your head,” Jesus says in verse 58.  It appears that he may have had some kind of expectation of a payoff for following Jesus, and Jesus bluntly confronts him with the truth that his expectations are totally unrealistic.

J esus invites a second would-be disciple to follow him in verse 59.  This prospect simply asks permission to bury his father.  It seems to be a reasonable request, because in that day and time, the obligation to see to the proper burial of parents was part of fulfilling the commandment to “honor your father and mother.”  Jesus responds in a way that seems quite harsh.  He said, “Let the dead bury their own dead. But you go and spread the news of God’s kingdom” (Luke 9:60 CEB). Many biblical scholars continue to debate what Jesus meant, but I believe that the commitment to seek first God’s Kingdom is essential when deciding to follow Jesus, and that decision must outweigh all other priorities.

  A third would-be disciple also volunteered to follow Jesus in verse 61, but asked permission to first go and say goodbye to his family.  This seems to be another reasonable request.  Elijah allowed Elisha to say good-bye to his parents when he chose him to be his disciple while he was plowing his field (1 Kings 19:19-21).  But  Jesus says to him, “No one who puts a hand on the plow and looks back is fit for God’s kingdom” (Luke 9:62).  Perhaps this young man was looking for some kind of recognition from his family because he was going off to be a disciple of the Messiah.  It’s very difficult to say.  What is clear is that all three would-be disciples decided not to follow Jesus.

T he message of this unusual story is that following Jesus means the Kingdom of God takes priority over everything else in a disciple’s life.  Following Jesus means giving yourself away without thinking about rewards and recognition.  It means serving those in need of compassion, justice, peace, and freedom simply because it’s the right thing to do, without expecting any payoff.  If anyone approaches this call looking for a reward, or a payoff, or recognition, Jesus warns them to do themselves a favor and not start something that is going to result in disillusionment and bitterness.

It means that the Kingdom of God takes priority over everything else.  It means working for compassion, justice, peace, and freedom simply because it’s the right thing to do.  It means giving yourself away in service to others without looking for a reward.  Giving something away without expecting anything in return isn’t very popular these days.  But it is the heart of Jesus’ call to follow him.  The question is whether we will follow, or simply walk away like all the other would-be disciples.