Summary: Jesus did not present a rosy, unrealistic picture of the Christian life. In Luke 9 we encounter 3 potential recruits. Jesus appraises their resolve, exposes their excuses, and urges them to consider the cost of discipleship
It’s Career Day at the high school and a small crowd is gathered at the Army’s booth. A Recruiter tells the students about field duty in the winter, eating MRE’s, family separations, grueling physical exercise, frequent moves, and the likelihood of war…and pretty soon he’s standing alone. The challenges of military service are mentioned by honest recruiters, but they tend to focus on the more positive aspects of Army life!
Jesus did some recruiting, and He did not present a rosy, unrealistic picture of the Christian life. In our reading we encounter 3 potential recruits. Jesus appraises their resolve, exposes their excuses, and urges them to consider the cost of discipleship…
The first recruit (57-58) is caught up in an emotional burst of zeal and thinks he’s ready to follow Jesus wherever He goes! Jesus’ reply is, in effect: “Oh, so you’re eager to follow Me? Maybe you should know where I’m going first!” There was no room for Jesus at the Inn at Bethlehem, and things didn’t improve much when He began His ministry in Galilee. Those who go on the road with Him won’t likely have the material comforts they’d prefer.
“The Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” Jesus is saying that nowhere on earth is our true home. Our security, our citizenship is in Heaven. Jesus does not guarantee His workers a minimum wage, a comfortable standard of living, or a short work week. The retirement benefits, however, are out of this world!
This self-confident recruit had no inkling of the way of sorrow and death Jesus would follow. “To follow Me,” Jesus is saying, “may involve feeling like a homeless wanderer, enduring hardships and suffering rejection…so count the cost!”
Are we defined by our faith, or is faith merely an aspect of who we are? Does Jesus have preeminence or is He a minor part of our lives? Someone confessed, “I didn’t know the teaching of Jesus Christ was for all my life, not just the “religious” part of it.” If Christ is not Lord of all, He’s not Lord at all.
The second recruit (59-60) is also not quite ready to report for duty: “Lord, first let me go bury my father.” He claims he’s willing to follow Jesus, but something is hindering him. He wants to postpone his recruitment. The U.S. Army allows for delayed entry, but not the Army of God. Jesus has higher terms of enlistment.
This excuse seems reasonable, but there’s more to it…In the Middle East it was (and still is) the custom to bury people quickly, within 24 hours, then to observe 30 days of mourning, and then a year later, to re-bury the bones in an ossuary, a small coffin. This recruit’s father was likely still very much alive. Otherwise his son wouldn’t be standing there, talking to Jesus! He would have been home with the mourners. His father may not have been in the best of health, but could well have had several years left in him. This reluctant recruit didn’t want to be far from home.
The issue here one of priorities. The urgent business of discipleship is about life, not death. Many scholars interpret our Lord’s response as meaning “Let those spiritually dying bury the physically dead.” To follow Jesus means that even the closest family ties may have to be set aside. Jesus cannot accept half-hearted devotion. Elsewhere He says that our love for God should be so great that it makes love for parents seem like hate by comparison. Jesus is not telling us to neglect our parents; He is urging us to put the Kingdom of God first. Oswald Chambers warns, “Beware of anything that competes with your loyalty to Jesus.”
The third recruit (61-62) tells Jesus, “First let me go back and say goodbye to my family,” which seems reasonable…but Jesus wants this recruit to follow without delay. No reservations, no indecision, no hesitation. Who knows what might happen at home to deter him from returning? Elsewhere Jesus tells His followers, “Salute no one on the way,” which has nothing to do with soldiers saluting. To “salute” means to give a “salutation”, a greeting; to stop and talk. Jesus is saying, “Don’t let anything distract you—go now, without delay, and proclaim the Gospel. Don’t stop to chat.”
Discipleship is giving all to Christ and Christ to all. John Calvin stated, “My Christianity can make a difference in others’ lives if I allow it to be the ruling force in my life.” We sing “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” but do we mean it? The cost of discipleship means obeying God’s will rather than our own. Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously stated, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” We surrender our plans when we take up the Cross. Nothing should keep us from our high calling as followers of Christ. Jesus is telling this third recruit, “Don’t look back; don’t hang onto the past; seize the day.” C.S. Lewis noted, “How little they know of Christianity who think that the story ends with conversion.”