As they 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, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet 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 his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
(Luke 9:57-62 ESV)
Have you ever seen a bird building a nest? They pick a likely spot and then literally build their nest around them. A nest isn’t a place where birds live. It is a place where they will lay their eggs and wait while they hatch. A fox’s den isn’t the place where foxes live, it is a place where the mother fox will have her pups and wait until they are weaned. Nests and Dens are primarily places of protection from predators. Their purpose is not to provide a place to dwell, but a place to hide.
If you listen to the financial planning commercials advertisers put on TV and radio at certain times of the day, you will hear a very persuasive case being made for the now-grown kids of elderly parents to develop a financial plan for mom or dad so they can shelter as much of their parents’ assets as possible. The purpose is not so much to take care of mom or dad in their old age, it is to keep the inheritance in tact for your old age.
One of my favorite tear-jerker movies from the 1990s was Mr. Holland’s Opus. Maybe it is because I am a choral conductor, but for a long time I wanted to be Mr. Holland. Oh, I didn’t want to go through the pain of watching some of the kids I was teaching die, or having a difficult family life, making hard choices, navigating school politics, or experiencing unfulfilled career expectations. I just wanted the massive party at the end. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if one day all the people I ever touched with my life got together and performed Handel’s Messiah (since I’ve never composed anything) as a tribute to me?
In the passage we read in Luke, the lesson really isn’t aimed at the three people he meets on the road. The lesson isn’t for them. The lesson is for his disciples who are watching the whole thing unfold. The question is, “what does it take to be a disciple of Jesus?”
When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he’s telling anyone who cares to listen that, for a disciple there can be no present protection, no future plan, and no past glories. Discipleship is a life of action in which the disciple follows the Master with determination. Luke 9:51 says that Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. This was going to be dangerous, it was going to be costly, and it was going to be lonely.
In preparing the disciples for the journey ahead he needed them to know that security simply isn’t a word Christians need in their vocabulary as they follow Jesus. We live “zwichen den zeiten,” as the Germans say. We live between the times. And there is no earthly security for followers of Jesus between his first and second comings.
Those who follow Jesus also cannot and must not develop complex five and ten year plans. The man who wanted to wait to follow Jesus until he had buried his father was really suggesting that there could be a future ministry “some day,” but now was not a good time. To say, “when I retire I’d like to get involved with the poor” is to say, “one day I’d like to write a book.” You know you’ll never do it, but it sounds like a great thing for your bucket list. Disciples don’t have a bucket list. They only have now. “The Future” is a term Christians don’t need in their vocabulary as they follow Jesus.
Finally, followers of Jesus have no laurels to rest on. To spend the rest of your life looking back at the halcyon days of your church or your ministry with misty eyes hoping someone will throw you a Mr. Holland’s Opus party when you reach 65 is to totally shift the focus away from what Jesus is doing. With Jesus, there is no “was.” There is only is. Besides, he isn’t doing that (whatever it was) now. He’s moved on. He’s on his way to Jerusalem. Tearful glances at yesterday? “Yesterday” shouldn’t be in a Christian’s vocabulary either. You can’t follow Jesus and hang onto yesterday.
C.S. Lewis said, “He has paid [you] the intolerable compliment of loving [you], in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense,” and has further demonstrated that love by asking, not demanding, that you follow him where he is going. What present safety; what future possibility; what past glory is a fair exchange for that love?