Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)
So, okay. I admit it. I broke the law. I was checking messages on my cellphone while driving home on New Jersey Highway 541 when the festive party lights of a Burlington City Police cruiser lit up behind me. After the pleasant formalities of license and registration, I confessed to the officer that my call was not an emergency. Fortunately, I was wearing my clerics, and the pious officer let me off with a warning. “It’s against the law to talk on the phone and drive, Father. You need to pay attention to the road in front of you.” He’s right, of course. I should’ve known better. Distracted driving causes accidents, and that means you don’t get to where you need to go.
Jesus is telling us something of the same message in the gospel appointed in the RCL for Pentecost 3, Year C (Luke 9:51-62). If you’re plowing and you’re looking behind you, you’re going to screw up your row or break your plow on the rock you didn’t see. This is the analogy Jesus uses for a would-be disciple who dinks around before making a commitment to be a true follower. And Jesus doesn’t have time for such a person.
No. In this lesson Jesus has “set his face” to go to Jerusalem. He’s on a mission, and the time of his passion is imminent. He has no time for James and John’s petty pique over the Samaritans who don’t share their religious views (vv. 54-56). He has no time for wanna-be disciples who say they want to follow him, but aren’t really committed to the hardships such obedient discipleship may ask of them (vv. 57-58). He has no time for those who make excuses before they make commitments. The time for discipleship is NOW.
I’ll admit that verse 62 sounds really harsh. In fact, depending on how you interpret “Kingdom of God,” it might almost sound like someone’s being excluded from Paradise: “Hesitate in your commitment to the faith..? Sorry. You’re not good enough for Heaven.” Taken like that, the verse is pretty damning.
There is, of course, another way to look at it. But that way is no less serious. What if we didn’t just assume that “Kingdom of God” is that place we go when we die? What if God’s kingdom is any place where God rules—where His divine law is heard and obeyed? What would that look like?
One thing seems clear to me: the Kingdom doesn’t look too much like the society in which we currently abide. This world doesn’t have much time left in which to make a commitment on the environment and the changing climate. If we dither around on equitable pay, social services to the poor, healthcare, or any other compassionate response to our neighbors in need, we are prolonging their suffering and delaying the Kingdom of God. The call for our involvement and our discipleship is not some time when it’s convenient for us. It’s now.
As I write this, America is preparing to celebrate her 243rd birthday. At the founding of our republic, a great patriot named Thomas Paine summed-up the need for urgency:
“THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
Indeed, this is no time for us to have our noses in our cellphones or be “liking” on facebook. Each passing day seems to bring about another church closure. Each day another child goes hungry. Each day the earth gets a little closer to being uninhabitable by the likes of us. Each day another kids goes to an underfunded school and comes home knowing nothing more than he did the previous day. Each day the interest is compounded on some young person’s student loan. The needs are enormous, and there is no time for angry rhetoric, no time for a lack of commitment.
Jesus, in our gospel, is calling us to be followers today. We are called to be involved in our church, our world, and in our own spiritual lives. Let’s keep focused on the journey ahead, and proclaim the Kingdom of God.
Thanks for visiting this week. I’ll catch you next time.