The Lord would have us fit for his Kingdom, and therefore He has some uncompromising words for us, so we can know how He would have us follow Him (Lk. 9:57-62).
It seems that many people today, even those who consider themselves believers, don’t think that there’s much we have to do in order to be fit for the Kingdom of Heaven. I remember someone telling me: “Why should I go to confession? I never do anything wrong!” As for me, I could probably say truthfully that in the past 60 seconds or so I haven’t done anything wrong, but I wouldn’t venture to go much beyond that. Many people have ill-formed consciences about what is right and wrong, but in addition to this they don’t seem to realize that the mind is a great arena of spiritual warfare, and we frequently have thoughts that are not up to the standards of the Kingdom.
Anyway, Jesus offers several areas for us to examine today. The first is that of detachment from material possessions or pleasures. When someone asked Him to be his disciple, Jesus responded in a rather poetic fashion that He was homeless, and that his disciples should not expect to be greater than their Master. Not that all Christians are called to be homeless, but we are supposed to be without attachments to material things, so that if we are called to renounce at least some of them, we will do it without hesitation and without regret. Having nowhere to lay one’s head is perhaps the extreme of non-possessiveness, but at least the ideal points us in the right direction. If Jesus and his first disciples could live in poverty, then we can at least be willing to renounce certain comforts or material benefits for his sake. After all, Christians are not supposed to worry about making themselves fit for life in an affluent society, but rather for life in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The next thing we have to be detached from is family ties and concerns, using the example of burying one’s dead relatives. Jesus’ teachings do not give us permission for neglecting responsibilities that belong to filial piety but are a call to order one’s priorities. Jesus made this clear in another place when He said that anyone who loves family members more than they love Him is not worthy of Him. He didn’t say, “don’t love your family members,” or “don’t help them when they need you”; He just made it clear that God always has to be in the first place of our love and devotion. In some cases, such as the call to the consecrated life, there is a more radical detachment from family ties and obligations, but this is a specific call to give up everything for the sake of the Kingdom.
Finally, in the image of putting one’s hand to the plow and not looking back, Jesus gives us the example of steadfast commitment, without second thoughts, without seeking loopholes, without indulging fond memories of the past or speculations on “what might have been.” Once Jesus calls us to follow Him and we decide to do so, we have to forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead, as St Paul says.
One commentary explains the passage this way: “As ploughing requires an eye intent on the furrow to be made, and is marred the instant one turns about, so will they come short of salvation who [engage in] the work of God with a distracted attention, a divided heart… The expression ‘looking back’ has a manifest reference to Lot’s wife… It is not actual return to the world, but a reluctance to break with it.”
So this means not only that we have to be focused intently and consistently on doing God’s will, but also that we don’t let other things claim our interest or attention, especially things that we might find fascinating but that we are commanded to avoid—like Lot’s wife curiously turning around to see the destruction of the evil cities when she was ordered not to.
It all comes down to what is really important to us. We say we are followers of Jesus Crucified, but do we still try to secure comforts or pleasures for ourselves, do we have to have our food just the way we like it, do we wish we could have certain things or experiences that belonged to a more comfortable time of our lives, do we miss certain things—whether legitimate or illicit—that are not compatible with the life of one who takes up his cross, do we ever resent the sacrifices our vocation demands of us?
We ought to ask ourselves these and similar questions, just to make sure that we are not deceiving ourselves, to make sure that our hand is really to the plow and we are not looking back. For anyone who has true faith in the Lord knows that there is nothing more important, nothing more worth all of our efforts, devotion, and sacrifice, than being found fit for the Kingdom of God.