I am about to make an assumption: I assume that Lot’s wife was not turned into a pillar of salt just because she looked backward. I think the whole of Genesis 19 is about Lot’s family struggling with letting go of their life in Sodom. I mean, for crying out loud, the angels had to physically drag Lot and his family out of the doomed city. Yes, they were told not to look back. I don’t think this command was about forbidding a curious glance at the devastation. I think God was telling them, “Quit longing for the life you know here; the friends; the relative; the bustling city life; the degradation.” A relationship with God should hold priority above all other relationships. And sometimes that is easy to see like in the case of Lot’s wife. Sodom was a horrendous place, all full of ugly abuses of dignity. And yet all of them seemed to cling to the life they had made there. Sometimes this is not as easy to see like when Jesus says “Let the dead bury the dead.”
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem; to rejection; to death. He is traveling the path of obedience to the Father. Luke 9:57-62 is about that journey. So, as Jesus and his disciples are journeying along, a certain person said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Through the years this passage has been applied to preachers. Nice dodge. This is about a person who is offering to be a disciple, a follower. All who believe in Jesus are called to follow and following is not a walk in the park (unless you are thinking of the Garden of Gethsemane – it is a walk in that gloomy park). Notice that Jesus doesn’t just accept the offer with a slap on the back and a “That’s great! Come along as we sing ‘We’re Marching to Zion!’” Nope. He tells them about how the foxes and birds have places to rest, but that the Son of Man doesn’t have a place to lay his head. Is this literal? I think Jesus rested. Some people have made a huge deal about Jesus being homeless. Well, maybe, but I don’t think that is his point here. He is journeying to Jerusalem to pronounce that the Kingdom of God is breaking into reality. That message, and therefore, Jesus, will not be popular. Jesus is, in effect, saying, “Will you really follow me anywhere I go? Because I am on the path to being rejected and killed. I can find no rest from this path. I have set my feet on this path of obedience.” God’s path is not a path of rest. It is a path of movement; of following; of death.
Then Jesus said to another person along the way, “Follow me.” It is a call to be a disciple. This person responded with a request to be allowed to bury his father. Burial was an important responsibility. It fell upon the son to bury the father. One source permits a person who has the duty of family interment to not pray the Shema; to not observe anything commanded by the Torah. For the Jewish people burying the dead superseded everything else. This would have been a reasonable request. Jesus responded with “let the dead bury the dead.” As you can imagine this has generated a lot of discussion. How can the dead bury the dead? I mean they’re dead. They can’t really do anything. Is he suggesting that the spiritually dead should bury the physically dead? But does that suggest that the spiritual person doesn’t have physical responsibilities? Whatever is decided here, the main point is that the path of Jesus – the relationship to God – holds priority over everything else. When there is a conflict in responsibility, obey God! Jesus is not saying that physical duties are wrong. It is a question of priority. Jesus’ path is the most pressing duty.
Another person comes along and offers to follow, but wants to go back to his family to make final arrangements first. This was granted to Elisha when Elijah called him to prophetic discipleship. But Jesus’ path is more pressing than that of Elijah. Jesus ends the segment by quoting a familiar parable. If you throw your hand to plowing, you are not going to look back. Looking back results in crooked furrows. The person who was plowing usually set his eyes on something at the end of the field. The path of plowing is about progressing on – not glancing backward. Don’t cling to family so tightly that you miss the path of being a disciple of Jesus.
Are you journeying with Jesus? The word “follow” can have the idea of accompanying on a journey. This is not a call for a select few – the ordained clergy. This is a call to all who believe. Set your hand to the plow, set your eyes on the one who has gone on before you, and proceed forward. If you are a disciple, your duty to Jesus is greater than your duty to your spouse, your children, your country, your pets. Nothing should overshadow your responsibility to God. This may be difficult, but anything less would result in a division of loyalty. Press on as you journey the pressing path of obedience. Peace, Walter