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 a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” – Luke 9
Once, right after I graduated from seminary, a farmer asked me what this passage meant. I gave a long answer about commitment and the cost of discipleship. And then I explained that all of us look back anyway, and that God still loves us. It was an answer that would have garnered me an “A” on a theology paper in seminary.
He looked at me a moment and said, “Hmm. That’s interesting. I guess I thought about it this way: when I start plowing a row in my field I pick out an object in the distance. All the way down I keep focusing on that object, and I don’t lose track of it. That way, when I finally reach the end of the row, I know it will have been plowed straight.”
In other words, figure out where you are heading, and stay focused.
The thing about Jesus is he doesn’t stand still. He isn’t a tree or fence post that doesn’t move. That means that at the end of your life, when you’ve followed him as far as you can on this side of existence, you won’t look back and see a straight line.
That’s all the more reason to stay focused. Every time we look back to what we’ve left behind, to the distractions that want us to give up and turn back, we risk losing sight of the one we are following.
Jesus is a tricky one to follow sometimes. He moves fast, and he goes to the places we don’t expect. That’s all the more reason to “keep our eyes on the prize,” and trust him to lead the way.
God, as I set out to do my work today, help to keep me focused and help me not to look back. Amen.
Emily C. Heath is the Senior Pastor of the Congregational Church in Exeter, New Hampshire, and the author of the forthcoming Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity.