The Cost of Following
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
June 24, 2022, Words By: Ron Ruthruff, Image By: Zoe Pappas
A few years ago I heard a friend of our community, James Alison, say Jesus becomes like us and dares us to become like him. Those words struck me and stuck with me. I haven’t heard of a more costly invitation. In this passage, Jesus seems to get things straight about what it means to be like him: the cost of following him.
I love how our text begins with a clarification. The disciple’s request for divine destruction of the Samaritan town recalls an old testament story of Elijah. But Jesus is clear, calling fire from heaven is not the way of discipleship. He then begins to differentiate his story from revenge toward cultural enemies. And he reframes family obligations in light of a faith journey that doesn’t look back but lives in the urgent vulnerability of the present.
Our gospel text mentions two family obligations: the desire to bury a loved one and the desire to say goodbye before departing. Both of these echo Elijah’s call to discipleship for Elisha (1 Kings 19:19-21). It’s as if Jesus is reinterpreting how they understand the prophetic lineage in light of following him.
In these family references, we also see a foreshadowing of Luke 14. There, the disciple is asked to hate his father and mother and to follow Jesus.
I don’t think Jesus wants us to hate our families, to leave without saying goodbye, or to literally let the dead bury the dead. But the hyperbole does serve as a deeper invitation — to reorient our allegiance, expectations, and identity. Where is it that you get your ultimate needs met? Who tells you who you are at the deepest level? Do you run home for those things, or do you run to Jesus?
Jesus’ exaggerated points all seem to ask the disciple to reconfigure relational connections. Following Jesus involves reconsidering where we once formed identity and made meaning.
Verses 57, 58 and 62 help frame this invitation.
When a disciple says, “I will follow you wherever you go”(v.57), Jesus responds with, “I don’t even know where I am sleeping tonight”(v.58). Translation being, “We’re not looking into the future here.” But later Jesus also tells them they shouldn’t look back from the plow, a clear reference to the past.
Looking forward raises anxiety about the logistics of the coming evening. Looking back with nostalgia or regret lets our “then and there” get mixed up with our “here and now” and impedes our discipleship.
Jesus’ invitation seems to be firmly established in the present — the chance to live in an eternal and vulnerable now.
As Linda and I began a life together, we moved into a home in a diverse and vulnerable neighborhood. We couldn’t afford much, but the 1947 rambler that originally smelled of cat urine and nicotine was beginning to feel like home. Shortly after our move, we received a letter from a friend. he talked about his justice work in the city, and he assured the reader that: his kids’ education was not compromised, his home was far enough away to provide a refuge, and his wife continued to “fill their home with love and order.”
Linda began to cry as she read it out loud. My insecurity as a husband, a dad, and a homeowner immediately instigated a series of questions: Should we move? Find a better house? Better schools? Time for Linda to “fill our house with love and order?” My insecurity about the past and uncertainty about the future led me to try and take control of the present. In a way, it was my version of calling down fire from heaven!!
But Linda was much more attuned to Jesus’ path in that moment. She gently answered, “Where else would we go?” Linda reminded me of all the beauty in our neighbors, the community, and the 1300 square foot home we were able to purchase.
Borrowing desire from our friends cluttered my vision with false nostalgia, misplaced regret, and unnecessary anxiety for the future. It diverted my eyes from God’s beauty and grace that we had already begun to see in our neighborhood.
Linda remembered that following Jesus feels like a liturgy where beauty was bound to both affliction and a community that is linked by a shared sense of vulnerability. To have an imagination for the Kingdom here and now meant we needed to meet Jesus in this moment.
Jesus is looking for disciples who no longer call down fire from heaven. He’s looking for followers who begin to discern in what ways we must leave our families — leave how they define us, protect us and even paralyze us. He is calling followers that let go of a past filled with false nostalgia, and also release their projections of the future. Instead, he invites us to live in the honest acceptance and vulnerability of the present. He became like us, and he dares us to become like him.
Dwelling Among Us
How is Jesus inviting you to live in the honest acceptance and vulnerability of the present in your own life and and context?