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That’s not very Pastoral, or is it?

Suppose a friend relates to you a story, saying, “My pastor comes up to me after service one Sunday and asked me commit to serving in a church ministry, and to regularly attend small group, and be consistent in my attendance at Sunday service”.

And your friend tells his pastor, “I would like to do all that, but as you know, my children are young and family obligations make it very difficult. I feel that it’s important for me to attend to them for now, and once they’ve grown up a bit, I’ll do so.”

To which the pastor replies, “That’s not a good enough reason. Do it anyway, do it now.”

How would you feel about this pastor?

You might say, “Wow, that’s not a very pastoral response”. Meaning that shepherds should be sympathetic to the pressures and demands in the lives of their members, be cognizant of the many hats they wear, and to sensitively balance that with their church obligations. After all, isn’t caring for one’s family a foremost Christian duty?

It’s hard to argue with that.

Which is why when you listen carefully, the things Jesus says can be very surprising.

In Luke 9:57-62, Jesus encounters three individuals. It is not conveyed as a parable, which meant that these interactions really took place.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

The first man is a pastor’s dream come true. Without any urging, he eagerly volunteered to follow Jesus. But rather than praising his attitude and holding it up as an example for the rest of his disciples, Jesus appears to attempt to dissuade the man from discipleship!

That’s not very pastoral, is it? Now I’m no veteran pastor, but my advice to Jesus would be to encourage the man instead, to fan the flames of his enthusiasm rather than risk dousing it.

The Lord Jesus, however, wants to make it clear that following him is not going to be a bed of roses. In fact, there might not even be a bed at all! It’s a counter-intuitive to contemporary evangelism.

59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”

The second man is called to follow Jesus. He calls Jesus “lord”, meaning he means to obey, but before that, he must first bury his father. Now, the rite of burying one’s parents was regarded as the chief of all good works, it is the religious duty that took precedence over all others. As a pious Jew, his request is perfectly legitimate. How does Jesus respond?

60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Come on, that’s not a very pastoral thing to say, is it? I mean, all the man wants to do is fulfill his sacred familial duties. Family is important, and the law of Moses calls us to honor our parents. So surely this is an entirely acceptable reason to hold off following Jesus and proclaiming the kingdom rightnow. Surely now is not the right time.

But Jesus doesn’t see it that way. 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”

The third man commits to following Jesus, but requests for a bit of time to properly say farewell to his family. Presumably, he wants to set his home affairs in order, have a final meal with them, hug his children tight, and make sure everything is okay and everyone is ready before he leaves to follow Jesus. Again, what I would think is a very reasonable request.

62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Imagine if you were that man, hearing this response. Would you follow Jesus? Or would think twice, saying in your heart, “Wow, that man doesn’t seem very pastoral”.

In other words, would you like to have Jesus as your pastor? Would you join his church? Then again, what options are there – is there a church in existence of which Jesus isn’t the head pastor?

If the Good Shepherd is indeed a good Shepherd, how do we make sense of his responses to these three men?

We can say that we are not like these men, because our reasons for not plunging ourselves wholly into discipleship at this point in our life are more legitimate than theirs. I highly doubt that. Jesus chose these men because their reasons were as reasonable as they come.

We can say that these men are just giving excuses. They didn’t really want to follow Jesus. Jesus called them out so pointedly because he knew they were not truly sincere when they said they would follow him. Jesus knew their heart, and had he seen a genuine desire to follow him, he would have responded differently. Well, the problem with this interpretation is that it forces us to read a lot more between the lines than the lines themselves. There is no textual indication that these men were insincere about following Jesus.

Or we can simply come to terms with Jesus’ radical call of discipleship. That is, whole-hearted discipleship cannot be postponed; there is no reason for procrastination, no room for excuses, no duty with a higher priority than this. Now may not be a convenient time, but discipleship was never supposed to be convenient.

A commentator notes, “It underscores the reality that discipleship is not merely another commitment which we add to the long list of our other commitments, but it is the commitment – demanding a reordering of our lives from the bottom up.”[1]

As his faithful flock, let us heed with willing hearts Jesus’ pastoral call today.

[1] Garland, D. E. (2012). Luke. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, p.418

- Ps Luwin Wong

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