Reading the calling of the would-be-disciples (Luke 9:62) in native language and context makes it more sense to us who have either plowed themselves or seen firsthand before. I could not have understood the text clearer than the one who has lived his life with a plow. This is my attempt to explain the text in Nepali context. The passage (9:57-62) is a call from Jesus to three prospective disciples, where Jesus highlights this verse (62) as the main qualification to become his disciple.
A. Qualification of a disciple (Luke 9:62)
No one puts a hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God. The analogy of putting a hand on a plow and looking back seems to be taken out from Jewish traditions. Apparently, the plow in the ancient Jewish world is more or less similar to the plow still being used in today’s world in the southern hemisphere. Plow, in its simplest structure, is a triangular blade that fits in the wooden forked frame. Often times, oxen pull the plow. In some cultures, water buffaloes, asses, or sometimes people also pull the plow to furrow the field. When a plower plows the field, he must look straight ahead to make furrow straight. Looking back is a sign of distraction or being ignorant of his work and responsibility. Such a man cannot be trusted. Master can only hope that this kind of servant will finish the job well. In the same manners, Jesus says that a person with such character cannot be entrusted with kingdom responsibilities thus misfit in his kingdom.
B. Assessment and Application
We usually undermine the challenges of following Christ. Self-denial, bearing-cross and following Jesus are three major qualifying attributes that Jesus’ followers must possess. In our present day self-centered culture, we promote self-indulgence, egocentricity, and narcissism than denying our pride, prejudices, and ungodliness. And we take great comfort on what Jesus has achieved for us. We want Jesus in our lives. We love church and church calendar full of events. Also we love to identify ourselves as Christian, followers of Christ. In return, we do not want to talk about the other aspect of our personal and communal relationship with Jesus. To associate ourselves with Jesus or be called followers of Jesus bears a significant meaning. It is a serious business in light of the passage where Jesus has put certain qualifications in order to be called his followers.
In the Gospel narratives, the crowd also followed him to a certain degree. They were following Jesus more in a physical sense than spiritual sense. But when Jesus calls us to follow him, he demands us to follow him wholeheartedly. From his reactions to those three would-be-followers about putting a hand on the plow and not looking back, I can put this narrative into my own culture and context.
This is a common sense that a hardworking plowman is never going to put his hand on plow and look back. There are certain ramifications for what I think could happen when ignoring this common sense:
- If a plowman looks back or getting distracted while his one hand on plow, he will most likely miss the furrow and plowing will not be straight.
- Putting one hand on plow and looking back cannot dig the earth deep enough for proper cultivation and aeration. Harvesting good crop depends also in the depth of the furrow and proper tilling.
- Often times, it takes steady and firm grab on the plow to get job done well.
- Another serious consequence of putting one hand on plow and looking back is breaking the plowshare or shoe in the process of furrowing. Plowing too deep in the earth can dismantle plowshare from the shoe and occasionally break the share or shoe or shaft itself. That means, a chunk of time will be needed to replace the plow share or shaft, even if the exprea one is readily available. It is waste of time and energy. In the context of this text, it is very unlikely that a family keeps extra plough share, or shaft or blade in their homes. No one would want to use or hire such a plowman.
- Putting one hand on plow and looking back can be a hazard for cattle too. If the plowman is not careful enough and share/blade is either in too deep earth or up in the shallow, blade can pierce the hind legs of oxen or any other animals (in some context, buffaloes or donkeys or mules) that are tied the yoke which is connected to the beam. Once blade cut one of the oxen, you have to find another one. Again, it is most unlikely that a neighbor let you borrow his ox in the busy season of farming. Or worse, you are out of job until your ox recovers from injury.
Assessing all these possible implications of putting one hand on plow and looking back when you are in work, we as a hirer also do not want such people in the job in first place. Then, how can we be such ignorant of Jesus’ calling us to not put our one hand on plow and look back? From this passage, I take away these three qualifications of discipleship: self-denial, bearing-cross, and following Jesus with putting my sight ahead and hand firm on the plow.