Tissot, James, 1836-1902. Looking Back – the man at the plow, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56180 [retrieved June 21, 2022]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Man_at_the_Plough_(L%27homme_%C3%A0_la_charrue)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall.jpg.

RCL Year C Proper 8 Alternate Readings
I Kings 19:15-16 and 19-21, Psalm 16, Galatians 5:1 and 13-25, Saint Luke 9:51-62

“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”[1]

We have begun the long string of Green Sundays that stretch until late November, and during that time, we shall work our way through the Gospel of Saint Luke from chapter 9, where we are today, through chapter 23. We are concerned with Jesus’ earthly ministry, what he teaches, what miracles he performs, how he leads his disciples, and how he meets and redirects his opposition. By proclaiming and studying these Gospels, we are trying to graft into our hearts and minds something of his heart and his mind. Today, Jesus has something difficult to say to us, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

He’s harsh, but he’s true, we must admit. He knows, just as we know, that when it comes to his kingdom, his church, a contract, a job, or even a marriage, we are either in, or we are out.

Two people who just told him that they are in have really told him that they are out. One said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father,” and the other one said, “Let me first say farewell to those at home.”[2] They’re not in; they’re out. Jesus knows it, and we know it, too.

What Jesus wants is that we be in, really in, hook, line, and sinker, all the way, holding nothing back. If you are in to this degree, you may stop listening now, because most people are not in to this extent.

Most people, and maybe the two people I quoted are this way, are in one minute and out the next minute. They, and of course I mean we, are lukewarm, in about the easy things, out about the hard things.

What we need is what Elisha gets in the first lesson. You remember that, of all things, Elisha is plowing with twelve yoke of oxen when Elijah throws his mantle on him, when Elijah gives Elisha his sign of office, when he tells Elisha symbolically that he, Elisha, will be his, Elijah’s, successor. Elisha understands, but he gives an excuse, like the ones we have already heard and like the ones we give when we know what the Lord wants us to do. Elisha says, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.”[3]

What Elijah does then is what we need most every day. Elijah says, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?”[4] It is as though he said, “Go, go, stay with your parents for as long as you like. I have only given you a symbol. You, on the other hand, have found your real calling. You have found what you want to do.” Elijah pushes Elisha toward his symptoms, and before you can say “Amen,” Elisha slaughters the oxen, cooks the oxen, and gives them to the people to eat. He sets out and follows Elijah as his servant. He does not take the time to say goodbye to anyone. You may think of it as reverse psychology.

What Elisha finds out is that there is more reality in the symbol of Elijah’s mantle than there is in the reality of his devotion to his parents. What God wants you to see and me to see is that the life he has created for us is better than the life we can create for ourselves. How long will it take us to see this? “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Jesus may be right. The time will come when we give up looking back, when we have outgrown looking back, because we have discovered that he is in the other direction.


[1] Saint Luke 9:62.

[2] Saint Luke 9:59 and 61.

[3] I Kings 19:20.

[4] Ibid.