Jesus said to him,
No one who puts his hand to the plow and
looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
It’s not how you start, but how you finish that matters to God. Jesus makes this point when he finds himself alone, talking to the woman caught in adultery:
Jesus stood up and said to her, Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? She said, No one, Lord. And Jesus said, Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more. (John 8:10-11)
We all have history. What we share in Jesus Christ is the opportunity to live into a future defined by who God says we are, not what our sins might define us to be. This is the essence of our freedom in Christ.
When Jesus talks in Luke 9:62 cited above about putting ones hand to the plow, he is reminding his followers of the calling of Elisha by Elijah the prophet:
So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you. And he said to him, Go back again, for what have I done to you? And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him. (1 Kgs 19:19-21)
Here in this story, no one questions the commitment of Elisha to follow Elijah, but Jesus’ ministry is coming to an end and he demands a higher level of commitment as he prepares his disciples for his own death.
Os Guinness recounts the story of one eighteen year-old Jane Lucretia D’Esterre, Guinness’ great-great-grandmother, who distraught over the death of her husband in 1815 in a duel, gave up the thought of suicide through drowning as she stood on a riverbank because she noticed the son of a neighbor plowing a field:
Meticulous, absorbed, skilled, he displayed such as pride in his work that the newly turned furrows looked as finely execute as the paint strokes on an artist’s canvas. (Guinness 2003, 184)
Mind you, this young man plowed with a team of horses that have a mind of their own!
Guinness’ story not only reminds me of the story of Elisha’s calling, but also of the importance of attending to our daily work as service not only for our supervisors but for the Lord. Imagine what might have happened to the young woman if this young man had abandoned his efforts after only plowing half his field that day.
The need to complete what we start, to take risks to advance God’s kingdom, is highlighted in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents. In this parable Jesus describes a businessman who, in preparing for a trip, leaves his assets in the hands of trusted assistants, in amounts corresponding to their abilities. The first receiving, for example, a million dollars, another two million, and a third five million.
When he returned from his trip, he asked for an accounting from his assistants. The latter two assistants invested his money and doubled it, earning their bosses’ praise: well done, good and faithful servants. The businessman then promoted these assistants placing them in charge of entire divisions in his company.
By contrast, the first assistant stashed the boss’ money in a vault and simple returned what he had been given. Seeing no gain from his confidence in this first assistant, the businessman criticized him calling him lazy and gave his million to the assistant now holding ten. The businessman then fired this assistant and sent him on his way. (Matt 25: 14-30)
Celebrate the Season
In my own life, I have always sensed that life is short, too short to dawdle. I have learned, however, that rather than running from one task to another, we need to celebrate the seasons of life both by completing them and by marking their completion.
Remember the Exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt. Once they crossed the Red Sea and witnessed the salvation of God in the destruction of the Egyptian army, they danced and sang praises to God:
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” (Exod 15:1)
After then spending forty years in the desert, God parted the Jordan River and they crossed into the Promised Land. As they did, God instructed Joshua to mark the occasion:
And Joshua said to them, Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, What do those stones mean to you? then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.” (Josh 4:5-7)
These memory stones are sometimes called Ebenezers. Modern Ebenezers are things like birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, graduations, funerals, and simple things, like keeping a journal of answered prayers and other divine interventions in your life.
When I have a bad day—get stuck in a moment—and need a good talking to, I often go back and read my own prayers and other writings. Being reminded of where I have been (God’s goodness in my life) and where I am going (our future in Christ) reminds me of whose I am and gives life meaning.
Guinness, Os. 2003. The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Other ways to engage online:
Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.