9:57-62 As they were journeying along the road, a man said to Jesus, "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus said to him, "The foxes have dens; the birds of the air have places to roost; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
He said to another man, "Follow Me! Lord," he said, "let me go first and bury my father." He said to him, "Let the dead bury their dead; but do you go and tell abroad the news of the kingdom of God."
Another man said to him, "Lord, I will follow you; but let me first say good-bye to the folk at home." Jesus said to him, "No man who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is the right kind of man for the kingdom of God."
Here we have the words of Jesus to three would-be followers.
(i) To the first man, his advice was, "Before you follow me, count the cost." No one can ever say that he was induced to follow Jesus under false pretenses. Jesus paid men the compliment of pitching his demands so high that they cannot be higher. It may well be that we have done great hurt to the church by letting people think that church membership need not make so very much difference. We ought to tell them that it should make all the difference in the world. We might have fewer people; but those we had would be really pledged to Christ.
(ii) Jesus' words to the second man sound harsh, but they need not be so. In all probability the man's father was not dead, and not even nearly dead. His saying most likely meant, "I will follow you after my father has died." An English official in the East tells of a very brilliant young Arab who was offered a scholarship to Oxford or Cambridge. His answer was, "I will take it after I have buried my father." At the time his father was not much more than forty years of age.
The point Jesus was making is that in everything there is a crucial moment; if that moment is missed the thing most likely will never be done at all. The man in the story had stirrings in his heart to get out of his spiritually dead surroundings; if he missed that moment he would never get out.
The psychologists tell us that every time we have a fine feeling, and do not act on it, the less likely we are to act on it at all. The emotion becomes a substitute for the action. Take one example--sometimes we feel that we would like to write a letter, perhaps of sympathy, perhaps of thanks, perhaps of congratulations. If we put it off until to-morrow, it will in all likelihood never be written. Jesus urges us to act at once when our hearts are stirred.
(iii) His words to the third man state a truth which no one can deny. No ploughman ever ploughed a straight furrow looking back over his shoulder. There are some whose hearts are in the past. They walk forever looking backwards and thinking wistfully of the good old days. Watkinson, the great preacher, tells how once at the seaside, when he was with his little grandson, he met an old minister. The old man was very disgruntled and, to add to all his troubles, he had a slight touch of sunstroke. The little boy had been listening but had not picked it up quite correctly; and when they left the grumbling complaints of the old man, he turned to Watkinson and said, "Granddad, I hope you never suffer from a sunset!"
The Christian marches on, not to the sunset, but to the dawn. The watchword of the kingdom is not, "Backwards!" but, "Forwards!" To this man Jesus did not say either, "Follow!" or, "Return!" he said, "I accept no lukewarm service," and left the man to make his own decision.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)