The first man probably thought how amazing would it be to walk with Jesus as one of his disciples, witness his works and miracles, and hear his words. He was willing to proclaim a commitment to Jesus, so Jesus challenged him with his response. Jesus did not have a home. He had no place of rest. He was always working; the crowds sought him and there was no place to retreat. Foxes and birds had a better comfort. Would this young man truly follow him anywhere? To follow Jesus anywhere is not from town to town. It means to follow him, even unto death, as many of his apostles did. Jesus knew this man’s heart. He was not ready to be his disciple.
We do not know the reason Jesus approached the next man. Perhaps he saw a righteous or longing heart in him. The man asks only for permission to bury his father. This is a seemingly respectable and even reasonable request. The burial was important in the Jewish culture. Yet, Jesus denies this. He holds no tradition higher than God. He says let the dead bury their own, or let the spiritually dead do their own works. Your service to God must come first. This in no way means we skip funerals, but if it is between a funeral and following Jesus, we are to follow Jesus. We are not to compromise our faith for any cause.
The third man, like the first, said he was prepared to follow Jesus. He asks only to be able to say goodbye to his family. This too, seems a fair request. It probably would not have taken long. Jesus doesn’t see it that way though. A commitment to Jesus cannot be followed by a return to a former life. We cannot decide to follow Jesus, but then ask him if we can first say goodbye to our sins. This does not undermine the importance of family. God created the family. But God has to be first. The man’s family might convince him not to go, in the same way our lives of sin might tempt us to stray. We cannot start our journey with Christ and then look behind us. The work itself will suffer! Our concern for the world will make our path crooked, just as a plow would, should the worker look behind him instead of forward.
Consider this: A alcoholic wants to quit drinking. He thinks to himself, “I would really love to stop, but I am not ready yet to give it up today, perhaps tomorrow. I wouldn’t be comfortable today.” The next day, his father passes away. He thinks, “I had a rough day today. My father died, I will stop drinking after the funeral.” After the funeral, he says, “I will stop drinking, but first, let me go out one more night to the bar. Let me say goodbye to my old drinking friends, before I start my new life.” Such a man will not stop drinking, anymore then the men Jesus spoke to would fully commit to him.