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Luke 9:61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

62Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

How should this be interpreted?

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This passage is similar to what we read in Matthew 8:22

But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.

In both cases, what Jesus is showing is that the kingdom of God takes precedence over anything else like family obligations. As a receiver of that message, I'd take the words as an hyperbole to ensure the priorities are clear in my mind.

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In 30–33ad (or thereabouts) Jesus was on a mission to locate and gather to Jerusalem the 144,000 lost sheep of the northern kingdom of Israel and also from Judah. This mission was described in the prophets as a “fishing expedition” and a “hunting party”:

[Jer 16:14-17 ASV] (14) Therefore, behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that it shall no more be said, As Jehovah liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; (15) but, As Jehovah liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the countries whither he had driven them. And I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers. (16) Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith Jehovah, and they shall fish them up; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. (17) For mine eyes are upon all their ways; they are not hid from my face, neither is their iniquity concealed from mine eyes.

Jesus, the Messiah, in his earthly service to God was sent on this mission and called others to participate in this mission:

[Mat 4:19 ASV] (19) And he saith unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you fishers of men.

[Luk 10:1-2 NIV] (1) After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. (2) He told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

[Mat 9:37-38 ASV] (37) Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the laborers are few. (38) Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth laborers into his harvest.

This task involved leaving their homes, businesses, families, etc.:

[Luk 14:33 KJV] (33) So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.

This was such an urgent mission that there would be no time even for grieving the dead:

[Mat 8:19-22 NIV] (19) Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." (20) Jesus replied, "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." (21) Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." (22) But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."

These were to follow him where ever he went:

[Rev 14:1-5 NIV] (1) Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. (2) And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. (3) And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. (4) These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. (5) No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.

Jesus knew he had a limited time to work:

[Jhn 9:4 ASV] (4) We must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.

[Mat 10:5-23 CSB] (5) Jesus sent out these twelve after giving them instructions: "Don't take the road that leads to the Gentiles, and don't enter any Samaritan town. (6) "Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (7) "As you go, proclaim: 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.' (8) "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you received, freely give. (9) "Don't acquire gold, silver, or copper for your money-belts. (10) "Don't take a traveling bag for the road, or an extra shirt, sandals, or a staff, for the worker is worthy of his food. (11) "When you enter any town or village, find out who is worthy, and stay there until you leave. (12) "Greet a household when you enter it, (13) "and if the household is worthy, let your peace be on it; but if it is unworthy, let your peace return to you. (14) "If anyone does not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that house or town. (15) "Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. (16) "Look, I'm sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves. (17) "Beware of them, because they will hand you over to local courts and flog you in their synagogues. (18) "You will even be brought before governors and kings because of me, to bear witness to them and to the Gentiles. (19) "But when they hand you over, don't worry about how or what you are to speak. For you will be given what to say at that hour, (20) "because it isn't you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father is speaking through you. (21) "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. (22) "You will be hated by everyone because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (23) "When they persecute you in one town, flee to another. For truly I tell you, you will not have gone through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

I mention all this to give some context to “following Jesus”.

Paul also was sent on a mission by the resurrected Jesus to gather the gentiles in to meet Jesus at his arrival, however they were not called to follow Paul in his journeys, though he would take alone one or two co-workers:

[1Th 1:6-10 YLT] (6) and ye -- ye did become imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation, with joy of the Holy Spirit, (7) so that ye became patterns to all those believing in Macedonia and Achaia, (8) for from you hath sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God did go forth, so that we have no need to say anything, (9) for they themselves concerning us do declare what entrance we had unto you, and how ye did turn unto God from the idols, to serve a living and true God, (10) and to wait for His Son from the heavens, whom He did raise out of the dead -- Jesus, who is rescuing us from the anger that is coming.

The wrath that was coming was the Great Jewish Revolt of c. 70 AD/CE.

So it is important to understand context. Many read the scriptures and imagine that they are there in Galilee, participating in Jesus’ mission to the lost sheep of the northern kingdom but that would be a mistake. The gospels are history and are not directed at you and I.

The same is true of Acts. That was the work of the apostles, not of you and I.

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