"With my two hands on the plow, I don't mind my journey now.
Keep your hands on the plow, hold on."- The Gospel Plow, traditional American folksong
Along the way to Jerusalem, Jesus meets a man who promises to follow Him, after he first returns home to say goodbye to his family.
Jesus tells him, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”
If we want to follow Christ, we have to shift our priorities, even if it sounds harsh. Too often we get caught up in past mistakes, regrets that want to hold on to us and prevent us from moving forward. The mistakes of yesterday and the worries of the past can prevent us from living in the present.
Saint Paul spoke of dying daily, by this he meant that each day sees the resurrection of a new man, who makes each day the epitome of a life.
We live in a fallen world. When we declare ourselves to be citizens of Christ's Kingdom, in a sense, we lose our citizenship in this world; we become aliens, refugees waiting to return home to heaven, or, as sacred Scripture often affirms, pilgrims.
This earth is no longer our home, and the closer we get to Christ, the more we realize it, the more we feel its sufferings and imperfections.
The Gospel Plow
This is the lesson Jesus teaches us with his comment about setting our hands to the plow, once we do so, we look forward, we do not look back.
Putting our hands to the plow also means accepting the hard work that lies before us. There will be times when we will feel like turning back, but if we do turn back, we may lose our place in the Kingdom - he loves us too much to force us to persevere.
Jesus wants us to know this. but he doesn't tell us just by using words. He tells us with his own example as well.
St. Luke begins this section of his Gospel with an interesting phrase. As Jesus begins his last journey to Jerusalem, where he knows that betrayal, condemnation, torture, and a painful, humiliating death are waiting for him, St Luke tells us that Jesus "resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem."
The original Greek expression is even more poetic. It says that Jesus "steadfastly set his face” to go to Jerusalem. To set steadfastly, always involves making something firm and stable.
When we give our face a firm and stable expression, it is a sign that we have made a firm decision. We are not going to change our minds. We are going to persevere to the very end, no matter how hard it may get.
St. Luke's point is that Jesus knew beforehand that his mission would be painful and difficult - more than we can imagine, in fact. But at the same time, Jesus accepted and fulfilled it willingly. Jesus did it out of love for us, and also to set an example for us.
To follow Christ's path in life will be painful and difficult for us too, at times. And we, with God's grace to strengthen us, are called to "steadfastly set our faces" to go on our journey to Jerusalem, to persevere in our friendship and fidelity with Christ no matter what.
As a society we have become somewhat complacent. We no longer see the value in personal sacrifice of any kind. Instead we are told “we can have it all,” without any pain or loss. But that attitude does not reflect the reality of our daily lives. Our lives are full of pain and sorrow and loss, but those are the things that make us realize what is valuable in our lives. We do not value things that come too easily for us. We value the things that are achieved after great struggle, a struggle that may include pain and suffering.
When we take up our cross and steadfastly resolve to follow Christ, there may be times when we want to turn back. We stagger on because the reward that awaits us, in this life and the next, is infinitely worth the hardships we may endure.
Jesus' admonition to keep our hands to the plow applies to the dramatic difficulties of life, the big tragedies. It applies to the dramatic temptations that try to lure us away from our friendship with Christ. But it also applies to the normal, mundane difficulties of every day.
If we are not faithful to Christ in the normal tasks of our daily lives, we cannot grow in Christian virtue, and we cannot bring in the harvest of joy, peace, wisdom, and fulfillment that Christ wants to give us.
Keeping our hands to the plow in daily life means being faithful to our normal responsibilities. It means doing our jobs the way Christ would do them if he were in our position. It means doing our chores the way Jesus, Mary, and Joseph did them in Nazareth - responsibly, thoroughly, and humbly. It means using our time well, not wasting it on habits of laziness and self-indulgence. It means patiently putting up with the imperfections of those around us, day after day, just as God puts up with our own imperfections.
This is what it means to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This is keeping our hands to the plow. It's not always dramatic and exciting, but it's the only way to live a fulfilled life.
The 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.organd can be reached at Lawrence@deaconlawrence.com