Thursday, May 22, 2014

Putting your hand to the plow

Image from
There is a short dialogue in the Gospel of Luke that goes like this:
Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 
Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
It's a short dialogue, one in a series of three in Luke 9. A few weekends ago I heard a pastor link it to the call of Elisha in 1 Kings 19:
So [Elijah] 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.
The pastor later likened this to a business owner burning down his business (as opposed to selling it) to be overseas missionaries. (If you want to listen for yourself, go to 29:50 here.)

It got me thinking. One of the reasons that coming back to the US has been so difficult for me was that I took my hand off the plow and didn't turn back. I was in China; I didn't need to maintain all my professional ties (e.g. organizations, departments) in the US. I was in China; I didn't need to save or invest money in the US. I was in China; I didn't really need to keep up on all the ins and outs of US living.

It's not that I couldn't have done those things. It's not that it wouldn't have been useful in some ways. It just seemed superfluous. "I'm not there (US); I'm here (China)." I missed a decade of raises, promotions, and professional development; relationships, family history, and community investment.

Paths diverged. I took my hands off the plow. I burned it. I didn't look back. Then I had to return, without plow and without vision.

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