As Jesus journeyed toward Jerusalem, a certain man volunteered to follow him wherever he went (Luke 9:57). According to Matthew, this certain man (Luke 9:57) was a Jewish scribe / rabbi (Matthew 8:19-20). News of Jesus’ victories at Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles seemed to make Jesus untouchable. Many of the rulers of the synagogues believed on Jesus, but they feared to publicly announce their positions for fear of ostracism and their positions in the synagogue being taken away by the Pharisees and other Jewish authorities (cf. John 12:42-43). Nevertheless, news of Jesus healing a man born blind and a child born a demoniac seemed to turn the tide of public opinion. Even the authorities began to think Jesus was now unstoppable. Therefore, there was no time like the present to stand with him. Who would dare say or do anything against Jesus now?
However, Jesus seemed to discourage him by saying that he (Jesus) had no certain place to lay his head (Luke 9:58). The Samaritans refused to extend their hospitality to him (Luke 9:53), and every time he went to Jerusalem Jesus risked his life just by being there, because the authorities found fault with everything he said and did, and they sought how they might slay him. If Jesus was treated this way, how could any of his followers expect to be treated differently?
Next, Jesus called a man to follow him (Luke 9:59). This man wasn’t a volunteer, but perhaps he heard how Jesus responded to the Jewish rabbi in Luke 9:58, because he wanted to delay following the Lord, until he had buried his father. The context seems to show his father was still alive, otherwise he would have been at home preparing for the funeral, which, according to Jewish custom, occurred on the day the person died. If this man’s father was already dead, he probably wouldn’t have been in Jesus’ presence to receive the call in the first place. Therefore, it seems this man desired to secure his inheritance from his father, and in so doing he wouldn’t have to depend upon the hospitality of others, because he would have enough funds to pay for whatever was needed as he followed Jesus.
Nevertheless, Jesus responded by saying the dead (spiritual dead) would extend the courtesy of burying the (spiritually) dead, when such expired (Luke 9:60). One needn’t be concerned about these things, but this man was probably concerned over his own inheritance, not the burial of his father.
The final would-be follower of Jesus volunteered, as the scribe had done, but he asked Jesus to permit him to return home to bid his family farewell (Luke 9:61). No doubt this was a spiritual man believing his request was as reasonable as Elisha’s to Elijah (1Kings 19:19-21). However, in his reply at Luke 9:62 Jesus compares this man to a man behind the plough who continually looks back to see how he’s doing (i.e. if his rows are straight). The only way a man is able to plough straight rows is to pick out an object ahead and plough toward it. In other words, the man didn’t actually want to bid his family good-bye; he wanted to discuss his intention to follow Jesus to make sure it was the right move to make.
The difference between what this man asked and what Elisha asked is seen in that Elisha was plowing with 12 yoke of oxen. He was behind the twelfth, while servants or brethren presumably handled the other eleven. Elijah called him and immediately Elisha left his oxen and asked Elijah to permit him to kiss his parents farewell. 1Kings 19:21 says “And he returned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave unto the people, and they did eat. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him.” Elisha slew his own oxen and used the instruments of his trade as fuel to cook them. There could be no doubt that Elisha meant business, when he said he would follow Elijah. There would be no turning back for him. Not so the man in Luke 9:61.
Some folks my read Jesus’ response to these three men and think Jesus was a little harsh with new folks coming to him and making a decision to follow him. Nevertheless, the Scriptures claim Jesus wouldn’t extinguish a smoking flax or harm a bruised reed (Matthew 12:20), meaning the slightest spark of faith’s flame would be encouraged, and those whose lives had been bruised by others would be nurtured and encouraged in their desire to do what is right. Yet, not only was Jesus fair in his treatment of these three men, but his replies expose the true intentions of their hearts. In each case the men were dependent upon favorable circumstances rather than Jesus, whom they claimed they wanted to follow. In each case they expressed a worldly heart that was dependent upon what the world had to offer rather than Jesus. If they couldn’t trust Jesus for their needs, why would they want to follow him? Their efforts contradicted their claims.