We are taught to be cautious, to keep our options open, to not burn our bridges. Generally that is good advice, except when it comes to pursuing the kingdom of God.
Elijah called Elisha by throwing his cloak on him. Elijah’s actions tell Elisha that the prophet’s mantle will one day pass to him. In a scene that is a foreshadowing of Jesus calling His disciples (Luke 9:61), Elisha asks he can first go say goodbye to his family. And just as Jesus cautioned His disciples to count the cost, Elijah tells him to go back and think about it.
Elisha must have realized that he had asked the wrong thing, just as the man who asked Jesus if he could first go bury his father. So instead of returning to his family to say goodbye, Elisha made a sacrifice of the oxen with which he had been plowing. It was a dramatic way to make a total commitment to follow his Master. He did not leave himself the option of going back.
This kind of commitment, which seems fanatical to the world, is a thread that runs through the Scriptures. It is what the Lord expects of us. When Lot and his family left Sodom they were told not to look back. His wife paid a sodium chloride filled price for her disobedience. When Abraham raised the knife to sacrifice Isaac, he was fully committed to obey. In God’s covenant with Abraham the rite of circumcision was irreversible. When the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army was drowned in it, there was no going back to Egypt. And so Jesus tells us that if we put our hand to the plow and then look back, we are not worthy of the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:62).
This is the nature of our calling as Christian. He asks for our total commitment. We are not to have a plan B if this Christian thing does not work out. Note that Jesus is not saying that we have to be perfect to follow Him, we simply have to be fully committed. He wants to hear from us, as in a marriage, “till death do us part.” That is how the Master/disciple relationship begins and it builds from there. Without this commitment, the relationship is shallow at best.
While such a commitment seems daunting, what makes it easy to do is when we truly realize our options. There came a time in Jesus’ ministry when He delivered some hard sayings and many of His disciples left Him. When He turned to the twelve and asked if they too were going to leave, Peter said, “Lord, to whom should we go, who else has the words of eternal life….” (Jn 6:68). Who else can we trust? I have trusted in institutions and they have not remained true. I have trusted in others and have been bitterly disappointed. I have trusted in myself and I have let myself down. The Rock is Christ. Everything else is shifting sand. When we see it this way, it ceases to be daunting to make a total commitment to Him. In fact it becomes the wisest thing we will ever do. What we need to ask ourselves is if we have any oxen that we need to burn, and if we do, then invite our friends to the barbeque.