When I was a teenager working on the farm, I remember the first time I was allowed to drive the tractor in the field by myself. And “by myself” I mean with no one else in the tractor with me. My job was not difficult. It took 4 tractors to plant soybeans in those days: two discs, a do all, and a planter. I had the easiest job – the first disc through the field. Our fields were square at every corner, so my dad told me to start on the edge, pick a spot at the other end of the field and drive to it. Simple enough.
But after a round or two, I decided I wanted to look behind me to see the great job I was doing. I turned to look and, sure enough, beautiful freshly turned sod as far as the eye could see. But when I made my turn at the end, I was horrified to see a giant swerve in the line. You see, when I turned to look, I steered the tractor off a straight line. Had I only kept my eyes forward, I would have been fine.
So it is in today’s text. Jesus warns against those who take up a plow but are not content to press forward without looking back. In this context, “looking back” concerns longing for the life left behind to follow Jesus. Following Jesus requires leaving one’s life of rebellion and sin in the rearview mirror and marching steadily onward toward the cross.
Of his former life, the apostle Paul wrote, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all thing, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:7-8).
Of his desire to move forward, he wrote, “but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 13-14).
One of Paul’s own companions fell prey to the past. Demas was a co-worker with Paul, but in his final epistle, Paul said him, “For Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed to Thessalonica” (2 Tim 4:10).
“Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32).