“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Jesus is fond of earthy, agricultural imagery. I think the idea here is that if you are trying to plow a furrow in a nice straight line and look back over your shoulder, you’re going to mess it up. Like trying to drive a car while looking through the rear view mirror. The Kingdom of God is something out there ahead of us, and to get there we need to keep looking ahead of us—sometimes even at the far horizon.But we human beings seem to inhabit three time zones simultaneously: past, present and future. Which can create quite a tangle.
Jesus would have us keep our eyes on the way ahead, the way into the Kingdom of God—not on some golden age of the past, and not on some catastrophic past. This already-not-yet Kingdom of God is out there ahead of us. But the past can weigh heavily on us. Particularly when mistakes or past sins or suffering are involved. “Stuff” happens (pardon me for not using the usual Anglo-Saxon vulgarism). And when “stuff” happens, it can stink for a long time, to use an earthy, agricultural metaphor.
But “stuff”, when “stuff” happens, can become manure. And that’s a good thing. Jesus told a parable about manure somewhere in the gospel [Luke 13:6-9]. Something about a fig tree bearing fruit. The critical difference between manure and the other stuff is how we use it. And how we use it, that is, how we integrate the mistakes, sins and sufferings of our past, is something we can learn. We can learn to make “stuff” into great fertilizer. Of course there’s plenty of room for prayer and supplication in all this…
The past can good, bad or ugly; the past can be glorious or disastrous. But the point about the past is that it’s all about the future. It’s about fertilizing the fig tree for next season’s growth, next year’s fruit. It’s about the Kingdom, already here and not yet here. The Kingdom come and the Kingdom coming.
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