“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
One evening, my wife, Charlotte and I were watching a nature program about unusual creatures. One of the featured animals was the nautilus, the sea mollusk with the intricate spiral shell. It’s a relative of the octopus, a member of the cephalopod family. The nautilus has an unusual means of getting where it wants to go. It squirts water through a specialized tentacle called a “siphon” and it’s propelled in the opposite direction like a rocket. But the “siphon” is on the same side as the nautilus’ eyes. That means it’s always facing backward.
We watched, fascinated, as the nautilus “swam” through the water. It ran into rocks, it ran into an octopus, it ran into coral. It couldn’t see where it was going; it could only see where it had been. The nautilus has existed unchanged in its current form for 400 million years. It never improves, it only stays the same. It’s sometimes called a “living fossil.” And after hundreds of millions of years, it still can’t see where it’s going.
As I watched the hapless nautilus, I thought of the way we sometimes go through our lives, trying to go forward while looking backward. One day, Jesus approached some men and asked them to follow him (Luke 9:57-62). But they each made excuses. One said he needed to bury his father (vs. 59). Another wanted to say goodbye to his family (vs. 61). Jesus rejected each of them and ended by saying “‘Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.’” (vs. 62b New Living Translation).
Each of these men was like the nautilus. They expected to go forward while looking back to their old lives. In the Old Testament, Abraham and his family learned that God was going to destroy the city of Sodom (Gen. 18:20-21). Abraham’s nephew, Lot, escaped with his family to the city of Zoar (19:22). They had been commanded not to look back (19:17) but, as we know, Lot’s wife turned back toward the city from which they had escaped (19:26) and was turned to a pillar of salt. The men Jesus spoke to would have known the story of Lot’s wife. She represents someone who is unable to go forward with God and instead keeps looking back to her (or his) old sins. Sometimes, Jesus told people he had healed or forgiven, “‘stop sinning’” or “‘sin no more.’” (John 5:14, 8:11). Don’t look back at your old life; don’t go back to your sins.
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