“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Lk. 9:62) This saying of Jesus is at the root of a proverb, often quoted in communities struggling for freedom and justice: “Keep your hand on the plow and hold on!” Even in the ordinary of life, haven’t we all, at one time or another, put our hand to the plow and looked back?
On January 27, 1956, a young pastor sat in his kitchen in Montgomery, Alabama holding a cup of coffee, unable to sleep. The bus boycott seemed to be collapsing. His own life had been repeatedly threatened. Earlier in the evening, a caller had warned, “If you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow your brains out and blow up your house.” Then, as Martin Luther King, Jr. later recounted:
. . . I bowed down over that cup of coffee . . . I prayed a prayer and I prayed out loud that night. I said, “Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I think I’m right. I think the cause we represent is right. But Lord I must confess that I’m weak now. I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage. And I can’t let the people see me like this because if they see me weak and losing my courage, they will begin to get weak.” He needed the word of this proverb. “Keep your hand on the plow…” (Samuel Freeman, Upon This Rock, 143)
It is also said that, “When you get to your wit’s end, remember that God lives there.” In the midst of a long and arduous struggle we often reach the point where we are spent, our energy exhausted, and it is just not possible to keep on plowing, keep on proclaiming the kingdom of God without looking back. The costs seem too high. It is at these moments that we are called to “Keep your hand on the plow and hold on!” Why? Because as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote to a community ready to turn back, “Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for He who made the promise is trustworthy.” (Heb. 10:23) The young pastor sitting at his kitchen table in the middle of a threatening night, praying to God for the gift of perseverance, felt another hand steadying his grasp on the plow.
And it seemed at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you, even until the end of the world.” I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me alone. (Freeman, Upon This Rock, 173)
Do not grow weary in doing what is right. Hold fast to the confession of your faith without wavering. Why? And, more importantly, how? Because, as the author of Hebrews tells us, “He who made the promise is trustworthy.” (10:23)