Scribes, in antiquity, functioned as the human copy machines of the ancient world. They copied manuscripts for distribution and posterity. By the time of Jesus, the function of the scribe had developed into a social institution. They no longer just copied manuscripts, they also lectured, taught, and consulted on aspects of Jewish law. They lived relatively comfortable lives in one of the upper echelons of Jewish society.
One of these scribes jumped at Jesus’ command to go with him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He said, “I will follow you wherever you go, teacher (Matthew 8:19).”
This scribe probably thought he was giving Jesus a compliment. As accomplished as this man had become, he told Jesus he was willing to lay all aside to follow him. We can only imagine his surprise, when Jesus responded not with gratitude but a hard line.
Jesus said, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have their roosts, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Matthew 8:20).” In a sense, Jesus said, “Let me make at least one thing clear. We are not going to some five-star getaway across the pond, where they will serve us drinks with those little umbrellas in them by the poolside. I do not even promise you a pillow for your head over there.” Jesus unequivocally tells him that discipleship can be very difficult.
Jesus calls all his followers out on to the water, where there will be storms and where it will be turbulent and frightening. Take for example, the reaction of a new convert to Christianity. He just finished reading the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). As a new Christian, he wanted to do right, but the Sermon on the Mount upset him. “Who can do these things?” he said to his pastor. To do things like loving one’s enemies and praying for those who persecute you seemed humanly impossible to him (Matthew 5:44). (We will return to this man next week.)
To be a disciple of Jesus takes much more than enthusiasm. There is a chasm of difference between a mere profession of faith and the possession of faith. To have faith means to trust. To trust not in your ability to do these things, but in Christ’s ability to do these things in and through you. It requires you to lay aside your pride and start trusting Jesus to do what you cannot do on your own. This scribe needed to know this, as do we.