The Isle of Man TT Races are under way. A motorcyclist myself, I am looking forward to experiencing the TT for the first time. I have been around the mountain course and it is great fun. My speed is nowhere near the terrifying pace of the competitors but the course is an interesting one nonetheless. Spectacular scenery is coupled with challenging bends and long straights. Up in the mountains you can easily forget you are on a small island.
Riding a bike around bends is counterintuitive: you move the handlebars ever so slightly in the opposite direction. Almost miraculously, if your eyes stay focused on the 'vanishing point' of the furthest bend ahead, rather than directly in front of you, the bike rides itself. Look directly at the front wheel, or worse still, at the kerb and that is where you will end up. In a heap. Wherever you look, the bike will follow.
Apparently ploughing is similar to riding a motorcycle, especially with an oxen or horse-drawn plough. The ploughman who takes his eye off the line of the furrow ahead ends up destroying the furrows he has already dug – or careering off in the other direction. Looking back spells disaster.
Jesus employs this image in the passage from St Luke's Gospel for Sunday 26 June. At first sight, his response to the enthusiastic commitment of a new disciple sounds severe. "I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say goodbye to my people at home," said the disciple. Jesus replied to him: "Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." Yet this is advice that Jesus gives, not condemnation. To use another metaphor: don't take your eye off the ball.