Posted on Tue, Jun 28, 2016
June 26, 2016
6th Sunday after Pentecost
Gospel Text: Luke 9:51-62
A Samaritan Village Refuses to Receive Jesus
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.
Would-Be Followers of Jesus
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ 58 And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ 59 To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ 60 But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ 61 Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ 62 Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’
How often do you think Jesus made his disciples uncomfortable, or even angry? How often does the Gospel make some people uncomfortable or even angry? The first verse in today’s Gospel sets the theological framework for Jesus’ entire ministry, plus, it is one main text for theologians to describe the “Theology of the Cross.”
“51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” What ‘days’ are drawing near? What does it mean for Jesus to be ‘taken up?’ and what does it mean that Jesus has ‘set’ his face to go to Jerusalem. Do you remember the story about the “Transfiguration?” Jesus takes his main disciples up the mountain and while they are there the disciples see Jesus standing with Elijah and Moses and they are talking about Jesus’ “DEPARTURE.” Jesus will fulfill all the prophesies about the Messiah by obediently going to Jerusalem, and be lifted up, taken up, onto the cross. Jesus has now turned the corner, and now it is time for them to leave the familiar northern villages of Israel, and go to Jerusalem according to God’s plan, and give up his life for the sake of our forgiveness and salvation. All of this is contained in that little, yet wonderful phrase, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
As he began his journey south towards Jerusalem, his disciples went on ahead to announce to a Samaritan town that Jesus the “Great Jewish Rabbi” was coming. The Samaritans and Jews didn't like each other; Even though they worshiped the same God, they had differing views on where Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, and where it was appropriate to offer sacrifice and prayers.
The Jews INSISTED that Abraham took Isaac to the top of Mt. Moriah, which is where the present Temple Mount is located, and the Samaritans INSISTED that Abraham took Isaac to the top of Mt. Gerizim.
The Jews INSISTED that the ONLY valid place to make your offerings was at the Temple David built in Jerusalem… the Samaritans INSISTED that the only place for offering sacrifice was on Mt. Gerizim.
This was not the first example of denominational conflict… or the last.
The Samaritans were not impressed with Jesus and just blew him and his disciples off, even upon the announcement that the famous rabbi was coming to town. They didn’t welcome Jesus so the disciples felt pretty insulted! However, Jesus didn’t seem to mind. The disciples must have been reading too many stories about Ezekiel calling upon God to devour the altar of Baal … Some of the disciples seemed to have amazing religious visions of grandeur and asked Jesus, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’
Do you realize how stupid this must have sounded to Jesus? After teaching, preaching and doing so many acts of mercy and forgiveness, to Jew, Gentile AND Samaritan alike? Just because they were ‘snubbed’ by the Samaritans, which the disciples should have expected, the disciples wanted to incinerate the Samaritans! Remember the story about the woman at the well? She was a Samaritan. And in order to teach the example of proper servant-hood and hospitality, Jesus chose a “Good” Samaritan. Had they not learned anything while they followed Jesus all this time?
The story moves on with Jesus meeting some ‘would-be’ followers. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Does Jesus’ reply sound strange? What is he talking about? What is Luke trying to teach us about the fact that the God has become human and ‘dwelt among us?’ Jesus’ words are full of irony.
What do you think this person thought it would be like to follow Jesus? It was clear that Jesus had great power and potential, and his future looked very much like he was going to restore the Temple in Jerusalem and remove the Romans from occupying Palestine, becoming the true KING of Israel… like King David of old, but… that is not the purpose of Jesus birth and ministry.
Jesus let’s us know what his life was like. “The Fox” is king Herod and he lives comfortably in his Palace, separate from the people. Jesus is not about this kind of opulent living. Jesus came as a Servant King, only living off of the hospitality of the people. The symbol for the Romans was the eagle, and like a bird makes a nest, which is temporary, not a roost which is permanent, the Romans have only created a “temporary” living space among the People of Palestine only to occupy them and take taxes and using the power of force and coercion.
Then Jesus calls out to someone in the crowd, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ 60 But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’
The intent and nuance of Jesus’ words of “Follow Me” really means something like, “Start a new action now! Get involved with me full time proclaiming Kingdom of God is at hand, right now!”
The man’s request of Jesus seems reasonable, but many people read this text thinking that the man’s father recently died. This is most likely not the context of the man’s request. If his father had recently died, common sense would have to ask, what is this man doing away from his family in the first place?
What the man is really saying is, “Lord, let me go and serve my father while he is alive. After he dies, I will bury him and then come and follow you. HE WANTS TO DETER THE TIME BEFORE HE WILL BEGIN FOLLOWING JESUS. How long will it take before the father passes? Five years? 10 years? Does the man know but it will be a very short time before Jesus will give up his Spirit… on the Cross? And remember, Luke reminds us, ‘the days drew near for him to be taken up.’
The man’s attitude is still very much alive in many parts of the Middle East today; the son has the duty to stay with his parents until his they die, only after this time is he permitted other options for his life.
61 Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’
Jesus draws on farming practices in his day in Palestine in order to respond to this individual. In those days, you guided a single plow with your left had, and you guided you ox with a six foot rod with an iron spike on the end. It helped you to constantly remind the unruly animal that you are the boss. You would be plowing before the hindquarters of the animal and you would have to keep your eyes keenly in front in order to not re-plow other furrows. If you are distracted in any way, you will have crooked furrows.
In the Middle East you would plow the ground four times. One furrow breaks up the soil; the second furrow provides proper drainage; the third furrow is a narrow strip where the seed is planted; in the fourth, the seed sown by hand is covered. To “look back,” at any part of this process would mean disaster in preparing the field for producing a good crop.
To follow Jesus is not just about signing up for a self-help course that promises all your pains and maladies will go away. Following Jesus is about a lifelong relationship with Jesus, walking in prayer and faith in with the one who calls us His children no matter what difficulties we may have in our lives. Focusing on Jesus in this relationship is absolutely necessary because as soon as we think the ministry is about us, based on our talents and gifts, we will loose our track of our purpose like a farmer looking back while the ox keeps dragging the plow through the ground.
In the Middle East, even to this day, when a young man is about to make a change in their life, for example to change occupations or move to another land, he would first need to travel back to where he was born, or where his parents were living and get permission to make the move from them. What do you think his parents would say if he went home to ask permission to leave them in order to follow this unknown teacher from Nazareth? Of course they would have said, NO!!! I totally understand what Jesus is saying in this text! I knew many missionaries, who made bold statements of doing ministry in Japan, but they were always “connected to issues back home,” and they didn’t stay long. You could easily tell if a person was focused on the ministry needs at hand, or those “looking back.”
In the world of following Jesus, there is no looking back, there is only a bold sense of setting your eye on the journey for today, and wondering, “Where are you going to lead me today Jesus?” Or, “Who are you going to introduce me to today Jesus?” Or, “Through your Holy Spirit, how will you make my eyes, ears, heart and brain open up to your guidance?”
There is no looking back, only the anticipation for another day to live in the grace and mercy of God, given to use through the Cross of Jesus. Each day we live in anticipation of where God will lead us, who Jesus will introduce us to, and what new ideas, thoughts or dreams the Holy Spirit will bless us with! Following Jesus means no looking back; it is the ultimate spiritual journey of living in the now.
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