Posted on Wed, Jul 3, 2013
June 30, 2013
6th Sunday after Pentecost
Gospel Text: Luke 9:51-62 – “No Looking Back”
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.’
Have you ever had one of those moments in your life, when you made a decision about a NEW direction YOU chose to make in your life? It might have been a moment you suddenly decided it was time to change jobs or occupation, even if it meant you would either have to go back to school, move to a new location, or give up what was familiar and comfortable? Those moments don’t come so often in our lives, but when you do, you may have a new and very strong sense of self, confidence and determination to make your new dream a reality.
In today’s text, Jesus wasn’t changing his mind about anything, but it is a crucial moment in his ministry. He had been working in and around Galilee a very safe Jewish region. Only a few times he left this area, but once we know he went up into Lebanon to the towns of Sidon and Tyre, and probably others, to minister to the small groups of Jews living up there, and it was on this ministry journey, he met a Samaritan woman getting her water alone at the village well. We know how this story went, Jesus knew everything about her “checkered past,” telling her everything she had ever done, but unlike her neighbors, Jesus did not judge her but gave hope and mercy and her life was forever turned around.
In today’s text, Jesus has completed his work in the north, preaching, teaching, and healing, around Galilee but now his “Face was a looking south to Jerusalem.” He was now about to begin his journey to Jerusalem where he would complete his ministry through the Cross of Calvary. I wonder what he would have looked like in front of his disciples; I wonder if he looked right past them, or right through them, as he knew exactly what would he would have to endure for our salvation after he entered Jerusalem. For Jesus, nothing was a secret.
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 thought 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 Temple mount is, 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 and his little tribe of disciples as the disciples expected. Jesus didn’t seem to mind, but the disciples certainly seemed offended! 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 and Gentile alike, just because they were ‘snubbed’ by the Samaritans, the disciples wanted to incinerate the Samaritans! Had they not learned anything while they followed Jesus all this time?
As Jesus begins his Journey to the Cross, Luke tells us of two encounters Jesus had with people that wanted to follow Jesus, and one that Jesus actually called to follow Him. What was Luke’s point in writing about these encounters, or were they parables? It is hard to tell…
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.’
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… but…
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, not like a king like Herod. The symbol for the Romans was the eagle, and like a bird makes a nest, not a roost, they have only created a “temporary” living space among the People of Palestine only to occupy them and take taxes.
Jesus is not about living in an opulent palace like Herod, and he is definitely a person living of off the hospitality of the people. To follow Jesus means, forget opulent living and 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 mean something like, “Start a new action! Get involved with me full time!”
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?
The man’s attitude is still very much alive in many parts of the Middle East; 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. What he is saying to Jesus, “Surely you do not expect me to violate the expectations of my community.”
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 tell the unruly animal you were 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 signing up for a self-help course. Following Jesus is about a lifelong relationship with Jesus, the redeemer of our sins and the one who has promised to love us and call 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. After feeling the call to become a missionary IN JAPAN, what do you think the response my mother would have been if I went back to my parents home to get permission to go off to Japan to be a missionary? Of course, she would have said NO!!! In fact, she questioned me every time I saw her before I left, and they both constantly asked me when I would be coming home. 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 all the blessings that you shower upon us each and everyday?”
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. Totally excited 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, just the now, and anticipation of things to come. Amen.
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