Gospel: Luke 9:51-62
The Role and Commitment of the Disciple
Whom do you admire as a Christian? Why?
51 When he finished preaching in Galilee, Jesus firmly decided to go to Jerusalem. 52 He sent followers ahead. They went into a village in Samaria and tried to prepare the people for him. 53 But, the village didn't welcome them because Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem. 54 When James and John saw this happen, they asked Jesus, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven and burn those people up?" 55 Jesus turned around and got very angry at them. 56 In the end, Jesus and his followers went to another village.
57 Along the way, someone said, "Lord, I will go wherever you go."
58 Jesus replied, "Foxes have their lairs, birds have their nests, but the Son of Man doesn't have a place he can call his home."
59 Jesus called out to another person, "Follow me!"
"Lord, let me leave first," the man replied, "and bury my father."
60 "Send those who are dead to bury their dead!" Jesus insisted. "But you must leave and proclaim God's Kingdom!"
61 A third man said, "I will follow you. But let me first say goodbye to my family."
62 "No one who starts a job but keeps looking back can serve in God's Kingdom!" Jesus shot back.
These passages from Luke can be divided into two parts: 1) a power play by James and John against inhospitable Samaritans and 2) three sharp exchanges on discipleship.
51 It happened in the fulfillment of the days of HIS ascension. HE fixed HIS face to travel to Jerusalem. 52 HE sent messengers before his face. Having traveled, they went into a Samaritan village in order to prepare for him. 53 They did not welcome them because HIS face was traveling to Jerusalem. 54 Having seen (these events), the disciples James and John said, "LORD, do YOU wish that we command fire to come down from heaven and destroy them?" 55 Having turned, HE chided them. 56 So, they traveled to another village.
9:51 "in the fulfillment of the days of his ascension." "Ascension" is literally "taken up." Jesus was taken up in two senses. He was taken up to Jerusalem. And he was taken up on the cross. This phrase referred to the fulfillment of his destiny.
"HE fixed HIS face to travel to Jerusalem." The Hebraism, "to fix (one's) face" meant "to firmly resolve."
9:51-53 The term "face" referred to the person of Jesus. It can be loosely translated as a reflexive pronoun "himself." Jesus set himself toward Jerusalem. He sent envoys before himself. And he himself was traveling toward Jerusalem.
9:53 The Samaritans did not receive Jesus because did not accept the status of Jerusalem as the worship center for the God of Israel and they hated Jews. Samaritans had their own worship site on Mt. Gerizim and considered Jews as heretics.
9:54 "Master, do you wish that we command fire to come down from heaven and destroy them?" This is truly an amazing statement. James and John expected to exact divine judgement at the direction of Jesus. Did they expect to control heaven though Jesus?
Luke set the scene with a decision of Jesus. His ministry in Galilee was finished. And he was firm in his decision to go to Jerusalem so he could fulfill his destiny.
In order to prepare his way, Jesus sent envoys, but they were rebuffed in a Samaritan village. James and John, the same disciples who asked to sit at Jesus's right and left (i.e., next in command), wanted to call divine wrath on the village. Not only did the disciples want to partake in God's power. They wanted to exercise divine judgement.
James and John equated Jesus' ministry with their misconception about the Messianic mission. They thought the Messiah would enter Jerusalem to earthly glory. Along with the Lord, the inner circle of Jesus would rule the world. James and John presumed they would be served, or would destroy those who refused to serve them.
The two disciples pressed their misconception with Jesus in public in order to shame him into action. No wonder Jesus turned around to put them in their place! They didn't understand the true meaning of discipleship.
57 As they traveled on the way, someone said to HIM, "I will follow YOU wherever YOU go." 58 JESUS said to him, "Foxes have lairs. Birds of heaven have nests. But the Son of Man has nowhere he might rest his head (for sleep)." 59 HE said to another, "Follow me." He said, "[LORD], allow me, having gone first, to bury my father." 60 HE said to him, "Send the dead to bury their own dead. But you, having left, proclaim the Kingdom of God." 61 Another said to HIM, "I will follow you, LORD, but allow me first to say goodbye to those in my house." 62 JESUS said to him, "No one having put his hand on the plough and looking back is suitable for the Kingdom of God."
9:58 "Birds of heaven have nests." "Nests" are literally "tents having been set up."
9:59 "Allow me, having gone first, to bury my father." Whether the man's father was dead or not was not the point. The man wanted to place the obligation of family before discipleship.
9:60 "Send the dead to bury their own dead. But you, having left, proclaim the Kingdom of God." In the first part of the statement, did Jesus mean that the dead (i.e., family) bury themselves? Or, that those who place family obligation above the Kingdom were, in some sense, dead? In the second part of the statement, Jesus clarified the obligation of the Christian to leave family ("having left") and go preach as Jesus preached.
9:61 "house" referred to extended family, not to a dwelling.
9:62 "No one having put his hand on the plow and looking back . . . " This agricultural analogy referred to the person of two minds. Guiding a plow demanded concentration to make straight furrows and maximize land usage. Someone who looked behind would plough crooked (and wastefully). He might even run into something and ruin the plow. Likewise, the person of two minds was unfocused, wasteful, and foolhardy. As such, he might bring shame on those who proclaimed the Kingdom.
In these three exchanges, Jesus seemed to speak directly to Luke's audience. He began with the phrase "along the way," a reference not only to the travels of Jesus, but to the Christian lifestyle, known among early Christians as "the Way."
In 9:57-62, Jesus emphasized the uncertainty, the priority, and the resolute nature of the Christian discipleship. The ministry of Jesus and his early followers was a mobile one. They trusted God to provide. Someone who worried too much about their own needs (i.e., shelter) could not focus upon the changing nature of ministry on the road.
Not only was the Christian life uncertain. It required a commitment higher than that of family. For, many times, loyalty to extended family (one of the highest social values in the ancient world) could curtail or suppress a commitment to Christ. Hence, one might need to reject family in order to accept the Savior.
Finally, the Christian discipleship was to be unflinching. Those who were not single-hearted need not apply. For only a fool would try to commit to Christ and constantly look behind to a former life.
Discipleship, then, required a clear understanding of role and of commitment. The disciples served. And the disciple made his or her trust in the Lord the highest priority. No matter who. No matter what.
Write down a simple job description of a Christian. How do you measure up? How can you improve this week?