Year C Trinity 3/Proper 8 : Luke 9:51-62
In Chapter 9:28-36 we have the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus. Jesus revealing his heavenly splendour and glory to the disciples. You would think that this mountain top experience would inspire the disciples to great things. Yet Luke records that they were unable to drive a demon out of a boy; then that they were arguing among themselves as to which one of them would be the greatest.
We then come to today's reading. We have two incidents which appear unconnected, Samaritan Opposition and The Cost of Following Jesus. Yet there is a thread running through these accounts. The cost of following God's way. Repeat.
The cost of following God's way for Jesus.
Verses 51-56 relate to a two-fold rejection of Jesus. Verse 51 tells us that he resolutely set out for Jerusalem. This determination was not merely to fulfil his religious duty to journey there for the Passover. Many Jews did this every year. Jesus was determined because he knew that he was going to be betrayed and crucified.
Jesus had already told his disciples about this in verse 44. Yet they did not understand this, verse 45. Perhaps the wonder of the Transfiguration and the crowds marvelling at Jesus following the exorcism blinded them to the type of Messiah that Jesus was to be.
The cost of following God for Jesus was to be rejection by the people whom he had come to save first of all. The Jews rejected their saviour. On the cross Jesus was rejected by God the Father. Jesus, who never sinned had never been out of close fellowship with God the Father until that moment. Jesus took upon himself the sins of the whole world. Everything that mankind has ever done wrong was taken upon himself by Jesus and, as he did this he was separated by God who cannot abide sin.
We recoil as we here of the murder of a young schoolgirl, the calculated hooliganism that leaves a policeman near to death, and a law that gives equality to a lifestyle that is contrary to God's law and the way he has created us.
The Samaritans also rejected Jesus.
The Samaritans were brought to Samaria in 677 B.C. by the King of Assyria from Babylon and other places. They partly adopted the Jewish religion. However, they had their own temple in Shechem to rival the one in Jerusalem. They argued with the Jews about the true place to worship God. There was bitter enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans. That is why the parable of a Good Samaritan would have been offensive to a Jew.
Jesus reaches out to those who are themselves rejected and considered worthless. He did this with the tax collectors and sinners in Chapter 15. Here he offers fellowship to the Samaritans. They reject him because he is going to Jerusalem. The place where the enemy worships God.
Jesus is rejected by the Jews and he is rejected because he is a Jew.
James and John consider this an insult to their master and threaten to call down fire from heaven to defend Jesus' honour. Yet God's power is not on tap for vindictive disciples. God's power is there to transform those who follow him faithfully wherever Jesus leads them. It is God's job to judge, not ours. He has already judged sinful man by punishing Jesus.
The next time that God judges will be when Jesus returns.
Jesus rebukes James and John. In doing so he rebukes me and you when we judge others and want to dispense what we see as justice to them. This does not mean that we cannot speak out against what is contrary to God's revealed will. It does mean that it is not our job to condemn.
Jesus and the disciples move on to another village, verse 56. To preach the gospel there. If it is also rejected there then they are to keep moving on. A pattern we see at the start of Chapter 10 when Jesus sends out the 72 disciples.
There is a lesson for us here today. If people reject the gospel God calls us to move on and work with those who do respond. Those who want to get to grips with God and his word. This leads us into our next section from verse 57 - 62.
The cost of following God's way for a disciple of Jesus.
In verse 23 Jesus said that if anyone wants to follow him he must "deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me". Here we see three examples of the single-mindedness and self-sacrifice that Jesus demands.
We have three would-be followers of Jesus. The word follow comes up each time. The first takes the initiative. Boldly declaring that he will follow Jesus anywhere. Jesus replies that this involves forsaking the security of a home. Now Jesus is not saying that every Christian is called to renounce their home. He is saying that every Christian is called to put Jesus first in their priorities. For some this will involve them in leaving their homes and families. Missionaries and clergy are two examples that readily come to mind. But for every Christian this means that their security should be in their relationship with Jesus and their home in heaven with him, not in their home on earth. It also means that we should invest our time and energies in building up our treasures in heaven, not treasuring our buildings on earth !
The second potential disciple has just had his father die. He would have been upset and also had a sacred Jewish obligation to bury him. Something that was took priority over everything. Even the obligation of saying one's daily prayers.
Jesus reply appears stark, mystifying, even heartless. What did he mean by saying, 'Let the dead bury the dead' in verse 60 '?
We need to understand the two meanings of death in the Bible. The first and obvious meaning is physical death. The second is the death of our relationship with God. 'The wages of sin is death' Romans 6:23 is referring to spiritual death.
So Jesus is saying 'let the spiritually dead bury those who are physically dead'. He goes on to add a positive demand that he requires of this person 'but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God'. Jesus is talking about priorities. It is more important to proclaim God's kingdom than to attend to obligations that, whilst important, can be done by others. He is not saying that you cannot be a Christian and a funeral
director ! In fact one way of someone proclaiming God's kingdom could be to be a funeral director and witness to the eternal life that Jesus gives.
The third potential disciple wants to say goodbye to his family. Jesus tells him that there is no room for looking back for those who follow him. He uses the illustration of someone ploughing a field. A ploughman would hold the light plough in the left hand whilst goading the oxen with the right. Successful ploughing is achieved by focusing on what is ahead, perhaps a point in a hedgerow. If someone looks back the plough goes all over the place. Just like a parent driving a car should not look backwards at a child because they will swerve as their attention is diverted from the wheel.
This represents the need for some to put aside a family duty in order to serve Jesus. It does not mean that every Christian has to abandon their family, but it does mean that every Christian must be prepared to.
Jesus ' followers must look forward not back. Jesus' followers find themselves in a new family. God's family. Where its members are still united by blood. The blood of Jesus shed for us. This blood is thicker than water. It is thicker than the ties of nationality, sex, class, education, and age. We are united through Jesus blood, sharing the one Holy Spirit who lives in every believer.
The world rejected Jesus. Jesus followers have to reject the world. They must put him first.
These three things : the security of home; accepted customs; and family ties are still to be a normal part of life for Christians because they are part of life as created by God. But the crucial question posed by this passage is what would happen if we were challenged to give up one of these things by God ?
For example, to take up the first challenge. How would we feel if Jesus called us to give up the security of our home and area and go to Wolverhampton to live in a smaller home with a lower income amongst ethnic people ?
The second challenge. How would we feel about doing something for Jesus that goes against the accepted norms. Like going from door to door telling people about Jesus rather than, say, watching the television or playing golf, tennis, or bowls?
The third challenge. Rather than having lunch with our families why don't we meet together and have a Sunday lunch as a fellowship ?
Which way would we follow ? Comfort, of home ? Or convention, of doing what is expected ? Or custom, of a family duty? Or putting Christ before all ? The test is follow me says Jesus.
Years ago a wealthy lady asked a missionary from China why she was not happy. The missionary asked her, 'Have you surrendered everything to Jesus ?'
'Yes, as far as I know I have surrendered all' replied the lady.
'Are you sure that everything is on the altar?' the missionary asked.
'My all is on the altar, I believe.' answered the woman again.
'And are you willing for God to take your little girl here and send her to China ?' asked the missionary, placing his hand on her head.
'God take my daughter and make her a missionary in China! I should say not. I want her here with me,' exclaimed the mother.
'And yet you tell me you have yielded all, and you have not yielded your own child to God. How can you expect God's blessing and peace and joy ? You stand, as it were between God and his will for your daughter, and you say to him, 'this far you can come and no further. You can have my home, my money, and me, but don't touch my daughter. Madam, do you call that surrender ?'