Luke 9: 51 – 62 Samaritan opposition (and) The cost of following Jesus
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’ But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.
As they were walking along the road, a man said to them, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’
Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’
He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’
But he replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’
Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’
Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’
* * *
When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’
My first response to this question is to wonder how James and John could make such a spectacular mistake. What reasons could they have had? Let’s start by looking at the context.
Jesus is heading for Jerusalem, “resolutely” as St Luke puts it. Twice, now, he has spoken to the disciples about his forthcoming death. They haven’t understood, but they’re starting to understand that there’s a crisis ahead. They can sense that time is running short.
In addition, there was a strand of Jewish thinking at the time that anticipated the end of the world with judgment and the creation of a new heaven and earth. This carried over into early Christian thought, too. In fact, in Luke 10: 13 – 15 we see very clearly that St Luke’s understanding of Jesus’ teaching was that there would be a day of reckoning for those towns that had rejected him.
So it would seem that the disciples’ mistake was one of timing rather than outcome. The Samaritan village would suffer a judgment as terrible as fire falling from heaven to destroy it.
I’m sorry; I don’t buy that. Even human justice doesn’t go that far. Indeed, when a nation rains down fire from heaven on civilian villages, we refer to the act as a war crime.
Is this a misunderstanding of God’s purpose by St Luke, or is this genuinely what God wants us to understand from this teaching? I am going to hold onto the thought that St Luke is understanding Jesus’ teaching in the intellectual context of his time, and that the message is not as harsh as it appears here. However, I do this with trepidation, because I want to take the bible seriously.
The next five verses are about the cost of following Jesus. When you follow Jesus, he has to come first.
He has no dwelling. Why should a disciple expect more?
You may think you have a very good family reason for not immediately following Jesus, but if you have been given a task by Jesus you must put that task first.
You may even be happy to do as you’re told, you just want to say goodbye to your family. The trouble is that this is a distraction. If you look back while you’re ploughing, you’re likely to plough in the wrong place. The task needs your full attention.
Now while Jesus must come first for each one of us, it’s not always the case that you have to leave your family; that you have no home; that family duties aren’t important. We know that Jesus had friends who showed their faith in their ordinary daily lives. Mary, Martha and Lazarus, for example, were people like that, living normal lives, and Jesus loved them.
But for each of us there is likely to be a time when Jesus says, “Now, I want all your attention, all your love.” When that day comes, we need to be ready to say “Yes, Lord,” with love and gratitude, for it is our beloved speaking.
I’m sorry; I really struggle with the teaching about judgment. Please help me to understand and accept what I need in order to follow Jesus faithfully.
In Jesus name, Amen