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Bible Commentary / Bible Study

The call of Jesus. Luke 9:51-62

by Rev. Bryan Findlayson


The central theme of chapters 9:51 through to 10:42 is the meaning and acceptance of the kingdom's message. In our passage for study we look at the first two episodes, namely Jesus' rejection in Samaria, and the cost of discipleship. These two stories tell us that the message of the kingdom concerns deliverance, not judgement, and that gaining this deliverance must take priority in our life.

The passage

v51. The Samaritans, who were half-cast Jews, were despised by the Jews. The Samaritans didn't much like the Jews either, and so when Jewish pilgrims had to pass through Samaria, journeying to Jerusalem, abuse, and sometimes violence, resulted. Jesus was observably Jerusalem bound and this prompted a reaction from the Samaritans. Judgement was their deserved end, according to James and John.

Yet, Jesus was heading for the cross and thus, the deliverance of those enslaved by sin. Even the Samaritans were to share in this salvation and so the disciples were rebuked for their lack of perception.

v52-53. A Jew would normally try to skirt around Samaria, when heading for Jerusalem, but the picture we get here is of Jesus' need to press on toward his destiny. The disciples set out to organize lodgings in a nearby village, but the locals sense Jesus' agitation to be on his way to Jerusalem and this only provokes racial hostility.

v54. As usual, the disciples have missed the point, and so they ask Jesus whether they can call for an Elijah type judgement upon the village.

v55-56. Jesus' rebuke exposes the disciples' failure to understand the nature of his journey, which, despite their lack of perception, continues.

v57. Again in travel mode, Jesus presses on toward Jerusalem. Luke wants us to see the journey within the context of Jesus moving toward the cross. So, on the way Jesus meets three candidates for discipleship, three people who want to join with Jesus on the journey. The first and third candidates volunteer, the second is invited.

v58. Jesus tests the commitment of this first candidate, as he does with the others, by telling him that discipleship is a difficult road to travel; he doesn't want "fair-weather disciples". Jesus "is the penniless and ever-working one who has sacrificed family and home for the sake of the kingdom", E. Ellis. With the first candidate, Jesus demands self-sacrifice. Of course, Jesus is calling for a commitment to the deliverance gained by the lowly suffering servant. Those wanting to follow the Son of Man must accept a humiliated, not a glorious messiah. Deliverance comes via a cross.

v59-60. With the second candidate, Jesus demands that all must be laid aside. Religious duty demands that a dead relative be buried. Left unburied, all the relatives would be ceremonially unclean. Jesus' retort is that the "dead" (in the sense of those who do not, and will not, share the resurrection life of Christ - the spiritually dead) aught to be left to bury the physically dead. A disciple needs to accept the urgency of their mission, and strive to proclaim the good news. Of course, we can do this and attend our father's funeral at the same time. Jesus' vivid description serves to give direction to the Christian life, not define a law.

v61-62. With the third candidate, Jesus demands undivided loyalty. Reliance on family, on the familiar, on the tested and tried, rather than on the deliverance provided by Jesus, excludes us from the kingdom. The imagery here comes from Elijah's call of Elisha, 1Ki.19:20ff.

Following Jesus

"The privilege and the seriousness of following Christ are of such tremendous magnitude that there is no room for excuse, for compromise with the world, or for half-heartedness. What a challenge and inspiration to know that He who calls us to complete devotion and loyalty, Himself followed wholeheartedly the road of self-denial - yea, even to the death of the cross!" - N. Geldenhuys.

Oh dear! such devotion and loyalty I do not possess, and I fear, I will never possess. Am I then lost before the throne of my God? Am I then that unfaithful servant without hope? Am I the forsaken one? Luther felt that he was the forsaken one and easily mouthed the words "my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Yet, he came to realize that it was "Christ forsaken for me." Christ has taken the punishment due me, and in its place has bestowed upon me his worthiness. My salvation does not depend on my worthiness as a disciple, but on Christ's worthiness.

Here lies the point of our passage. Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, toward a cross and empty tomb. In this is deliverance for lost humanity. So, we are asked to rely on the humiliated Christ and the absurdity of the claim that he has risen from the dead, rather than on the tangible things of life. The question is, are we willing to rely on him for our salvation? Not only must we personally rely on this deliverance, but we must accept the urgency of making it known to broken humanity.

Our standing in the kingdom of God depends on our daily reliance upon the good news of that deliverance achieved for us by Christ in his death and resurrection. The rest is in God's hands.


"Creatively" discuss the many possible meanings of v62 and compare them with the idea that this verse simply calls for a single minded reliance on Christ for salvation.

Source: Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources

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