Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Church

Devotional Thoughts for the Fourth Sunday After New Sunday

by Lectionary blogging: Luke 9: 51-62 (Progressive Involvement)

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 toward 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.

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 plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Translation:

And it happened, when the days were fulfilled that he be received up, he resolutely set his face to go into Jerusalem. And he sent messengers before his face, and going, they entered into a city of Samaritans to make ready for him. And they did not receive him because his face was going into Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw, they said, "Lord, do you wish (that) we might speak fire to come down from heaven to consume them?" But being turned, he rebuked them. And they went on to another village.

And as they were going on the way, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you might go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and the birds of heaven nests, but the son of man does not have a place where he might lay (his) head."

He said to another, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go to bury my father." But he said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead. But you go. Declare the kingdom of God." Yet another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but first let me bid farewell to the ones in my house." But Jesus said to him, "No one stretching forth his hand upon a plow, and looking into the past, is well-situated to the kingdom of God."

Background and situation:

The text marks a shift in Luke. Since chapter four, Jesus has been in Galilee. Now, he makes his move toward Jerusalem. With this text, Luke's gospel takes on a new trajectory. The passage is Lukan, though with some Q material. (See Matthew 8: 18-22.)

Several Old Testament texts lie behind the passage, most notably 2 Kings 2: 9-15 where the prophet Elijah is taken up to heaven and his mission falls to Elisha. (See also 2 Kings 1: 10 and Isaiah 50: 6-7.)

Text:

The passages begins with egeneto--"it happened," or "it came to be"--which is quite often a signal of special importance. The opening verse also contains the word analampseos, which is used only here in the New Testament. The word is sometimes translated as "death," though the sense here, while including death, would also include Jesus' ascension--the word's literal meaning is "taken up."

Note as well that "the days" of his being "taken up" were "fulfilled." The reference to "days" would prevent too easy an identification with any one aspect of Jesus' experience in Jerusalem--not just ascension, in other words, but the whole panoply of the passion drama, which would include rejection, death, resurrection, and ascension. The use of the word "fulfillment" (sumplerousthai) also suggests several events being seen together.

The shift from a Galilee mission to a focus on Jerusalem is stated simply and directly: "...he resolutely set his face to go into Jerusalem." The phrase "set his face" occurs several times in the Old Testament, sometimes as a sign of judgment (Ez 6:2, Jer: 21:10). (Schweitzer: "In Biblical usage, to 'set one's face' toward someone or something means to 'decide against.'" p. 169). Jesus did not necessarily "decide against" Jerusalem. His mission there, however, provokes a crisis in which Jerusalem incriminates itself.

The expression also occurs in Isaiah 50:7: "I set my face like flint." Such an expression indicates absolute resolution. In the case of Isaiah 50, this resolution is borne out of trust in God. "He who vindicates me is near." (50:8) Likewise, this sense of the expression seems to be at work in Luke. Jesus' unwavering resolution is based in devotion to God.

In 2 Kgs 2: 10-11, Elijah ascends into heaven and his mission falls to Elisha. Something similar is happening in this text. Luke says that Jesus "sent messengers before his face." Just two chapters previous, in 7:27, Jesus had quoted the prophet Malachi--“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you." In that case it referred to John the Baptist. John has since died, however. As though picking up John's fallen standard, these messengers are now the disciples themselves.

The Malachi text (3:1), incidentally, is also connected to Elijah (4:5)--"Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes." In Malachi, however, this is clearly a mission of judgment. Jesus will specifically reject that approach shortly.

This short text has a great deal of activity and energy. Depending on how you count, there are between six and nine references to "going" or "journeying" in these few verses. These verbs accentuate the sense of mission.

These messenger/disciples enter a city of Samaritans. This was unusual. Samaria lies between Galilee to the north and Judea to the south. The complex history between Samaritans and Jews had made each group so disgusted with the other that Jews travelling to Galilee or Judea would usually opt to take the longer route through Transjordan rather than set foot in Samaria. No Jewish woman could marry a Samaritan.

The Samaritans shared some aspects of faith with the Judeans. Their sacred book was the pentateuch, and, in their minds, they worshipped Yahweh. They rejected, however, the focus on Jerusalem that was integral to the Judeans' Jewish faith. The Samaritans regarded Mt. Gerazim as the place where Yahweh wanted his holy temple, a temple which, by the way, was destroyed by Judeans in 128 BC. (Samaritans were militarily weak and couldn't retaliate, but they were capable of some effective street theater. In an attempt at desecration, they once scattered dead bones in the Jerusalem Temple.)

Samaria was the region once known as the Northern Kingdom (922 BC - 722 BC). When the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom, they removed some people from the area to other parts of the Assyrian kingdom and also brought people in. As far as Judeans were concerned, the Samaritans were some form of "half-breed" and their theology was heretical.

The Samaritans do not "receive" Jesus' messengers. The stated reason for their lack of reception is that Jesus "face was set to Jerusalem." Samaritans didn't want to have anything to do with Jerusalem nor with anyone headed there. The Samaritans are not unique in this respect. Neither Galilee (4:16-30) nor the gentile land of the Gerasenes (7:36-8:3) was receptive to Jesus on the first try.

And when his disciples James and John saw, they said, "Lord, do you wish (that) we might speak fire to come down from heaven to consume them?" But being turned, he rebuked them. And they went on to another village.

Though James and John are "messengers," they get the message wrong. Elijah had indeed called down fire from heaven to destroy a military detachment from Samaria (2 Kgs 1:10). They suppose that firey judgment might be called for against the Samaritans yet again, and they further suppose they are the ones to administer it.

Elijah is an important fore-runner, as was John the Baptist, and now the disciples. But Jesus is not Elijah, and his mission is not about judgment, but compassion and mercy. (Joel Green says that, for Jesus, Elijah is "both a type and antitype" p. 406).

Indeed, even though this Samaritan mission was not received, other Samaritan missions will be more successful. The healed leper in 17:16--the only one to thank Jesus--was a Samaritan. At the ascension of Jesus in Acts, also written by Luke, Samaria is included in the first mission of the disciples (Acts 1:8). Also in Acts, there was "great joy" in Samaria at the mission of Philip (Acts 17:5-8).

The mission of Jesus may meet resistance at first--Galilee, Gerasenes, Samaria, Jerusalem itself--but Jesus never gives up. Meeting rejection in Samaria, the mission continues anyway. "And they went on to another village."

Jesus "rebuked" (epitimao) his wayward disciples James and John. No, they are not calling down fire on the Samaritans. Quite often, epitimao is used when Jesus is "rebuking" demons. (See 4:35 and 8:42.) For Jesus, violence is the devil's work.

And as they were going on the way, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you might go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and the birds of heaven nests, but the son of man does not have a place where he might lay (his) head."

He said to another, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go to bury my father." But he said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead. But you go. Declare the kingdom of God." Yet another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but first let me bid farewell to the ones in my house." But Jesus said to him, "No one stretching forth his hand upon a plow, and looking into the past, is well-situated to the kingdom of God."

The entourage is moving again. They are "going on the way." (In all four gospels, the Jesus movement is characterized as being "on the way.") Specific places are not identified in our lection because the accent is no longer on place, but rather on movement and commitment.

A would-be follower asks to follow Jesus. He will follow Jesus no matter where he goes. Jesus responds by talking about the difficulties of itinerant ministry. Message: Be aware. If you want to follow me, you might be homeless. The Jesus movement ain't beanbag.

Jesus tells another person to follow him, but this one wants to bury his father first. This is not unreasonable. Customs of the time considered the proper burial of one's parents as being an important part of fulfilling the commandment to "honor your father and mother" (Ex. 20:12).

Likewise, it was not unreasonable to want to say good-bye to one's family. In yet another Old Testament allusion to Elijah, the prophet had allowed Elisha to bid farewell to his parents before following Elijah. As Jesus is more than Elijah, however, more is required of his disciples. Once you've dedicated yourself to the Jesus mission, there is no more "looking into the past."

In two out of three of these encounters, Jesus makes reference to the "kingdom of God." In God's kingdom, traditional loyalties get re-arranged. Even one's family, and one's obligations to them, takes second place.

This should not be surprising. The family is the tradition par excellence. Each person is the product of generations upon generations of ancestors. Each person is, therefore, the living face of some very ancient connections. Each human face is a contemporary embodiment of "the past."

In God's kingdom, we are not defined by our past, however, but by our future. This is why focusing on the past--maintaining obedience to traditional practices, placing one's tradition above "the way"--does not leave one "well-situated" (euthetos) for the reign of God. For Luke, and for Jesus, "the way" only goes forward.

See Also:

Who Pays the Cost of Discipleship?
by Rev. Andrew Eckert, Oklahoma

Devotional Thoughts for the Fourth Sun after New Sunday
by Rev. Fr. K. K. John

Devotional Thoughts for the Fourth Sunday after New Sunday
by Rev. Dn. Philip Mathew

He Rests His Head in Loving You
by Rev. Dn. Gheevarghese John

Devotional Thoughts for 4th Sunday after New Sunday
by Jose Kurian Puliyeril

Sermons Home | General Sermons and Essays | Articles | eBooks | Our Faith | Prayers | Library - Home | Baselios Church Home

-------
Malankara World
A service of St. Basil's Syriac Orthodox Church, Ohio
Copyright © 2009-2017 - ICBS Group. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer
Website designed, built, and hosted by International Cyber Business Services, Inc., Hudson, Ohio