by Rev. Fr. K. K. John
4th Sunday after New Sunday or 5th after Resurrection
The Gospel reading for this Sunday is from Luke 9:51-62.
When ascension drew near Jesus decided to go to Jerusalem through Samaria. He sent disciples to Samaria to prepare for him. Samaritans did not receive him. John and James were enraged at the rejection. They asked Jesus if Samaritans be destroyed by fire. Jesus rebuked them saying, he came not to destroy but to save souls. They proceeded through another village. One man came forward to follow Jesus. Jesus revealed his nothingness in the worldly sense. Then Jesus said another one to follow. He wanted to first bury his father. Jesus charged him to preach the Kingdom of God. Another one was willing but wanted to bid farewell to his relatives. To him Jesus said he who takes up the plough and looks back are unworthy for Gospel.' This portion makes me think the following:
These are two different events namely:
I. the Samaritans rejected Jesus because Jesus' plan to go to Jerusalem was against their wish. Jews and Samaritans hated each other. Jews considered Samaritans defiled and did not have any contact with them. Samaritans, on the other hand, rejected the Jewish contention and considered them enemies.
II The second part of the reading is about discipleship.
King Solomon sinned by marrying heathen women and defiled the nation with idol worship. God was angry and judged him. The kingdom shall be divided; a remnant for the sake of David retained and major portion given to his servant, 1Kings 11:10-13. This was fulfilled in 1Kings 12:15-20. 10 tribes rejected Rehoboam, son of Solomon and made Jeroboam their king. 10 tribes so separated were known as Israel or Northern Kingdom. Judah and Benjamin stayed with Rehoboam. They were known as Judah or Southern Kingdom. King of Babel attached Israel and led the people into captivity. Mixed races occupied the vacant land and they indulged in mixed marriages. For this reason Jews looked upon the Samaritans with contempt. Woman of Suchar shows this bitterness to Jesus when He asked water, Jn 4:9, refer also parable of Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37.
(1) Samaritans opposed to and rejected Jesus for going to Jerusalem, their enemy town.
John and James whom Jesus surnamed "Boanerges," sons of thunder because they undauntedly expressed their opinions, thought of annihilating them for not accepting Jesus. Both are in the same situation. Are we different? Do we not in our human weakness often curse and work against those who oppose or disagree with us? David who was "Man after God's own heart" also prayed against and cursed his enemies, Ps 6:10, 68:1, 72:9. Compassion and discernment of heart are lacking in this case. John and James found justification that Elijah brought fire from above twice, that consumed 102 enemies. Elijah prophesied that Ahaziah would die in his bed. So he sent fifty soldiers and a captain to bring Elijah to face charges. Elijah was sitting on a hilltop. At his command fire came down from heaven and consumed all. This was repeated again, 2K 1:10, 12. Thiruvachana Bhashyam, Commentary on Luke, by Fr Dr Jacob Kurian, page 136 notes 1K 18:38 as the OT portion that prompted John and James resort to Samaritans' destruction. It might be an error for there it was not to destroy enemies but to prove Jehovah was the only God. We ought to have the attitude of peace, reconciliation and forgiveness to those who reject us. Jesus teaches against retaliation, which all, especially church leaders need to take serious note of.
(2) Jesus is correcting them through a mild rebuke.
Correction often requires rebuke, though most of us do not like it. Jesus here reveals the basic purpose of his mission; save souls. He was always conscious of his mission. The same mission he entrusted to his disciples and to us through disciples. But how far we are conscious or fulfill the call to save souls? A Christian who is lukewarm, compromising with sin and unrighteous in conduct shall never be a worthy disciple.
(3) Jesus faced opposition when he started ministry in Galilee.
Now he faces opposition to go to Jerusalem. His half-brothers did not support him at first. Disciples discouraged him at various points and now the Samaritans rejected him outright. But none of these deterred Jesus to go forward. His sense of purpose and resolve to accomplish his mission came first in the mind.
II The second part of the reading is about discipleship.
At first it seems both events are unrelated but the fact is; this discourse stems from the rejection by Samaritans. They considered meaningless to go to Jerusalem when they had their worship centre at Garizim. The proverb, "Enemy's friend is an enemy" is apt here. If Jesus is a friend of Jews, Samaritans would not like it. They rejected Jesus because they were yet to understand the cost of real discipleship. So this portion is to be viewed in didactic sense. Should we consider these literally or proverbially? Jerome prefers the latter. Verse 58 is exaggeration and needs not be taken literally. It is an expression of humility. If the master had humility the disciple also must have humility. How shall we explain "Dead burying the dead" in the literal sense? Jesus is teaching three challenges of discipleship that is; one who thinks of personal comfort is unfit, one who gives priority to matters other than the Kingdom of God is unfit and one who withdraws from the call is also unfit for discipleship. Each one Christian is called to be a disciple. Think which category we fit in well.
Some people came to him while Jesus called others. Each of them was treated according to merit and divine wisdom of Christ because only God knows the heart of man, "Lord sees not as man sees, man looks the outward appearance but the Lord looks on the heart," 1Sam 16:7. Deity of Jesus is self-evident here. Keep this cardinal principle in mind to explain this portion.
(1) The first man volunteers to discipleship without any conditions. He said, "Lord, I will follow you wherever you go," v57. Instead of an ok reply, Jesus said the famous words, "Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head," v58.
It seems as though Jesus is discouraging his enthusiasm if not fully refusing his offer. Many people envision only one side, the glorious part, of discipleship. They show much enthusiasm in the beginning without understanding the full aspects of it. Jesus did many miracles, taught with authority, large number of people followed; all these might have attracted this man. He might have visualized in Jesus a mighty leader who would defeat Romans, the enemies and establish self-rule in Israel. So he eyed reserving comfortable future.
Jesus corrected his misguided enthusiasm by enlisting the hard side of discipleship. Jesus offers nothing but the cross of self-abnegation and perfect commitment to the cause of Gospel, not worldly comfort to his followers. Disciple should not expect what the master does not have. Personal security and discipleship would not go together. Jesus gave him a chance to check his inner motive.
The leaders of the church need to seriously introspect and ascertain where they stand in the light of this verse. How they could spent lion share of the time in air travels, luxury hotels, become social/political/stock brokers, amass wealth and unmindful about the suffering faithful when the Lord has clearly said no to it? How a Church can fight over thrones, brick and mud and indulge in shameful litigation? He who seeks personal comfort is not true disciple of Christ and that is the real challenge.
(2) Contrastingly, in the second case, Jesus invites a man to follow him. Not that he is unwilling but he is constrained by the sense of duties, first he needs to bury his father.
It sounds logical and yet Jesus reply was different. He said, "Let the dead bury their dead, you go and preach," v60. One's first priority should be to God and then to fellow men. He who gives priority to worldly relations rather than God is unfit for the kingdom of God. Those who are entangled too much in the worldly affairs are spiritually dead and they would take care of the physically dead.
(3) Here is a man who volunteers discipleship with a condition that he wishes to first go and bid farewell to his relatives.
The condition is seemingly genuine but Jesus' perspective was different. The imagery is simple; we have seen how a farmer ploughs the field. With one hand he holds the plough which is tied to two oxen and with another holding a stick he leads the oxen. He should hold the plough firm and steady looking ahead. If he turns around and looks back the oxen will loose the way and the furrow will get crooked or uneven. Grains could not be distributed evenly and this would result in poor growth and less yield.
Looking back is symbolic of laziness, tardiness, carelessness and absence of motivation. Kingdom of God requires disciples' undivided attention and discipline. Wavering mind is unfit. Example, Lot's wife, Gen 19:26.
This parable is about disciples' commitment especially relevant to clergy.
The sole motto of the one who chooses priesthood ought to be how to please God, further the Kingdom of God and save souls. Some are not conscious enough of their calling. After commitment, some go after lust of flesh, abandon the oath and then self-justify, some others continue with mediocre honesty, some misuse the calling, exploit others and lead opulent life and the list goes on. Unworthiness of such attitudes in discipleship is well evident in the parable.
How shall our contemporary situations deal this aspect of discipleship? A true discipleship is how to grow into the stature of the Master. It is high time for the Church and religious leaders to ponder whether the mission of the Church is run after politicians bargaining and making institutions or dedicate themselves to win souls for Christ. Orthodox faithful including clergies get highly offended and employ every option in their power to put down and annihilate the dissenter when another one brings to light the shortcomings and follies of their heroes, even slight criticism about the unchristian attitude of the leaders, wrong priorities set by the Church ruling class or rampant doctrinal errors that are stumbling blocks on the way of Salvation, such as idolizing and elevating the status of their favorite saints such as Morth Mariam Yoldath Aloho, Parumala thirumeni, etc more than Christ Himself, misleading the faithful eyeing their money are very sentimental issues and they fight tooth and nail to defend their stand. At the same time these magnates are least worried when people abuse God and offend God’s statutes by continuously living in debauchery.
Some people volunteered to Jesus while Jesus called others. Each of them was treated according to deserving merit and divine wisdom of Christ. Only God knows the heart of man, “Lord sees not as man sees, man looks the outward appearance but the Lord looks on the heart,” 1 Sam 16:7. Deity of Jesus is self-evident here. This cardinal principle ought to be in mind when a faithful takes decisive actions such as enrolling/getting into clerical fold, position of authority and influence. Submit in prayer and supplication whether or not such becoming is the Will of God and the promise can be kept unbroken. Speaking for peace is the great sin in these days. He who seeks personal comfort negating the very purpose of the call is not a true disciple of Christ and that is a real challenge; how a Church can fight over thrones, brick and mortar and indulge in shameful litigation? Unworthiness of such attitude in discipleship is well evident in the parable.
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
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