Jesus was a man on the move. He was continuously going from one place to another. Jesus spent most of his ministry in Galilee He traveled about but at some point he returned to Galilee. That was where he was from. Galilee was the northern part of Israel with Samaria just south and Judah below that. Of course Jesus went to Jerusalem each year for the annual pilgrimage that all Jews were to take but largely he stayed up north.
Then mid way through chapter 9, there is a shift. From here on out, Jesus is oriented toward Jerusalem.
Toward the end of Chapter 9 through somewhere in chapter 19 are what scholars call the travel narratives. While Jesus continues to travel in Galilee, from here on out there is a stated destination. Jesus is on the way…to Jerusalem, to the cross, to being taken up
He is resolute, His face is set
As chapter 9 begins, Jesus sends the 12 out giving them strict instructions about their travels. Don’t take anything with you, no staff, no bag, no money, no clothes. If people welcome you, good, but if not, shake the dust off your shoes. The disciples return with news of their travels And once again theft resume their travels In Bethsaida he fed the 5000
And then Peter James and John, up on the mountain, witness the transfiguration. Jesus is changed and he is joined by Moses and Elijah and the three of them discuss Jesus’ departure, his own exodus, which “he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem”.
Then in verse 51 we hear the change, the shift. Jesus begins his final journey to Jerusalem. As we listen to the verses I would like you to consider:
What do these verses reveal to us about the nature of God?
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 prepare for his arrival, 53 but they did not receive him because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw this, 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 And 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 And Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
************************************************************************************************************ Jesus is going to Jerusalem for his departure, as he discussed with Moses and Elijah. While this portion of Luke’s gospel is often called the travel narrative, scholars also note that while the destination is known, the route is hard to track, it sort of meanders here and there, it wanders. Reminiscent of the wandering of the people of Israel after the Exodus. During the 40 years of wandering in the desert between Egypt and Cannan, God shaped the sojourners into God’s own people. The obscure route loosely defined in the travel narrative of Luke is likewise a time of shaping God’s people, it is a time of discipleship training. His followers are finding out what it takes to be a follower of Jesus.
In preparation for this journey, Jesus sent his messengers out ahead of him. They travel to Samaria and are rejected. The people there want nothing to do with Jesus or his current trek. As the journey continues Jesus is asked and he invites potential followers.
The responses he received were reasonable. They were reasonable requests over 2000 years ago and I suspect we would think they would be reasonable responses today.
And yet Jesus seems to dismiss them
The first person to approach declares, I will follow you wherever you go
Jesus tells him not where he is going but the conditions of the accommodations, the way things will be on the journey.
Jesus then says to someone, Follow me
That person says sure, only first let me go bury my father
Another says to Jesus, Lord I will follow you. Let me go home and tell my family goodbye.
Jesus lets those who want to follow him know that it will be hard
He offers the fine print
There is no prosperity gospel
The way is difficult. He sent the 12 out with ZERO provisions.
Jesus does not send anyone away and he does not rescind his invitation. He lets us know that following closely- being a disciple- following to Jerusalem -will cost us
He lets us know that our priorities will have to change.
The way must be before everything else
I graduated from WCU in 1986 with a bachelor of science in nursing. I worked as a nurse in some capacity continuously for 30 years. Every 2 or 3 years I would have to send in 100 dollars to keep my license in good standing. When I went to part time I had to do a certain amount of continuing education and pay the 100 dollars. If you are not working in nursing at all, you can take even more continuing education and keep your license current. When I left nursing and began a new journey as a pastor, I kept my license current, paid my money every year. Until it dawned on me that I was keeping it as a life line. I wondered if I was just keeping it in case this preaching thing didn’t work out. It felt as if I was not all in.
In essence was keeping my hand on the plow, just in case, like a back up plan.
In the past I have read these verses and heard them as quite harsh.
Jesus certainly demands a lot
But is Jesus demanding anything here,really?
Is he demanding or inviting?
Is Jesus being judgemental or honest ?
Walking closely with Jesus is costly
It may cost you your comfort
It may very well mean walking away from obligations-traditions or ideologies that have been part of your culture for as long as you can remember.
It may mean letting go of your back up plan.
My favorite movie of all time is the Christmas classic SCROOGED a remake of Dickens “A Christmas Carol” with Bill Murray playing the Scrooge character, his name is Frank Cross After Frank’s night of ghostly visitation, he experiences a transformation
In the final scene he offers a monologue that makes me cry every year.
He talks about the change he has undergone, his transformation and he says he is ready for it now and it is really better than he has felt in a really long time.
Jesus’ words seem harsh but I think he wants those who begin the journey to know what is in store for them, what it may cost and if/when they are ready, ready to be true followers of Jesus then like Frank Cross said, it will be better than they have felt for a very long time.
When you are ready. Each of us gets to decide when and how closely we travel with Jesus.
The text does not say how those who approached Jesus responded. Perhaps they continued to follow at a distance or maybe they felt it was time to go all in. Maybe they were ready. But what if they weren’t? They get to decide.
RIchard Shaffer writes, “Ours is a savior of love who is not punishing all who resist or compelling everyone to get in line or face the consequences But one who invites those who believe to walk the journey with him.”
So what is the good news of the nature of God revealed to us in this hard passage?
Jesus welcomes and invites us all everyday, He wants us, longs for us to take the arduous journey. A journey that will change us and transform us into followers of Jesus AND Jesus is quite open about the difficulty.
BUT if we are just not ready, If we reject the invitation then Jesus has got your back, just like the Samaritans Jesus will rebuke those who want to call down fire and brimstone.
Hear this good news!
God is love – walking toward his own demise for the sake of others. God is hopeful and honest and patient. Believing in us and waiting for us to accept the invitation.
Studying for today changed my understanding of this passage.
No more do I hear the “you’d better or else” from Jesus that I learned from my youth. No more will I allow these verses to accuse God of being a punishing God, setting us up for failure by demanding so much.
Now I hear compassion and hope. Honesty and Love. I hear Jesus’ sadness at the lack of understanding. And I see a Jesus who continues on the journey to Jerusalem. Whether not we are ready, Jesus continues on toward our salvation.
Later in Luke Gospel we hear Jesus’ lament
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, ….How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
Our unwillingness does not deter our God
Our God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love As soon as we are ready, God is ready to welcome us
That is good news