The meaning of discipleship
Luke 9:51-end (NRSV)
A Samaritan Village Refuses to Receive Jesus
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. 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?’ But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
Would-Be Followers of Jesus
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ 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.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’
Mt text this morning is written in Luke 9:62:
Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’
Up to this point in our study of Luke's gospel, Luke has concentrated exclusively on the deeds of Jesus. From now on Luke concentrates on Jesus' words. Jesus the teacher becomes the central feature of this central section of the gospel narrative. The end of the Galilean ministry ended with the injunction by Jesus to his disciples that they should follow him. In these verses Jesus begins the long road of teaching the disciples how to follow him. This journey is both figurative - where we learn what it means to be a disciple of Jesus - and literal in that Jesus was making his way to Jerusalem where he knew that his ministry would reach its climax on the cross. It would be a mistake if we were try to trace the physical journey from Galilee to Jerusalem because there are many confusing details. What is important here, are not these practical details but rather the theological significance of what Jesus taught. Kummel sums us the message as follows:
... the Lord, who goes to suffer according to God's will, equips his disciples for the mission of preaching after his death.
Jesus knew that he needed to move towards Jerusalem and so left Galilee and began his final journey. In order to get there, it was necessary either to move through Samaritan territory, or around it. Jesus decided to move through Samaria and so sent some disciples on ahead to arrange accommodation for the night. They returned with the news that they were not welcome and were obviously angered because they entertained the thought of destroying their rejecters. It is important to place this incident into its historical context.
Samaritans were descendants of Gentile settlers and Israelites. They were racially mixed. Purebred Jews looked down upon the half-bred Samaritans. Earle Ellis writes:
They [the Samaritans] were publicly cursed in the synagogues and made the object of a daily prayer - that they might not enter eternal life. Their centre of worship in Samaria was a countertype and rival to the temple in Jerusalem. Therefore, Galilean pilgrims, crossing Samaria on their way to Jerusalem, were subjected to harassment and sometimes to overt violence.
And so racial hatred developed between these two groups. This tension was so bad that Jewish travellers often walked around Samaria rather than through it, even though this meant that their journey would be considerably lengthened. Jesus had no preference for any people on any grounds and so it is not surprising that he wanted to go through Samaria and tell them about the Kingdom of God.
When the disciples were rejected they reacted in a typically human fashion with anger and retaliation. They had been wronged, of that there is no doubt. But because they had been hurt, they felt that they could legitimately respond in anger and even use violence. This is not Christian and is a repugnant sin against God. Violence is never and can never be justified. Jesus rebuked the disciples and Morris writes: 'That is not the way His followers behave. And without taking any steps in opposition to the Samaritans they went on to another village ...' (Morris 179).
While Christian people might use force to protect themselves, they are never people who perpetrate violence - physical, emotional, psychological. Christians reject violence in any guise. The commentator in the Life Application Bible (LAB) writes:
When others reject or scorn us, we too may feel like retaliating. We must remember that judgement belongs to God, and we must not expect him to use his power to carry out our personal vendettas.
For Luke there was special significance in Jesus' rejection in Samaria. One can see a parallel between this incident, the rejection of Jesus by Jews in his hometown - Nazareth, the Gentiles at Gerasa, and finally the people and leaders in Jerusalem. Finally, 'Jesus goes to the cross rejected by all'.
And so the journey continued!
By this time, it should have become apparent to the disciples that following Jesus was not an easy way out, rather, it presented a great challenge. Being a disciple meant a way of life that was totally different to even what was considered to be acceptable wisdom. What followed gave the disciples yet another dimension of what it would mean to be a follower of Jesus.
The first would-be follower of Jesus stated that he would follow Jesus wherever he went. Jesus replied: "Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man doesn't have a place to call his own". (verse 58) This disciple and all Christians need to realise that 'the security of hearth and home which one expects in normal life has to take second place where commitment to the Son of man is concerned' (Wilcock p. 118). Christians need to realise that following Jesus is not necessarily going to mean an easy life - on the contrary, we might have to endure the complete opposite. The second would-be follower first needed to complete the task of burying his father. Once again, the historical context helps us to understand this verse.
According to Rabbinical teaching, the burial of deceased relatives was vitally important. The presence of a corpse made a person ceremonially unclean and so one could not perform any religious function. In the light of this, this man's request was proper and necessary. Why then does Jesus react in the way he did when he said: "Let the dead take care of the dead, while you go and tell about God's kingdom." (verse 60) The commentator in the NIV Study Bible explains:
If his father had already died, the man would have been occupied with the burial then. [But he was with Jesus so his father was most probably still alive]. ... he wanted to wait until after his father's death, which might have been years away. Jesus told him that the spiritually dead could bury the physically dead, and that the spiritually alive should be busy proclaiming the kingdom of God. (p. 1559)
The third person offered himself to Jesus but with a condition attached to the offer - he first wanted to bid his family farewell. This too - on the surface - seems like a reasonable request, but in fact it reveals rather a 'reluctance to take the final step' (Morris p. 180).
Salvation is possible through Jesus Christ. We know that entry into the Kingdom of God is through faith in Jesus' life, death, resurrection and ascension. But to accept this free gift of salvation implies that the saved person becomes a follower of Jesus. Faith leads to action or else there is no faith at all.
As the letter to James stresses: ‘... faith without works is dead ...’ together with 1 John: ‘You know you love God, when you love one another; you cannot say that you love God, whom you have not seen, unless you love your neighbour whom you have seen.’
And this action is revealed in the lives we live. We cannot think that we can make a decision for Jesus and still continue to do as we please. We need to reveal the fact of Christ's presence in our lives by the way we live. Wilcock states:
... God tests the earnestness of men's hearts by bringing them to this fork in the road. When it becomes necessary to choose between two ways, which do we follow? Comfort or convention, or custom - or Christ? The test from the very outset ... has been "Follow me". (p. 119)
Jesus requires total dedication from us, not commitment to him and his way of life when it suits us. God is not there for our convenience. We do not have the option of selecting those things about Christian living and belief that suit us - 'we have to accept the cross with the crown, judgement as well as mercy'. (LAB p. 1770) While entry into the kingdom of God is free - Jesus has paid the price - remaining there costs our very lives - everything we are and have. Salvation is not for those who have only entered and stayed for a short period of time - salvation is for those who enter and remain faithful, those who are willing to pay the price - what is often referred to as the cost of discipleship. Caird concludes:
... a man must be prepared to sacrifice security, duty, and affection, if he is to respond to the call of the kingdom, a call so urgent and imperative that all other loyalties must give way before it. The most difficult choices in life are not between good and evil, but between the good and the best. (p. 141)
Jesus put it this way:
‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’