Lectionary Reflection for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke BTCBThis excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 9:51-62:

Intensified is the evident desire of the disciples to find a way of demonstrating to Jesus their loyalty. When the people in a nearby Samaritan village, perceiving that he was heading toward Jerusalem (the city representing much of what they had chosen not to identify with their own pieties), they will not hear him (cf. John 4:9). This is clearly a rejection of Jesus based on established religious prejudice and party spirit.

But the disciples now exhibit an aggrieved sense of party spirit and offense of their own, and much more extremely. Unlike Abraham in Gen. 18, who wanted to delay the judgment of the Lord, they want to use their powers to call down capital judgment on the Samaritans: “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” (Luke 9:54).

This ill-thought attempt to ingratiate themselves with the Lord is sadly misguided. Jesus, evidently exasperated, rebukes them yet again, ignoring the Samaritans. Most painfully now for the disciples, his rebuke takes on the strong form of saying to them, in effect, “You have no sense of who you are,” or perhaps, “You have no self-knowledge.” Still worse, the phrase “you do not know what manner of spirit you are of” (9:55) soundly refutes the very case for loyalty and affinity they have been trying to make.

Jesus’s words following now add a final blow; the utter inadequacy in their understanding of their own calling derives from a basic misunderstanding of the character of the Lord himself: “The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives,” says Jesus, “but to save them” (9:56). Could anything be more obvious? Yet they have been blinded to the obvious by ambition and envious jockeying to be regarded as important. Sadly, in this self-righteous impulse, they have had too many successors.

As the now somber group is on the way to the next village, still en route to Jerusalem, they are tagged by a volunteer, a would-be disciple (9:57); Jesus’s well-known reply to him serves to highlight part of the cost of discipleship: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (9:58). The poignancy of this remark is surely a marker for the loneliness Jesus feels in relation to the persistent incomprehension of those who would follow him.

When he invites another person to follow him, that person demurs, saying he needs first to bury his father—probably an idiom meaning “my father is ill and frail; once he has died I will come.” Jesus’s response, one of his hard sayings, is a figure of speech that here may mean something like “Let those who are dead to the kingdom of God take care of themselves—you take care of the kingdom” (9:60).

Another would-be follower says that he needs to go back first and say good-bye to his family. Jesus treats all of these as dodges, pretexts for holding back on a total commitment. His final remark in this chapter summarizes the challenge to all would would really follow him, identifying with him authentically: “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (9:62).

This, to confused, uncomprehending, and perhaps even double-minded seekers, is the darkest warning of all. Half measures will not do.

 

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.