“What are you doing, Mr. Ward?” Scott asked when he saw his neighbor–who was also his Sunday school teacher–getting out some tools.
“I’m going to use my garden tiller to get rid of some weeds,” said Mr. Ward. “Do you want to help?”
“Sure,” responded Scott.
Mr. Ward started the tiller and showed Scott how it worked. “Start here, and keep your eyes on the space between the plants. Walk straight down the row,” said Mr. Ward, pointing to the other end of the garden. “When you come back this way, you can take the next row.”
Scott began eagerly, hoping he would do a good job. His confidence built as the weeds in row after row disappeared. He was almost finished when he heard someone call his name. Turning his head, he looked back and saw Mrs. Ward with a tall glass of lemonade. “Shut it off and take a break,” she called.
Grinning, Scott turned to shut off the machine. To his dismay, he saw that while he had been looking back toward Mrs. Ward, the machine had swerved and taken out a few garden plants.
Mr. Ward saw what had happened, too. “Don’t worry about it, Scott,” he said. “There’s not much damage. Come have some lemonade, and then you can finish the last row.”
As they sat under a tree with their lemonade, Scott mentioned a problem he was having with some of his old friends. “Those guys are always after me to do stuff I used to do,” he said.
“And why don’t you do those things now?” Mr. Ward asked.
“Well, I’m a Christian now,” Scott replied. He sighed. “I know it would be wrong to do some of that stuff, but . . . sometimes it looks like fun,” he admitted.
Mr. Ward gazed over the garden. “When you turned and looked back while working in the garden, it messed up a row,” he said, “and looking back at your old lifestyle could mess up your life. Instead of looking back to old friends, look to Jesus and God’s Word for direction in your new life.”
After a minute, Scott nodded. “In the end, I know that will bring me more fun anyway,” he said with a grin.
Up to this point, Luke’s Gospel has concentrated on Jesus’ deeds. From now on Luke concentrates on Jesus’ words. From this point forward, the focus remains on Jesus’ imminent death in Jerusalem. Christ did not run from this destiny but set His face toward Jerusalem and the divinely appointed consummation of His ministry. He begins the long road of teaching the disciples and us how to follow Him.
James and John thought they would please Jesus by calling down fire on the Samaritans who refused to offer Him hospitality. No doubt the disciples had in mind the story of the prophet Elijah calling down fire on the emissaries of the king of Samaria. They still had not learned that Jesus came to rescue people, not annihilate them.
The Samaritans’ refusal was not surprising because there was a good deal of animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans. It began centuries earlier when the Assyrians took most Jews into captivity and re-populated Samaria with foreigners who intermarried with the remaining Samaritan Jews. The Samaritans became known for pagan worship and the Jews regarded them as tainted racially and religiously. When the Jews returned from exile, they refused offers from the Samaritans to help with the rebuilding of the temple. The Samaritans then built a rival temple on Mount Gerazim and tried to prevent the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.
Samaria’s location between Jewish Galilee and Jewish Judea made the situation worse. Jews often travelled through Samaria-many of them pilgrims going to or returning from the temple in Jerusalem-a temple whose validity the Samaritans did not acknowledge. It’s not surprising that the Samaritans would refuse to welcome a pilgrim whose “face was set toward Jerusalem,” as Luke wrote in Luke 9:53
The calling down of hellfire and brimstone still has appeal. Churches that take a strong stand against sin are prospering and people will flock to join them, but are these churches showing God’s love for sinners? Jesus loves the sinner, but He hates the sin. Jesus loved the Samaritans even though they rejected Him. The heart of most prophetic warnings in the Scriptures is time-time to repent. Sometimes we are too ready to call God’s wrath on our enemies.
Similarly, Jesus loves us even if we reject Him. Do people who reject Him deserve to be destroyed? It is not for us to decide, because our standards are different from God’s standards. People we reject can be acceptable to God (especially those who reject Him and later accept Him as their Saviour), and people we accept can be rejected by God. God’s glory is in everyone. As we go about our daily lives, we will find Him in every circumstance.
Christ’s response to the Samaritans reflects the attitude we should have regarding all forms of religious persecution. The Samaritans’ worship was pagan, and they were intolerant. Jesus could not retaliate or rebuke them. He came to save people, not destroy them. He responded with grace instead of destructive fury. He was on His way to die for people like them. His mission was one of love, not hate.
The unnamed man mentioned in verses 57 and 58 boasted that he would follow Jesus anywhere, but following the Son of Man involves great hardship. Even animals have more adequate and permanent provisions than Jesus did. Following Jesus is not easy. It’s a hard life with no place to call home. It means doing hard, ordinary work. It is in the ordinary things of daily life that God’s glory is found. If we want to follow Jesus, we have to go where He would go and do what He would do.
Have you made commitments and then backed out? Sometimes when things get tough, we just drop out. God challenges us to commit to Him fully right now. He wants to make sure we know that this is a serious commitment. He doesn’t want us to be rude to our loved ones or abandon family members who depend on us. The commitment to follow Jesus is not a commitment we can make half-heartedly. Jesus gave His all for us, and in return He expects us to give our all for Him. When we do, something remarkable and life-changing will happen.
The encounter in verses 61-62 reflects the story of Elijah commissioning Elisha. Elisha asked permission to return to his family and say goodbye before beginning his apprenticeship. His farewell to his family, however, expressed no reluctance about his new career. Instead, he slaughtered the oxen that had once plowed his fields and never looked back.
There are some pitfalls that we need to avoid when Jesus asks us to do something that we feel is beyond us-including making the commitment to follow Him:
- We must not let fear stop us. We have to trust God and let Him lead us to things beyond our human limitations.
- Don’t ask for clarity. When we ask Jesus for clarity, we aren’t really obeying Him. Saying “yes” means that we don’t have all the details, but we trust God and His plan.
- Don’t use responsibility to avoid following Jesus. He is more important than our families, our jobs or any other responsibilities we have.
If we’re serious about being used by God, we have to ask God what we have to let go of. We need to ask God to remove the barriers that keep us from following Him. When we decide to follow Jesus, things that are of less importance have to be set aside or handed on to those who have a different calling.
This passage is about setting priorities, specifically Jesus’ priorities (which are to be our priorities as Christians). Jesus is not simply taking a walk in the country. He is marching toward Jerusalem and His crucifixion. He has a lot to do and not much time to do it. He was not going to let anything stand in His way. He was telling everyone that because of their excuses they were not fit to be His disciples. Today, He tells us that if there is anything in our lives that we believe is more important than our faith in Him, we are not fit to be His disciples.
Jesus calls us to follow Him on the path to our own crucifixion where we die to self and come alive to a new life in Christ. Every day we have to have our eyes, ears and hearts open to answer Jesus’ call, knowing there is no turning back.
We are called to discipleship not as individuals but as a collective Body of Christ. Each of us as individuals are part of God’s plan. God will use us as individuals in ways that will be the best use of our gifts. Jesus reminds us in Luke’s Gospel that we have to discern His will in our lives, and we have to remember that the world will try to work against us.
Following Jesus won’t be easy. Chances are we won’t receive approval or fame. We won’t be rewarded on earth with all the comforts of life in exchange for following Jesus. We have to be willing to do what Jesus wants us to do, even when and if it’s inconvenient. Our reward will be in heaven. Jesus doesn’t reject anyone, and we as His followers will have to do the same.
The commitment Jesus requires is radical. The life of a disciple is a journey, a steady pilgrimage to a cross. Those who follow Jesus on that journey can expect that what happens to Him will happen to them. Discipleship is a call to put Jesus above care of self, care of the dead, and care for our families.
Each of us as Christians needs to be attentive to Jesus’ invitation and think about how to respond to it. Following Christ should be at the core of our lives and the basis for the decisions we make. The reading we heard from Luke’s Gospel is about a moment of decision, not just for the people in the passage, but for each of us.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp.1496)
- “No Looking Back.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Larsen, B. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 26: Luke (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; pp.181-183)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Dale Melenberg, “Follow Me.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Pastor Allen Jackson, “A Life-Changing Assignment.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Bobby Schuller, “Trust-Destroying Pitfalls.” Retrieved from www.hourofpower.org
- Pastor David J. Risendal, “First Things First.” Retrieved from www.OneLittleWord.org
- Pastor Rick Warren, “Don’t be Distracted from the Work God Has for You.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Chris Bellefeville, “Luke 9:51-62.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Fr. Peter Clarke, “Questionable Following of Jesus.” Retrieved from www.torch.op.org
- Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 13th Sunday -C-.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Richard Niell Donovan, “Exegesis for Luke 9:51-62.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- Matthew DeLorca, “Following the Promise.” Retrieved from https://crossings/prg/text-study/third-sunday-after-pentecost-c/?print=print
- The Rev. Janet Hunt, “No Turning Back.” Retrieved form http://dancingwiththeword.com/no-turning-back
- Mikeal C. Parsons, “Commentary on Luke 9:51-62.” Retrieved from https://www.workigpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2911
- “Luke 9:51-62-A Plain Account.” Retrieved from http://www.aplainaccount.org/luke-951-62
- Mark Sargent, “The Color Purple.” Retrieved from http://day1.org/458-the_color_purple.print
- The Rev. Rosemary Brown, “Hide and Seek.” Retrieved from http://day1.org/616-hide_and_seek