Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

by Bear Wade

Luke 9:51-62
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 8–Sunday Between June 26 and July 2 Inclusive)
analysis by Mike Hoy

51When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54When 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?” 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then they went on to another village. 57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And 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.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

DIAGNOSIS: Looking Back

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: Unreceptive
The resoluteness of Jesus’ path is strikingly evident in this account (as is the loneliness it seems to engender). But “setting his face toward Jerusalem” has sharpened the tensions between Samaritans and Judeans. The fact that it is Jesus’ messengers (including probably James and John) who are rejected only adds to the materiality of unreceptive lifestyles. Even the most eager would-be volunteers are incapable of hearing the radical nature of Jesus’ call (vs. 57-62). There is a total lack of receptivity to his direction. But the same is also true for James and John, who petition for a harsh and legalistic response for the Samaritans. For these disciples (as also for us today), the danger may be even worse. They demonstrate an attitude of violent unreceptive lifestyles toward others, and think of themselves as righteous in the protest.

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Uncommitted
Whatever “good reasons” there may be for any unreceptive responses (or counter-responses) to Jesus’ face being set toward Jerusalem, each is uncommitted to his message. There is something else tugging at the heart of those encountered in this text (Mt. Gerazim, Mosaic standards, glory, rites, family). None are committed to the divine direction that is part and parcel of Jesus’ ministry. All are violations of the first commandment.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: Rebuked
Ultimately, however, none of these reasons or excuses can escape the judgment of Jesus’ rebuke. James and John may not realize how closely they have come to the kind of legitimate response that God has for one and all who are unreceptive toward their neighbor, and uncommitted to God’s will.

PROGNOSIS: Looking Ahead

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: Taken Up, with Christ
The fact that Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem is, however, God’s good news for us. His being taken up (upon the cross, and through the cross into resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand of power) is to present us a receivable offering to God. His willingness to walk in our midst and repay criticism with mercy, and to walk this path alone to the cross and without thought to his personal comfort, is a sign of just how far God is willing to go for one and for all to take us up into God’s arms.

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: Turned Around
Our sense of commitment comes from our having the inside mystery via faith in Jesus’ trek toward Jerusalem. In trusting Jesus as our Lord, we believe that his kind of messianic journey is precisely what frees us from having to have to look back, even to look over our shoulders at the next “unreceptive” barb thrown our way. With our hearts attuned to Jesus’ mission on our behalf, we are turned around from our journeys in wayward directions and turned toward God’s in-breaking kingdom.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Following
Having our faces realigned in Jesus’ direction, we are free to follow in his steps into the other villages. This following does not mean we will be met with praises, or with fame, or with immediate receptivity to our (His) Word; but it does not deter us from the journey. For even in our seeming defeats, we are not defeated. Our faces (and all the senses that come from our eyes, ears, noses, cheeks, and mouths) are set toward our neighbors. And our faces can not conceal the joy or the message that Jesus’ Jerusalem journey (the kingdom of God) is plowing its way into the world.


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