30 June 2013Luke 9:51-62
“‘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.’” (vv. 61-62)
These verses mark a new beginning in Luke's Gospel as Jesus' ministry in Galilee draws to its end and his journey to Jerusalem begins. Hitherto, Luke has marked time by the reigns of Roman rulers (Luke 1:5; 2:1; 3:1). Now, God's time frame takes over and "the days drew near for him to be taken up" (v. 51), words anticipating both Jesus' death and his ascension. Place matters too, as Jesus' "way" (v. 52) takes him from Galilee southwards to Jerusalem, the city of God's temple, centre of the world - but also the place that kills its prophets (Luke 13:34). So Luke emphasises Jesus' determination: he "set his face" (v. 51) towards Jerusalem, knowing what his journey would bring.
On that journey, there is no place for violence. To reach Jerusalem from Galilee, a traveller needs either to pass through Samaria or to cross the Jordan. There was a history of hostility between Jews and Samaritans (John 4:9), which explains the inhospitable reception Jesus' messengers encountered. James and John are typically short-tempered - Jesus nicknamed them "Sons of Thunder" (Mark 3:17). Their suggestion here (verse 54) receives short shrift as Jesus resolves the problem simply by diverting. He rejects the suggestion of vengeance, foreshadowing his acceptance of all that would be done to him at journey's end (Luke 22:52-53).
The journey demands absolute commitment, abandoning the security of home to travel with the Son of Man. The comparison to foxes and birds of the air (verse 58) may be a nature parable, or it may allude to the foreign powers who have made their home in Israel - Jesus describes Herod as a fox (Luke 13:32), and the eagle was a symbol of Roman power. Jesus should have been at home in Jerusalem, God's chosen dwelling-place, but would be expelled to die outside the city.
In Jewish tradition it was an absolute duty to pay respect to one's parents (Exodus 20:12), and ensuring decent burial was a key part of this. Jesus makes even this relative to the demands of the kingdom of God. Those who belong to the kingdom have real life. The duties of life outside the kingdom must be left to those who still belong only to that life, which is not life in all its fullness (John 10:10).
The third saying has Old Testament roots (Genesis 19:26; 1 Kings 19:19-21) but its main point is that to plough well, the farmer needs to plough straight. Looking back will produce a wobbly furrow. So to follow Christ demands a steady gaze ahead.
- What commitment would you find hardest to abandon for Christ's sake?
- How might twenty first-century Western Christians walk alongside the homeless Son of Man?
- How does it change our perspective on life to split it up according to 'God's time' rather than 'clock time'?