26 June 2016

Luke 9:51-62

“Then Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’” (v. 62)

Psalm: Psalm 16


This passage comes at the end of a long chapter. In the first few verses of the chapter Jesus sent out the twelve disciples (Luke 9:1-6). Herod, the ruler of Palestine, was getting rather worried about all the things Jesus was doing and saying. It was he who had beheaded John the Baptiser because he had challenged Herod's immoral behaviour (Luke 9:7-9).

This is followed by the account of the feeding of the 5,000 (Luke 9:10-17). Verses 18-27 deal with the encounter between Jesus and his disciples in which the question of Jesus' identity was discussed and Peter said "You are the Messiah of God" (v. 20). This is followed by one of several references by Jesus in Luke's Gospel, to the fact that he will suffer and die and be raised on the third day. This incident is followed by the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36) and the healing of a boy who was suffering from convulsions (Luke 9:37-43).

Jesus then makes a further reference to the fact that he will be handed over (verse 44). And in the verses immediately preceding the today's passage, Jesus rebuked his disciples for their argument about who was the greatest (Luke 9:46-48).

Verses 51-62 mark a turning point in the Gospel: Jesus set his face to Jerusalem, the place where he would be crucified. Jerusalem is important for Luke. For not only would it the place of crucifixion; it would also be the place of resurrection and ascension: the climax of the Gospel. Once he had set his face to Jerusalem, he did not look back. The Samaritans referred to in verses 52-53 were enemies of the Jews.

The remaining verses deal with the meaning of discipleship, ie following Jesus without excuse. The example of burying the father may be harsh (verse 59); Jesus would have been aware of the obligations of children to their parents regarding burial, but this man was making an excuse. The image of the plough means that when one is ploughing a field, you must look ahead; if you look back, the furrow will not be straight. Jesus, having set his face to Jerusalem, had put his hand to the plough, as it were. If he had looked back, he would not have fulfilled his mission.

Applying this in today's life, the past is important but we cannot cling to it. Instead, we must look ahead. The Church cannot throw out all tradition at once, but it must look forward; setting its face resolutely towards the goal which is to proclaim the good news of the gospel in a world where journalists and the media seem to specialise in proclaiming only the bad news. And this requires perseverance.

To Ponder

  • How can the Church strike a balance between building on the past without only looking back?
  • How can followers of Christ, do the same: in their work and their lives as disciples?

Bible notes author

The Revd Lynita Conradie

Lynita Conradie is a Methodist presbyter in the Nottingham North Circuit. Originally from South Africa, she was a human rights' lawyer before entering the ministry and being ordained by the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.