What does a life of discipleship look like? Jesus gives us a sense in our passage from Luke. This passage has often been viewed as discipleship having a cost. Somehow linking a sense of judgement to discipleship and being a faithful follower of Jesus. However, the rebuke that Jesus gives to James and John seems to diminish this idea. Instead, the focus should be on where we are going in partnership with Jesus.
Scripture: Luke 9: 51-62
We all know well the dangers of distracted driving. And yet, most of us are still picking up our cell phones to read the text, change the song, enter a new address into our maps… More studies have proven that we can’t do these two things at once: in order to be safe for ourselves and others, we need to be a driver, or we need to be a phone user.
I wonder if we might think about Jesus’ words on discipleship in a similar way: we can either be his disciple, or a disciple of our… nation, …culture, …family, …etc. When we try to follow Jesus but still keep national views, cultural values that might keep us from seeking the kingdom, or placing more importance in how our family will view us above how Jesus does, we are discipling distracted. The one who resolutely set his face to Jerusalem will have none of it. (Illustration provided by Chelsey Harmon)
The passage before us is clearly about discipleship. Every sentence, all the nuance is about discipleship and its costs. We are given a clue in the opening sentence. Jesus is resolute and sets his face towards Jerusalem. The passage concludes with statements by Jesus about the singular nature of being a disciple and what the potential cost might be. However, I don’t think we should view the stern warnings or the admonitions as the cost of discipleship. I do think they are warnings though, important reminders for us to consider.
This passage marks a shift in Luke’s gospel, where Jesus shifts his attention from Galilee and begins the journey towards Jerusalem. The journey towards Jerusalem contains teaching and dialogue about the restoration of Israel and God’s kingdom.
The Samaritan village rejects Jesus as he is set towards Jerusalem. Samaritan’s believed God was worshiped at Mount Gerizim, think of the encounter between Jesus and the women at the well. While Jews believed that God was worshipped in Jerusalem. What appears implicit is the lack of hospitality that is offered. However, Luke will later counter this assumption about hospitality and mercy with the story of the God Samaritan. Even later on in Acts, also written by Luke, Samaritans will receive the good news of the Messiah.
James and John provide us with a disturbing option. While the Samaritan village provides a negative experience due to the lack of hospitality, James and John wish to inflict judgement and punishment upon the village. It is interesting that Jesus shows no desire for judgement. In fact, he rebukes James and John. A reminder that the message of Jesus, the focus of his ministry is on restoration, not judgement.
The passage concludes with three encounters about discipleship. Three potential followers wish to join Jesus. Each is provided with a singular call to join Jesus and work for the arriving kingdom of God. Each provides an objection and is summarily rejected by Jesus. Which speaks to how difficult it is to follow Jesus and how challenging it can be to stay focused on the work of the kingdom. It’s not that we can’t bury our family or say good-bye to them. But the itinerant life that Jesus led was a challenge.
The three discipleship examples that come at the end of this passage are often attributed to belonging to individuals. However, we can just as easily reflect upon them as being institutions. Chelsey Harmon poses this very challenging question, “How much of the church is struggling to look forward to where Jesus is leading because they are looking backward to a reality long gone?” (Chelsey Harmon)
And I wonder if that is a struggle that we face here at St. Andrew’s. Jesus has his face set towards Jerusalem where he knows the reception he will receive and the events that will follow. Are we also resolutely facing Jerusalem, or are we distracted looking back? Are we walking in lock step with Jesus or are we distracted.
In my time here I’ve heard lots of I remember when’s and we’ve never done it that way before. I actually had an we’ve never done it that way before in my first week. But we aren’t here to retread old ground, we are here to break new ground. We are called to find news ways to present the good news and many of the models that worked before. Programs and activities that we love and cherish, they don’t necessarily work anymore. They don’t provide a warm invitation to those who are looking for answers in their lives. We are called to look backwards to our glory days, we are called to look forward and face what is before us. Think of the thoughts about the Messiah. Everyone wanted a warrior king, of the line of David who would lead a rebellion, remove the Romans and re-establish the kingdom of Israel. But Jesus never speaks about restoring David’s kingdom. He wants to establish God’s kingdom. The people were looking back at once was.
Let’s get back to driving. We can’t drive forward by focusing our gaze only on the rear-view mirror. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. We can glimpse behind us from time to time, keep aware of where we’ve been and how the road behind us looks. However, it’s the road ahead that demands our attention. So is it in a life of discipleship. As individuals and as the church. Let’s put our hands to the plow and turn over fertile ground, fit for planting new seeds. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security.
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