As the time drew near for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely took the road for Jerusalem and sent messengers ahead of him. These set out, and they went into a Samaritan village to make preparations for him, but the people would not receive him because he was making for Jerusalem. Seeing this, the disciples James and John said, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to burn them up?’ But he turned and rebuked them, and they went off to another village.
As they travelled along they met a man on the road who said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus answered, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’
Another to whom he said, ‘Follow me,’ replied, ‘Let me go and bury my father first.’ But he answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury the dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’
Another said, ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say good-bye to my people at home.’ Jesus said to him. ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’
This Sunday’s Gospel illuminates the nature and challenges of Christian discipleship. The first part of Luke 9 in recounts Jesus’ sending out of the twelve disciples to go and proclaim the Kingdom of God, “take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money” (9:3).
Travelling with James and John, Jesus takes the road to Jerusalem. Jerusalem of course was a sacred city for the Jewish people, a place of pilgrimage and the place of the Temple. Ordinarily, Jews would never have passed through a Samaritan village as there was great animosity between the Jewish and Samaritan peoples. One might presume therefore that this event foreshadows Jesus’ ultimate mission to preach to and baptise all nations, not just the lost sheep of Israel. Understandably, when learning of their journey to Jerusalem the local Samaritans show no hospitality whatsoever to Jesus and his fellow travellers. Notwithstanding the cultural hostilities, the Samaritans also considered that Mt Gerizim was the ultimate sacred place and revered place of worship. Angered by the lack of hospitality and welcome James and John make reference to a type of punishment found in the Old Testament. Jesus rebukes this reaction, reminding us that his New Covenant mission was one of repentance and mercy.
On his journey to Jerusalem Jesus encounters three men and each episode deepens our understanding of discipleship. The first offered to follow Jesus but he was warned “foxes have holes … but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” The challenges of discipleship mean that we too must make great sacrifices. We don’t share the same comfort as foxes or birds, but rather the hardships of the Son of Man. It is important to note that unlike the second man, the first was not called by Jesus, who knew that he was not up to the challenges that accompanied discipleship.
Whilst the second man shows a willingness to be a follower of Jesus he immediately places other tasks before proclaiming the Kingdom of God. The task is noble, to bury his dead father, and in a sense this reinforces the Old Covenant, especially the honouring of parents. Notwithstanding the virtue of any given task Jesus reminds his followers that the proclamation of the Kingdom of God must precede all things. This might seem hardhearted but it must be placed in context. At the time of Jesus many Jewish people were preoccupied with religious observance and placed the laws of the Covenant above all things. Using the fourth Commandment as an example in this instance, Jesus reminds his followers that the Kingdom of God and its proclamation are to be served by the Law, not reduced as servants to the law.
Jesus’ final encounter reinforces the urgency of proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Aware of the distractions and impediments to discipleship Jesus cautions his followers to be resolute and focused. His message resonates with us today. We must give ourselves freely and fully to God’s will otherwise our lives will become consumed by the many distractions of our contemporary society and as a consequence we will never have true life to the full.