Luke 9:51-62

This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on June 26, 2016.

Hermano Leon

This text comes up in the lectionary during summertime, when we might wish for lighter fare to serve to visitors and vacationers. The preacher who is looking to preach a word of encouragement, comfort, or inclusion will have to look elsewhere. This is a hard text, with a harsh tone. Jesus is not very nice.

Luke tells us that Jesus has “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51), thus opening the long section of his Gospel that focuses on Jesus’ journey. From this point all the way to his arrival in Jerusalem (Luke 19:28), Jesus will be “on the way” (Luke 9:52); the lengthy journey motif sets Luke apart from the other Gospels. For the lectionary preacher, this means that from now until October, all of the Gospel readings will come from Jesus’ journey. Luke locates some of the best-loved stories of Jesus in the journey narrative, and at certain points will remind the reader that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem. We see the actions of Jesus and the many sayings of Jesus in the larger context of his journey towards the cross.

That journey starts here, today, with Jesus setting his face toward Jerusalem. The phrase echoes the phrasing of the song of the suffering servant (Isaiah 50:7), who sets his face “like a flint.” There is an intensity here, a determination, and the expectation of opposition. Opposition does come, and immediately. Jesus’ journey towards the cross begins the way it will end – with rejection.

Jesus sends messengers ahead of him, to get things ready for him in a Samaritan village. From the outset of his journey to Jerusalem, he makes it clear that he intends to take his mission even to outsiders. Yet in this first instance, it is not received. The Samaritans’ refusal to offer Jesus the most basic hospitality is more than a personal snub; it evokes the longstanding tension and conflict between Jews and Samaritans. Even more, though, seems to be at play than personal rejection and longstanding conflict. Note that the given reason for the Samaritan rejection is “because his face was set toward Jerusalem” (Luke 9:53) (the second time this phrase is used in the span of three verses). Jesus is headed toward suffering and death, and some would like no part of that. Still, Jesus will not be deterred from his ultimate mission, which will include even these who reject him. Notice that not long after this episode, with the insult of this rejection still fresh in the minds of his hearers, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan.

James and John’s desire for fiery vengeance would be comical (do they really think they’re capable of calling down fire the way Elijah once did?) if it were not so tragically out of step with all that Jesus has been teaching. If pastors these days think we struggle with effective spiritual formation and leadership development in our congregations, look at what Jesus had to deal with! If James and John believe that violence and retribution are the appropriate response to insult and rejection, then they have grossly misunderstood the nature of Jesus and his mission. He is on his way to subvert the systems of vengeance and violence, through his own suffering and death. Jesus rebukes James and John, and the mission moves forward, passing the Samaritans by – for now.

The journey continues, and the story seems to flip. Having been rejected at the outset, he now encounters three different people who want to follow. The distinction here is not only the contrast with the Samaritan villagers; this is, in fact, the only place in all of Luke’s Gospel where anyone volunteers to follow. Those of us working in the modern-day church are conditioned to jump at such volunteers, and to find a way to plug them in as soon as they express any interest in joining the life and work of the congregation. Not so with Jesus.

On the surface, his responses seem abrupt and even rude. To listeners accustomed to thinking of Jesus only in terms of compassion, and compassion primarily in terms of sympathy, and sympathy chiefly in terms of niceness, his responses here are challenging. The force of these opening scenes on the way to Jerusalem should cause any potential disciple to think seriously about what it means to follow. Jesus is on his way to suffering, crucifixion, and death; there is no room for illusions here.

The needs and requests of the three would-be followers are not unreasonable. But the way of discipleship is not a reasonable one. One man says he will follow Jesus anywhere – but Jesus isn’t welcomed everywhere, and neither are his followers. One would like to follow after he tends to his father’s burial – but Jesus is on the way to his own burial. One says he will follow after he says goodbye to family – but farewells look back, and this journey moves only forward. Jesus’ face is set in only one direction; there is no turning back, not even for the sake of family. On the road to Jerusalem, there is no time for “I will follow, but first…”

If we are worried that Jesus is harsh and unreasonable, then perhaps we, too, have misunderstood the urgency of his mission. His claim on his followers is a radical one – following him will demand everything. The commitment of discipleship requires prioritizing him over everything, including our most important obligations and our most cherished relationships. He urges all potential disciples to understand what’s at stake and to commit fully, no looking back. Given the totality of such a commitment, and given how clear he was with them that following him would involve rejection, loss, suffering, and even death, it’s a wonder that anyone decided to follow him at all.

Jesus has something to teach us preachers about not softening the message. Isn’t it possible that even today people are hungry for something that demands their life and their all?
FullSizeRender-2Stacey Simpson Duke
First Baptist Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan



Tags: discipleship, journey, commitment


  1. Paulette Thompson-Clinton

    Very provocative commentary. I’m preaching on this the first Sunday of Lent and you’ve inspired me to further challenge my congregants and myself this Lenten season. Thank you.

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