Toorak Uniting Church

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Keeping our eyes on the road

Luke 9: 51 – 62
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
27 June 2004, 9:00am

There are two points of focus in this morning’s reading from the gospel of Luke I would like to look at with you this morning.
First of all there is the journey, the journey of Jesus towards Jerusalem.
Secondly there are followers and the reaction they receive from Jesus when they indicate they want to follow him.

First the journey.

Luke presents his gospel and the book of Acts very much as the story of a journey: The journey of Jesus to Jerusalem and the journey of the Church from Jerusalem into the world. They are two journeys that, according to Luke, bear many similarities and are closely bound together.

After extensive travelling around Galilee culminating in the story of the transfiguration, at the end of chapter 9 Jesus starts travelling towards Jerusalem.
He chooses to travel through hostile territory. Samaria was known for it’s unfriendliness against Jewish pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem and yes, when his disciples go out to find accommodation they are met with hostility and a refusal to receive him. There is no place for Jesus in Samaria. That is not a new theme to come up in the gospel of Luke, in fact it is a bit of a theme in his description of the life of Jesus:
At the beginning of Jesus’ life there was no place for him in Bethlehem. At the beginning of his career as a rabbi and public speaker there is no place in his home town Nazareth when he comes to preach. And later on there will be no place for him in Jerusalem either.
There is no place so it seems, for Jesus to lay his head.

James and John, the sons of thunder, don’t like it at all. It is an insult to their master! Bring fire and brimstone down on them they shout, let’s go and get them! It was Elijah who did just that, centuries before when another group refused to receive the man of God. Isn’t Jesus far more important and powerful?

Jesus rebukes them. He rebukes them in the same way he rebukes demons and evil spirits in the gospel. In some manuscripts Jesus then goes on to say: "Off what spirit are you? I am here to heal not to destruct." And although it is not clear if these words belong here or not, they help to understand the intention of Jesus words to his disciples more clearly: He has not come to destruct. His ministry is different from Elijah’s and goes a lot further. No fire and brimstone, but forgiveness and acceptance of injustice and suffering is the principle on which Jesus operates. And when they suggest differently he wonders out loud if his disciples are perhaps of "another spirit", part of the world of devils and demons trying to keep him away from his calling.

The threat to Jesus being true to his calling coming from within, rather than from without. Not the hostility of the Samaritans threatening him, but the fierce loyalty of his followers endangering his mission.

Something that has changed very little in two thousand years where a lot of damage has been done defending Christ with violence and passion rather than bringing healing and abstaining from revenge. Later, in Acts, Philip will come back to Samaria and be received with open arms. The good news about Jesus will be spread. For now however the time has not yet come. Something the disciples in their limited understanding find hard to understand.

Jesus travels through the west bank area of Palestine and meets with hostility that provokes violence in his followers. His answer is to stay true to his calling of healing and forgiveness and to suffer the insult and keep his direction. He is going to Jerusalem, the place where he will suffer even greater humiliation. The place at the same time where healing and light will come back to the nations.

That this journey is not an easy one shows in his answers to people who indicate they want to follow him.

No place to lay his head, a life worse than that of foxes and birds, and no better for his followers. There is no comfort, no homecoming, no belonging, no roots for the Messiah, nor for his followers. No settling in, no warm nest.

Basically what Jesus says is this: when you want to follow me you will always be a stranger in a strange place, you’ll never belong completely. Because you’ll have become part of another reality, a reality where other rules apply and priorities are different, a reality where social conventions and good manners may come in conflict with keeping ones eye on the road to God’s Kingdom.

They are harsh words Jesus speaks here, and they are confronting. Surely there is nothing wrong with investing in real estate, with creating a good home to raise your kids? Surely Jesus would not want us to not look after our fathers after they die? Or not let our mum know when we are going somewhere?

Surely not. I suspect that the radicalism of these words is mainly there to wake us up and make us aware of the things that may keep us from focussing on the way that lies ahead.

The Church, following Christ, has to travel as he did. Give up on revenge; accept humiliation, pain and suffering as part of a journey traveled in Spirit and truth, keeping away from violence, ready to give way. Trust that in time God will make things right. A journey that calls on us to never really settle for the ways of the world as it is but to remain strangers, pilgrims on their way to a country beyond the horizon.

Not an easy journey, nor an easy calling, but a journey and a calling on which Jesus has gone ahead of us and has shown where it will lead us.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2004

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