PassageThese two passages are thematically linked, in that they both talk about the cost of following Jesus. First, on his way to Jerusalem, some of Jesus’ messengers enter a Samaritan village, to prepare for him, but the people of the village refuse to accept him, because his face is “set toward” Jerusalem (verse 53 (ESV)). Jesus’ disciples aren’t havin this, though, and James and John ask Jesus’ permission to call down fire from heaven to consume the village. Jesus, however, rebukes them, and they all simply go on to another village.
As they travel along—it may not be on the way to the next village, but at some point—a few people come up and offer their services to Jesus, but he points out that they haven’t really thought it through.
|Someone approaches Jesus and tells him, “I will follow wherever you go” (verse 57 (ESV))||Jesus warns the man that he doesn’t even have a place to call home—in this respect, he’s worse off than the animals|
|Jesus approaches someone else, and asks him to follow him, but the man says that he needs to go and bury his father first||Jesus tells him to let the dead bury their own dead, this man should proclaim the kingdom of God|
|Another tells Jesus that he will follow him, but first he has to go say goodbye to those who are at home||Jesus tells him that, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”|
It never occurred to me until now, but the ESV Study Bible points out that Luke doesn’t actually specify how these men respond to Jesus’ response. Did they say, “Yes, you’re right Jesus, you don’t have a place to lay your head but I’ll follow you anyway”? Or did they decide that the cost was too high, and change their minds? For some reason, I always assumed that they decided that the cost was too high—perhaps I’m too pessimistic.
ThoughtsThe Samaritans are a group of people with ties to the Jews, from their past, but who have some differences of opinion on religion. Specifically, Samaritans rejected the Jews’ belief that Jerusalem was supposed to be the location of the temple, where sacrifices were to be made, and instead had their own place to worship. (I believe it was a mountain, but forget which one.) So when the people of this Samaritan village rejected Jesus because “his face was set toward Jerusalem,” it is probably a combination of rejecting the idea that the Messiah would have to die—just like the reasoning by the Jews who rejected him—but also the idea that Jerusalem was the right place for a sacrifice in the first place.
Regardless of the Samaritans’ reasoning, James and John are suddenly feeling super righteous (though “self righteous” is probably a better term), and ready to start performing incredible miracles. It’s interesting to me that the disciples were sometimes unable to heal people or cast out demons because of a lack of faith, but when it comes to destroying a village, James and John seem to feel they’ve got enough faith to pull it off. In this case it’s very misplaced faith: you can’t take the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and try to make it into a universal lesson that God will simply destroy any village that displeases Him. “Faith” is not some substance you conjure up, like midichlorians, so that if you have enough of it built up you can do whatever you want. It’s not magic. “Faith,” as the word implies, means believing that God will do something. “Faith healing” means having faith that God will heal this person; obeying God in faith means having faith that He will enable you to follow and obey Him. In asking Jesus if he wanted them to call down fire from heaven to consume this town, James and John were saying they had faith that God would send down that fire, indicating that they didn’t have a good grasp of His character at that particular moment. I don’t say all of this to find fault with James and John, but as a lesson to us, that we should examine our motives when we’re asking God to do things for us: is this something God would even want to do?
Some thoughts on the three men who talked to Jesus about following him:
- The first one is fairly obvious: Are you really willing to give up everything—including your home—to follow Jesus?
- There’s also a point in here that Jesus—and, by extension, his disciples, then and now—isn’t really at home in this world, since his real home is in heaven.
- The second request, “I need to go bury my father,” seems very reasonable on the surface, and Jesus’ response therefore feels pretty cold-hearted. However, various commentaries I’ve read have indicated that “burying one’s father” doesn’t mean simply “my father has died, I need to go and put him in the ground,” but rather is a long process; some commentaries have theorized that it means waiting for your elderly father to die, while others have said that even after burial there is a period of a year whereby the burial isn’t “finished,” until the remains of the deceased (the bones) are taken from the original burial site and place in a box. This man isn’t saying to Jesus, “I’ll follow you tomorrow, I just need to take care of this thing real quick,” he’s saying, “I’ll follow you eventually, but I have some earthly duties right now that take precedence”—and that’s what Jesus is reacting to.
- You probably don’t need me to point out that Jesus is making a pun when he says, “let the dead bury their own dead,” referring to both spiritual death as well as physical death.
- It’s also worth pointing out that Jesus is not telling this man—or us—not to take care of our family obligations. Elsewhere the Bible is quite clear that we are to do so. Family is important, both for the believer and also for the non-believer. But there is a question of priority (following/obeying Jesus is more important than anything else, even one’s family obligations), as well as of intent (as the ESV Study Bible says for this passage, “it must be out of obedience to Jesus, not instead of obedience to Jesus”).
- The third man just seems half-hearted in the first place. He’s not even through a complete sentence before he’s already hedging: “I’ll follow you, Lord, but…” (verse 61 (ESV)). It’s no surprise at all that Jesus is calling this man out on his commitment.