You might recall the passage in Matthew (5:22) when Jesus said, anyone who says, “you fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell. NIV Or in 5:29, if your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. NIV If we took that last one literally, our churches would be filled with one-eyed members.
We have the same problem with today’s reading in Luke, what does Jesus mean?
Rabbis for centuries have used many techniques to make their point. One such technique is hyperbole, exaggerating the point beyond common usage or the practical. If I look at a woman lustfully, gouging out my right eye will leave my left eye, so….
The point Jesus is making as recorded by Matthew is that we all sin. Just thinking a bad thought about someone equals murder. But we can’t go ahead and murder someone just because we think it. Murder is worse than bad thoughts, but the thoughts often lead to actual murder. That misses the point. We need to learn to control even our thinking, as best we can, knowing that we fail and still need God’s mercy.
Today, we read that Jesus turns his face to Jerusalem. I have not read every possible English translation of verse 51, but most at least have avoided using the word “face” in this verse even though it is in the Greek. The reason is that the Greek seems to be a partial translation of a common Hebrew idiom. To turn your face means to go a different direction. For example: stop lusting after women and turn your face toward treating them as equals.
Let me quote from David Bivin and Roy Blizzard (p. 126). Literally, the [Greek] text reads: “And when the days of his ascension were fulfilled, and he put his face to go to Jerusalem.” This is good Hebrew, but scarcely Greek or English. An accurate English translation would be: “When the time came for him to be taken up to heaven, he headed for Jerusalem.” In other words, when the time came, Jesus went. Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus
If you notice, this is chapter 9 of 24. Jesus is not marching to the cross, just making a trip to the capital city. There are 10 more chapters of lessons before the last entry into the city.
Yes, I agree, Jesus is headed to the cross, but that is true from his birth.
Why did James and John want to destroy the village? I think they had become impressed with their standing as part of the Twelve. It is in this chapter that Jesus sent the Twelve out to preach, teach, and heal. They watched Jesus feed 5,000. Peter voices their belief that Jesus is the long-promised Messiah. Jesus predicts his death. Peter, James, and John witness the transfiguration. Jesus heals the demon-possessed boy.
Why not bring down the fires of Heaven? Notice that Jesus said, “No” and went to a different village. Jesus opposed the nuclear option.
We Americans need to Face Toward Kindness. Instead, we take too much pride in our military. Our reaction is—too often—to send in the troops. It’s easier to justify the budget for 18 Army divisions, 4 Marine divisions, 430 Navy ships and some 8,000 aircraft among them if they’re out there beating up on the bad guys. Until 1947 we were a nation which took pride in a small standing army.
Moving on. Luke gives us brief accounts of Jesus responding to three attempts to join his followers.
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” NIV
There is no indication of the man’s reaction. As we read this, it seems Jesus laid it out and said take it or leave it. I like Peterson’s interpretation. Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.” MSG That image resonates with Americans, but sleeping outside was much more common in the First Century. Still, Jesus made it clear that following him is not to be considered a picnic.
To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” ESV
This is easily the most difficult of the three incidents and one of the most difficult sayings in the Bible.
Before looking at it, here is the last encounter. Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” NIV
Each of these two is much the same. “Let me deal with my family.” For Jesus, family was those who followed him everywhere. Matthew 12:48-50. “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”; then with a gesture of his hand towards his disciples he went on, “There are my mother and brothers! For whoever does the will of my Heavenly Father is brother and sister and mother to me.” Phillips For Jesus, it was never a question of rejecting his earthly family; it was about his Heavenly family first.
In today’s 1 Kings’ reading, we see Elijah instructed by God to anoint Elisha to be his replacement. When Elijah places his cloak on Elisha, Elisha runs to follow the great prophet, saying: “Let me kiss my father and mother good-by, and I will follow you.” JSB
Elijah granted the request, but Jesus did not think taking time to bury one’s father was a good enough reason. Why? Was there a difference?
The Jewish tradition then, as it is now, was for the family to remain inside their home for seven days and offer prayers three times daily. Further, the elder son was responsible for the burial—almost a sacred duty. Jesus likely did the same when Joseph died.
There are two key points to consider. First, Luke strings these slender stories together to stress that following Jesus is serious business. There is a cost involved. There are many believers who will receive the reward of eternal forgiveness without having to follow Jesus. Being a follower requires giving up our current lives. A First Century disciple of any rabbi followed his teacher everywhere, without question, and did everything asked of him. It was—and is—a life of complete obedience.
The question for the men is: Are you willing to walk away from your responsibility to your earthly father and obey your Heavenly Father without question? Following Jesus is different from believing. Many believe, but few follow.
Second, Jesus chose his Twelve. They did not choose him. They were like Elisha, chosen by God, and anointed by Elijah. Those who decided to follow Jesus throughout his ministry were—and are—on a different level. If I follow Jesus because I believe in him as I believe in God, that is not the same as being selected and anointed. Most scholars believe that at least a hundred people followed Jesus daily, and they shared in his ministry and his reward, as do we all. But giving up my life to follow is different. To become a slave to Jesus is not to be taken lightly.
I think Jesus is so blunt with these men because he wants to test their commitment.
Read my earlier comments on this theme here.
Be righteous and do good.