Luke 9:51 – 62
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
“He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” This is a turning point for the Luke’s gospel – although there will be wandering, Jesus certainly does not go directly to Jerusalem; and there will be stories and sending out and parables and healing, Jesus’ direction is from here on looking towards the crucifixion and resurrection. His teaching of the disciples will be more intense as he tries to get them to understand.
Those he sends ahead along the road encounter resistance in a Samaritan village; they want nothing to do with a prophet who is headed towards Jerusalem! But what is interesting in this story is what the disciples want to do about it – “command fire to come down from heaven and consume them!” Now isn’t that a Christian response! But isn’t it just like us human beings? We want to be right – but we also want to strike out against those who disagree with us. Haven’t you ever just wished you could smite someone with a lightning bolt from heaven? Just for a moment wished it? I can surely confess that I have. But Jesus did not agree! He rebuked the disciples, and they went on to another village.
As they went, someone came running up to Jesus, saying, “I will follow you wherever you go”. But Jesus said that unlike even the foxes or the birds, he had no den or nest, but had no place to lay his head. Implicit is the question, would you be willing to commit to a life where you don’t know where you will lay your head tomorrow? Are you really willing to follow wherever I go? To another he said, “Follow me”, but this follower had things he wanted to do first, then he would follow; the same with a third, who wanted to go back home and say goodbye first. Now people tend to “over-parse” these sayings – Jesus is not saying it is inappropriate to go bury one’s dead father (although, note, Luke does not say the father is dead; for all we know the father may be old and the “follower” wishes to live out his commitment to family until his father dies), and he went home with several of the disciples after they chose to follow (he healed Simon’s mother-in-law; Matthew threw a party). The point Jesus is making here is that if we are to be called his followers, he must be our first priority. Nothing comes before him.
Jesus uses an analogy, to plowing – if a person starts to plow, he (or she) must keep an eye on the goal, the end of the row, in order to plow straight towards that goal. If you turn around and look back, you will plow a crooked furrow.