December 5, 2020

Sunday’s Gospel: On a Journey with Jesus

By Chaplain Mike

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Lectionary Readings
• 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
• Psalm 16
• Galatians 5:1, 13-25
• Luke 9:51-62

Today’s Gospel: Luke 9:51-62 (NRSV)

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 towards 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 plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

As this passage begins (Luke 9:51), we have reached the “turning point” in Luke’s Gospel. Everything before Luke 9:51 described Jesus’ journeys and ministry from Bethlehem to the Mt. of Transfiguration, where Luke tells us that Jesus’ glory was revealed. There appearing with him that day were Moses and Elijah. These two towering figures from the First Testament represented the Torah and the Prophets that had anticipated the Messiah’s coming. There on the Mount, we read that they discussed Jesus’ “departure [exodus], which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (9:31).

Now, Luke 9:51 tells us that from that point on, Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” It would be there that he would depart this world via death, resurrection, and ascension. That was his destination, his goal. In Jerusalem he would complete the work his Father had given him to do, the redemptive work that would atone for sin, provide forgiveness and righteousness for all who believe, deliver the crushing blow to the powers of sin, evil, and death, and inaugurate the dawning of a new creation.

From this point to the end of Luke, and then on into volume two (Acts), the disciples will follow Jesus on this journey. And he will teach them what it means to be a disciple; what it means to walk with Jesus, follow Jesus, and be in mission with Jesus.

Today’s Gospel records the first of these accounts. What does it mean (or not mean) to be Jesus’ disciple?

First, it means we are free from the responsibility of pronouncing final judgment on others. As Jesus and his disciples passed through the unreceptive, hostile Samaritan village, Luke records that the disciples wanted to do the “Elijah thing”—call down fire from heaven on God’s enemies (2Kings 1). But Jesus’ mission was different than Elijah’s. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17).

Join me in being glad that announcing the verdict of judgment is not our mission. Yes, we proclaim that Jesus will come again, “to judge the living and the dead,” but in the meantime we are to be about the business of reconciliation. “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2Cor 5:18-19).

There are too many angry Christians. There are too many people devoting their time and energy to consigning others to hell. There are too few willing to be “friends of sinners,” showing those outside of Christ the grace and hospitality Jesus extended to them. The world complains, often with good reason, that Christ’s followers are too judgmental. Let’s break the mold.

Second, it means we must learn that following Jesus may lead to hard, uncomfortable choices. Three would-be disciples come to our Lord in today’s second story.

  • The first is eager and enthusiastic, but has no idea of the cost and the discomfort involved. Jesus gives him a reality check.
  • The second makes what seems to be a legitimate request—a family emergency that will postpone the start of his discipleship. Bluntly, Jesus disallows any delay. The Kingdom must be proclaimed!
  • The third asks the same question Elisha asked Elijah: “Can I please go home and say goodbye to mom and dad?” Unlike Elijah, Jesus says no. There must be no looking back.

For many people from Jesus’ day until our own, following the Lord has meant just these kinds of sacrifices. Many have had to sacrifice comfort. Some have had to miss important family experiences and occasions. Some have faced total separation from family and community. Some have done so voluntarily in order to pursue a calling. Some have had these difficult experiences forced upon them.

Is such sacrifice worth it? David Livingstone, the 19th century British missionary to Africa, once said,

For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink, but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in, and for, us. I never made a sacrifice. Of this we ought not to talk, when we remember the great sacrifice which HE made who left His Father’s throne on high to give Himself for us.


  1. Good word, Chaplain Mike. I think where the Spirit speaks best thru you is in Jesus centered proclamation.

    It always amazes me that those who I’ve met who lived the most sacrificial lives seemed to be least aware of it or saw it as nothing compared to the grace and self-giving love of God. Jesus embodied a sacrificial life and yet we are reminded in Hebrews that he endured suffering and sacrifice “for the joy that was set before him”. James reminds us to “count it pure joy” when we endure hardship, suffering (and sacrifice). Some translations of Romans 12 reframes sacrifice as an act of worship. Paul reckons these “present sufferings/sacrifices are worthy to be compared to the glory that awaits us in Christ Jesus”.

    How challenging these words of Livingstone are for me. If I’m gonna make sacrifices, I usually want to choose the what, where, how and when – and I at least want to be recognized by myself or God for it even if not by others.

  2. “What does it mean (or not mean) to be Jesus’ disciple?
    First, it means we are free from the responsibility of pronouncing final judgment on others.”

    That’s an excellent point, Chaplain Mike. I think it was Andrew Marin who said in his book Love Is An Orientation something like he chooses to love everyone and he expects that the Holy Spirit will convict people of sin if there is sin to be convicted of.

  3. The OT reading including the anointing of Elisha, where he asks Elijah to let him kiss his parents goodbye, to which Elijah replies, “Go back…What have I done to you?” Jesus’ reply to a similar request probably came as a shock, but Jesus is greater than Elijah. I think Jesus’ words drive that home. It is the kairos of his message: the time was fulfilled; the kingdom of God was at hand. There is a sense of urgency and destiny. This is it, folks! Everything that the law and the prophets forshadowed has dawned in your presence. This is no time for putting lamps under bushels; it’s time to shout from the roof tops! The pearl of great price has been revealed. Such urgency sounds like law, but I don’t think it is. This is no slick infomercial stuffed with empty promises. This is the real deal. Grace and forgiveness has appeared in Christ Jesus! This is GREAT news! Stop the presses, drop what you’re doing! Come and follow Him. It really fits the pace and urgency of the gospel of Mark, but probably seems out of place in the slow, methodical style of Luke.

    • “Grace and forgiveness has appeared in Christ Jesus! This is GREAT news! Stop the presses, drop what you’re doing! Come and follow Him.”

      Excellent comments, dumb ox.

  4. Thanks for this good message. Very helpful, with some things I hadn’t seen before. Don’t let the paucity of comments discourage you from more posts like this. Some of us read a lot more than we comment. Thanks for helping me grow and learn.

  5. When people marvel at the servant’s sacrifice if is only because they place so much value on what is perceived to have been given up and have no sense of the value of what is being received in exchange. Remember the words of Jim Eliot.