Focus

Luke 9:51-62 (1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21, Psalm 16)

Most people want to serve God; but only in an advisory capacity!

That old joke could have been written for this week’s gospel text (Luke 9:51-62), it applies so perfectly. First is the amnesia of the disciples – told earlier on Chapter 9, “Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them,” (vs. 5) they instead want to destroy the unwelcoming Samaritan village  by calling down fire from heaven! Then there comes three people who throw themselves at Jesus, declaring their desire to follow him.  The first person will follow Jesus without condition.  The other two have different preconditions: the first the burial of their dead, and the other the desire to say goodbye.  Jesus is really quite harsh in his reply: no! The second person is unwilling to make a sacrifice to follow Jesus; the third is hindered by distractions.
 
As many a scholar has pointed out, the Greek words used here have an implied subtext: the spiritually dead (those who will not follow Jesus) can bury the physically dead; the spiritually alive have work to do!  In the case of the third volunteer, the meaning is more obvious: you will always find some distraction or other to keep you from following me; looking to your past is just one of them!
 
But, as a good student of the Bible would point out, Elijah allowed Elisha to say goodbye to his family (“Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again…” 1 Kings 19:20.)  But Jesus finds himself in a different context.  It’s a little like the movie The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp of 1943, starring Roger Livesey and Deborah Kerr.  The befuddled old British Brigadier General Candy is a man of honor, reflecting the spirit of the gentlemanly warrior of old.  By the end of the movie, the old gent finds himself banned from his own BBC broadcast for reasons he cannot fathom.  His Austrian friend (played by Anton Walbrook) explains it to him: Candy doesn’t understand that this new enemy (the Nazi) is unlike any pervious enemy he has faced; and that his planned speech (“I’d rather lose the war than…”) reflects that lack of understanding.  This is a new time; and the enemy must be destroyed for the sake of the world!
 
In the opening words of this gospel text, the scene is set: “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (vs. 51), and Jerusalem is the place where the prophets die (13:34).  Jesus has told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me: (9:23).  So, his followers will share in his rejection (vs. 51-56) and his destiny (vs. 57-62).  They are following him on his journey to death (Luke 9:51-19:28, one-third of Luke’s entire gospel account!).  This is a journey like no other; the costs are higher, the danger greater.  The enemy (death) must be destroyed for the sake of the world!