Proper 8 • Luke 9:51–62 • June 26, 2016
Joel P. Okamoto
Notes on the Text
9:51: This passage is the beginning of what is often called the travel narrative in the Gospel according to Luke. The passage marks a turning point in Luke’s account of Jesus Christ. At his transfiguration Jesus had spoken of his departure (9:31). Now, according to Luke, Jesus knows this event is near, and he sets out resolutely toward Jerusalem. Luke is consistent in highlighting Christ’s ascension into heaven: this event marks the end of the Gospel, and is the way he characterizes the book in the opening of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:1–2).
9:52: Jesus sends messengers ahead. As we see in 10:1, Jesus sent messengers to all of the places he would visit, so this fact alone is not unusual.
9:53: But Luke reports about a Samaritan village that will not welcome Jesus because he is going to Jerusalem. James and John want to know whether they should call down fire from heaven. Their reaction is reminiscent of Elijah calling down fire from heaven on the captains and their men (2 Kg 1:10–14). It also echoes John’s preaching about the wrath to come (Lk 3:7–9).
9:54–56: Jesus rebukes them, and they move on. He gives no reason, but see a variant that echoes Matthew 20:28 and John 3:17: “For the Son of Man did not come to destroy the lives of men, but to save” (but v. 55 has several variants). One should also remember the “good Samaritan” (10:30–37) and the Samaritan leper (17:11–19).
9:57–62: A summary of Jesus’s exchanges on his journey. Compare Matthew 8:19–22, but note that these exchanges take place around the Sea of Galilee. Taken together, they reflect an unsentimental and realistic view on discipleship. It may mean 148 alienation (if not persecution; cf. 9:23–25), and in any case it requires single-minded, unflinching devotion to Christ and his mission, overriding social conventions and family obligations (cf. 14:25–33). But anyone who does not follow in this way is not appropriate or fit or properly suited (εὔθετός) for the reign of God.
Notes for Preaching
Although this pericope suggests several points upon which a sermon might focus, I suggest focusing on discipleship, the most apparent theme in this passage.
You might begin such a sermon by pointing out the obvious: that discipleship in the Gospel of Luke (or any Gospel) is always following Jesus. But what does this mean? We can discern several features. First, discipleship means actually receiving and hearing Jesus and those whom he sends. The Samaritans refused, and that meant not following Jesus. Second, discipleship means being aligned with our Lord. James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven. Jesus’s rebuke meant that they weren’t following him on this important matter. Third, disciples should be clear about its nature. The man who volunteered to follow was told about the consequences, which is to go about with “no place to lay [your] head.” Following Jesus means going as he went, and that can be challenging and alienating. Fourth, discipleship means following single-mindedly. Jesus challenged the men he called who asked about delaying. He required them to set out immediately and resolutely, just as he was going resolutely toward Jerusalem.
Only the second, third, and fourth points will be relevant to a congregation of followers of Jesus. You should clearly and concretely explain and/or illustrate the implication of each point. For example, the second point might call for patience in dealing with those who ignore Christ’s call or Christ’s disciples; the third point might call for cautioning against complacency; the fourth point might call for urging hearers to “hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:28). In any case, you should strive to discern that which is most challenging to your hearers, because the Lord in this passage is challenging to those whom he comes to and whom he addresses.