Luke 9: 51
Today's Gospel lesson requires some contextual explanation. It marks the closing of the Galilean section of Luke and the beginning of the section in which Jesus begins his journey to accomplish His mission on Golgotha.

The section of Luke from verse 9:51 until chapter 20, is called the travel narrative because the Lord “has set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

But this large portion of Luke's Gospel is less about the journey and more about Christ's formation of His disciples, both then and now.

In fact, today's Gospel begins a ten-chapter section in which Jesus is engaged in intense disciple training during which time He endeavors to transform the disciples.

In the opening verses of the travel narrative, the Lord focuses on the radical demands of discipleship.

Now what comes to your mind when you hear the word radical? Do you think of yourself in conjunction with that word?

Or, is a radical someone else who is out on the fringes, advocating extreme behavior, and definitely more strange than you want to be?

To be honest, when I hear the word radical, I do not think of myself. And yet I do consider myself at least an aspiring disciple of Christ.

But that, you see, is the problem the Gospel for today presents;

Christ's call to discipleship is radical in every sense of the word.

There is no way around it; this is radical stuff!

Are you aware that the word radical comes from the Latin radix which means a root? So rather than being something on the fringes that is strange and edgy, it would seem that radical is right at the root of things.  A root, after all, is central to the life of a plant.

Without roots a plant, of course, will die.

Without a radical understanding of compassion and without a commitment to radical discipleship, it seems that our faith will stagnate or at least fail to meet the standards that the Lord sets.

So let's examine the standards for discipleship that Jesus established.

The first quality of discipleship we encounter is hospitality. The Lord sent messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to make ready for Him, in other words to prepare to offer Him hospitality.

Now Luke tells us that the Samaritans refused to receive Jesus, refused to welcome Him, because His face was set toward Jerusalem. We must understand that the Samaritans refused to accept an understanding of salvation that centered on Jerusalem.

Their religious life centered on a Temple on Mt. Gerazim rather than Jerusalem, and this geographical distinction was the root of the animosity between Jews and Samaritans in the first century.

Now the second quality of discipleship that Jesus establishes comes when James and John suggest that they call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans for their inhospitable response to the Lord.

Jesus here rejects violence as a reaction to a refusal of hospitality. Christ offers mercy and compassion in response to rejection, and so teaches disciples to do the same.

Compassion, you see, becomes even more radical when it is offered to people who reject you.

Following the encounter with the unwelcoming Samaritans our Lord encounters three people who were impulsive and reluctant followers.

One man volunteered, saying I will follow you wherever you go. Jesus responded that to follow you must be willing to forfeit a home,   for the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Does the would-be disciple know what he is committing himself to, to give up the security of a home in order to follow the Lord?

Jesus approached a second person with his simple invitation to discipleship, Follow me. The man replied as a good son would when he said, Lord, first let me go and bury my father.

One must here understand that the duty to bury one's parents was binding on all devout Jews.

This seems like a reasonable request, but Jesus replies with an apparent lack of compassion. Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.

What Jesus is saying here is that the priority of service to Christ           be set above every other priority.

What Jesus is actually saying here is that the spiritually dead should bury the physically dead. In other words, those who have not yet committed to Jesus are like the spiritually dead, thus let the dead bury the dead.

But those who have committed to be Christ's disciples are no longer dead and therefore their concern should be with life and the living; with proclaiming salvation through faith in Jesus.

Finally, another man came to him and said, I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at home. He just wanted to tell his family goodbye. What is the harm in that?

Jesus responded with a word that summarizes all of these short conversations: No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. Just as someone who is plowing a field will never do a good job by looking back all the time, so a disciple needs to avoid the danger of looking back.

Discipleship, then, is a relentless commitment to the future, to working toward creating God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

What Jesus is telling all of us who would aspire to Christian discipleship is that such a calling requires an unconditional commitment to his radical demands and an unwavering focus on the future rather than the past.

Now Hebrews 11 explains that faith requires a focus on the future, defines faith as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not yet seen.

In the encounters with the three would-be disciples, Jesus is showing us both how to look forward and the dangers of seeing faith as something that allows us to look back.

Faith, you see, always calls us to choose the best instead of the good.

But Jesus did not say, Seek ye first the love of family, or personal security, or competing obligations, all of which are good goals.

Instead, He made the priority very clear: Seek ye first the   Kingdom of God and his righteousness which is the best goal;        and all these other things, which are merely good, shall be added unto you.

So the question that today's Gospel confronts us all with is this, what is your answer to Jesus Christ?

 Amen

 


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