Scripture: Luke 9:51-62
Often scripture hits us differently when we read them. One day we can read a passage and it seems to inspire us in a way that nothing else could. Another day the very same passage can cut us to the core, convicting us to change some aspect of our lives. It is interesting how scripture can do this. The Spirit behind the words written in the scripture can use the experiences and events throughout our lives to speak directly to our spirits. The Spirit teaches us how to be fit for the Kingdom.
This passage has hit me a couple of different ways this week. At times I have been stuck thinking about Samaria and their conflict with Israel. Samaria was the capital of the old Northern Kingdom of Israel. Samaria is similar in many ways to the capital of the Southern Kingdom of Judea. Both had a center of worship and both claimed to worship the same God. The difference is that they did things in different ways. If we were to look at it we would probably not see the difference, because they would seem to us as being inconsequential.
The first section of this passage speaks about Jesus making his way to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the center of the Jewish faith. All those that held to this religion saw this place as being the most holy of all holy places. For those in the Northern Kingdom Samaria was the center of faith and Jerusalem was just another city. The conflict was which was the holiest?
We often get caught in these types of struggles. The Samaritans would not allow Jesus and his companions to take refuge in their city for the night because they were going to Jerusalem, and the disciple of Jesus wanted to call fire down from the heavens because the Samaritans would not give proper respect to their Holy city. We could draw several parallels to this story today. Differing views of the world, different preferences and ideologies with people demanding the proper respect from others while not granting equal respect.
At times I identify with the disciples. When I meet people with no knowledge of my personal expression of faith I can get annoyed. I mean how many times do we really have to explain that Quakers are not extinct? On the opposing end how often I am like the people of the Samaritan city, not welcoming of people that view the world differently than I do. Jesus responds differently. He turns to walk to the next town. He being a child of Judea did not enter into the argument of which was better. In other places he actually rises above the conflict to a different plain, saying that the time has come where you will not worship on either mountain but in spirit and truth. He actually rebukes his own disciples for their opinions of the Samaritans because their behavior is not fit for the kingdom. Their opinions were distracting them from the truth the spirit was trying to convey to their hearts. Their opinions even though they are right in their own minds was keeping them from seeing the whole truth. And Jesus rebuked them, because their opinions are based on pride.
Jesus has rebuked me for responding like the sons of thunder for responding to things from my own logic, often I have been caught trying to manipulate and press my own personal views on to the world around me. The kingdom of God is not one of manipulation and power. This is the realm of the world’s to continue the conflict, because in the conflict they gain power and influence, and with that they can control the world around them. Unfortunately we all can get caught up in these things we get distracted from the kingdom.
They began to walk to the next town. I am sure that James and John were walking with their heads hanging low after being rebuked, but walking just the same. Someone comes up to them and says that he will follow Jesus wherever he goes. Followed two others. Each wishing to follow Jesus, to become his disciples, but each person has a distraction in their lives.
Jesus responds to each of them individually. The first Jesus says, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” This man wants to follow Jesus but at the suggestion of an unknown future the man quickly changes his tune. Worry about the future can distract. We have responsibilities, bills to pay, and families to feed if we were to drop everything to follow Jesus without knowing what the future would hold how could we live? A distraction, Jesus spoke about worry. He says that the flowers do not spin and the sparrows do not sew yet God clothes and feeds them. Worry distracts us from participating in the kingdom of God.
The next person is absorbed by his family’s legacy, saying that he first must bury his father before he can leave and follow Jesus. We often forget that first century culture is largely an agrarian society. Farms and businesses are passed on from one generation to the next. This particular man like the first is distracted by the security of the future. If he were to leave and follow Jesus what would happen to the family, would his inheritance go to someone else or would the family legacy simply disappear. He could not follow completely because in doing so he would potentially risk losing everything. Financial security, greed, and discontentment distract us from fully participating in the kingdom of God.
The third man comes to Jesus asking to be included in the group of disciples, but says first let me say farewell to those at my home. This person is consumed by his reputation. What others think about us can often direct how we make decisions. Jesus was a popular character even in Samaria and this man was applying for a position. He wanted to go back and tell everyone he knew that he was in. Often we our lives are governed by what others think of us, this distraction can cause us to make decisions based on how things affect our personal well being and our standing with or above others. It is a form of pride and pride distracts us from the kingdom of God.
We have three distractions that are keeping the characters of this story from participating fully on the kingdom of God: pride, greed, and worry. These distractions are forms of bondage that hold us from a life with God. But this is not what we were created for.
Mankind was created to share in the pleasure of God in His creation, to walk with Him in the cool of the evening as stewards of the garden of God’s delight. Sin enters our world when we as humans felt that we had to do more to earn God’s favor, but God loves us just as we are. We bind ourselves with pride, worry, and greed thinking if we subdue the world around us enough then we will earn our place by God’s side. Totally forgetting the fact that God did not desire this for us. Those are chains we have put on ourselves; chains of ideologies, theologies, careers, legacies, reputations, and countless other things. These distract us from the one that loves us and holds us back from being the people we were created to be. We make ourselves unfit for the kingdom of God.
God does not want our chains. He instead wants our freedom. He wants us to be free to be who and what he created us to be, but to do so we must let go of the chains. The last man that spoke to Jesus evoked a response from Jesus that was harsher than the others. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.” Jesus is saying that we cannot keep looking back, we cannot keep doing things the way we have been doing things, we must move forward. I find it interesting that Jesus used agricultural terms to explain this. The act of plowing is preparing the ground so that it can produce a harvest. We must work the ground, nurture a relationship with Him, and allow it to grow. Abraham was blessed because he let go of the chains that bound him in Ur, and he followed God wherever He led, Israel followed Moses through the desert and were blessed, the prophets freely spoke the word from God and they gave us direction of how we can live a life of freedom, yet this was not enough. We as human bound the freedom up in laws and rules. Yes the laws are important but not to bind, instead the laws of God were given to free us from the bondage we put ourselves in. Moses wrote down the laws not to form a legalistic religion, but instead to provide a lifestyle that if participated in would lead to freedom and the joy of life with God. Yet we translated them into something far darker.
The nation of Israel split in two over the law, each side having a different interpretation and expression of faith, and the conflict only produced bondage in the people. Freedom comes only through living out two basic rules. Loving God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is like the first love your neighbor as yourself. Two basic rules complicated through our own forms of bondage. We choose not to love our neighbor because they choose not to accept our terms. We fail to love God with all our mind, because we would rather choose to fill our minds with other things. We choose not to love God because we would rather use our strengths to build up our careers and our reputations. Only to find ourselves where exactly? We choose to run our lives our own ways and we fail. We fight wars, we argue, we send bid, we sell only to fail again. It is not because we are not good enough for God’s blessing it is because we choose not to accept the very blessing that God has provided for us.
That is why Jesus came. Yes he came to provide freedom, to ransom us out of bondage and to grant us freedom in Him. He provides this by living His life for us. He came as a baby so that he could live a childhood for us. He grew as an adult and took on a trade with his earthly father Joseph so that he could live our career for us and with us. He hit mid life and made a complete transition into something totally different and he began to teach and minister to others for our own good for us again. He took on every aspect of our lives and he bore them each and he lifted them up on the cross taking the lives of bondage and sin and killing them and burying them in the ground for us. And He rose from the grave to give us hope of renewed life in him. He has already taken on our sins; he has already taken care of the things we feel we must continue to work on. They are already covered by His blood, and buried in the tomb. They do not have control over us if we were only to let go and follow him, tend the fields of our lives without looking back, and nurturing that relationship with him without caring about the distractions that formerly gripped us.
God came down to live among us, God gave Himself to free us, and God provides hope for us. We are not fit for the kingdom if we demand from Samaria that they pray at Jerusalem, or if we demand Jerusalem to pray at Samaria. We are not fit for the kingdom if we worry, or if we are consumed by greed. We are not fit for the kingdom if we hold on to our worldly reputations and look back. We are fit for the kingdom if we take hold of that which Christ Jesus took hold of in us. If we boldly live our life for and with him, and if we repent and live our lives loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the Love of Christ with others. We do not need anything more than that.
As we enter this time of open worship and holy expectancy. I encourage you to look at what is distracting you from fully participating in a life with God in Christ. Is it worry? Is it finances? Is it you reputation with others? Is it you ideology or theology? These can become idols keeping us from the Spirit of Truth in Jesus, lay them down before the cross, let Jesus lift them out of your hand and lay them in the tomb, and let us embrace a restored life the life he wants you to have today. Let us allow the Spirit of God to make us fit for His kingdom.