By Jared Warner
June 30, 2019
Willow Creek Friends Church
Luke 9:51–62 (ESV)
A Samaritan Village Rejects Jesus
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 And they went on to another village.
The Cost of Following Jesus
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 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.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Who are you? I am sure you have thought about the answer to this question a few times in the course of your life. We make attempts at defining this, defining ourselves. We try to find meaning and understanding. But what are we using to define who we are? What are we using to define those around us?
The first century world also struggled with identity at times. These identities gave them a sense of pride, belonging and purpose. There is nothing outright sinful in these things, but it sin can enter very easily if our identity in one area causes us to dishonor or disrespect other for the simple fact that they identify as something contrary to your identity. I am tired of saying the word identity. It is almost as if everything today has something to do with that word. I Dentity. The danger of identity is seen very clearly through the relationship of Israel and Samaria.
Most of us have a decent understanding of the Jewish people. I say decent because we are not Jewish so there is a great deal we do not know and will not know unless we ask certain questions about their history and traditions. We can glean quite a bit from the books of scripture we call the old testament but there is much more to the Jewish faith than is written in those books. This is why the priests were not able to serve in the temple until they were twenty-five, when all the other boys their age were starting their careers at the age of thirteen. They had to learn not only the scripture we know, but all their traditional teachings and rabbinical interpretations. We know about the Jewish people to a degree, but most of us know very little about the Samaritan people.
We know that the people of Samaria were Israelites. They share a heritage and history with the Jewish people, they even share religious faith. The Levites that served in the Temple at Jerusalem were from the same tribe as those that lived in the rest of promised land. The priest lived among the tribes they did not have a separate geography, but they were mixed within the others. This is because their inheritance was not land but God. They were called to be a tribe set apart. When the Kingdom of Israel divided after the reign of Solomon there were priest in both Israel and Judea. When the kingdom divided the identity of Samaritans and Jews began. Most of our scripture is written from a Jewish perspective and most of that perspective casts a very unfavorable light in the direction of the northern kingdom. We know that the northern kingdom had leaders that did evil in the eyes of God. This is most likely true. I would venture to say that most people that claim leadership over others within a nation probably do evil in the eyes of God at some point, and if we want to be honest all of Israel at the end of the book of Judges had pretty much done evil in the eyes of God because they wanted a king to rule over them and to fight their battle. When Samuel speaks to God about this God says that they had rejected God as their king.
We have a skewed view of Samaritans, because scripture is written through a Jewish perspective, and that is not necessarily a bad thing because it is through the Jewish people that God was going to provide the hope of all nations. So, scripture should follow them more closely than the tribes to the north. This does not mean that the tribes to the north are less children of Israel. It simply means that their part within the story had taken a minor role.
This does not mean that their culture did not continue. They still had priests to carry on the faith of their fathers. The prophets tell us that there was still a group that remained faithful to God. Their faith traditions stretch back to pre-temple Israel. It was in the area that would become the Northern Kingdom of Israel that the tabernacle was situated until David had it moved to the Southern areas. And that location remained sacred to those in the Northern Kingdom even after their kingdom was conquered by, they Assyrian Empire. This schism between the sacred locations developed into religious divisions and it evolved even more to political divisions until the tribes forgot that they were all Children of Israel, children of the promise of God, and they instead focused on identity.
These identities morphed to a greater degree after the exiles. The Northern kingdom was conquered, and the reason is given that they did evil in the eyes of God and lost favor. They were conquered, and the land that was once Israel was filled with people of different nations. Those that remained in Israel interacted with those that moved in. They married their children. Some embraced their religions and some of those that moved in embraced the God of Jacob. But their heritage was mixed. This mixing of nations was something that the southern kingdom did not approve of. And it became an issue of debate. When Judea was also conquered, they were faced with the same dilemma. Many were removed from their homes and forced to live outside the land of promise. They married the daughters of Babylon. When those descendants of Judah could return to Jerusalem, they did something surprising. They purified their nation. Those that married people outside the tribe were encouraged to put away or divorce their spouses and to marry people of similar identity. Often, we look at this portion of their history and regard it as something favorable because they were getting back to their cultural roots and restoring the true faith. But have we ever thought about the families that were left behind?
This purity became a source of division between Judea and Israel. How could they ever hope for unity when one side refuses to acknowledge the validity of the other? The disagreements ran so deep that Samaria would often plot against Jerusalem. This is why those that were repairing the walls of Jerusalem had to wear a sword.
For centuries this feud continued. Samaria had their place of worship and Judea had another. With each passing year the divisions just intensified, but both had hope. Both nations looked forward to the coming Messiah that would reunite the tribes. The problem with this was which side would the Messiah validate and who would ultimately lose?
We see this tension in today’s passage. Luke tells us that Jesus’ ministry is ending and he is looking to the fulfillment in Jerusalem. Jesus is making his way from Galilee to Jerusalem and to get there he passes through Samaria. This is very significant. Many who would travel from Galilee to Jerusalem would go around this area, and rightfully so. The feud between the two factions were still going strong. Samaria did not want people passing through their land to get to the temple. They did not acknowledge the temple in Jerusalem as being an authentic place of worship because they had their own sacred site that they encouraged people to worship at. And according to tradition they would encourage people to worship at their sacred site using questionable methods.
But Jesus does not care, he walks straight through without fear. He sends his disciples out before him to arrange hospitality for the night. They go and they make inquiries only to find rejection at every turn. No one in the city wanted to allow a group of people heading for Jerusalem to stay on their property. We should not forget that there were Samaritans among those that followed Jesus. There were many among Samaria that considered Jesus to be the Messiah they had waited for, but when they realized Jesus was going to Jerusalem instead of their mountain it hurt their pride. Jesus in their eyes was no better than the other Jews.
I want us to consider this for a moment. This village rejected Jesus completely because he was going to Jerusalem. They rejected him completely because they wanted Jesus to conform to their worldview. They rejected Jesus as their Messiah and Unifying king because he did not agree that their mountain was just as important as the one in Jerusalem. They rejected Jesus because he did not conform to their agenda.
This angered the disciples. How dare they disrespect their teacher. It just fueled their hatred for the Samaritans even more. It fueled their prejudices. And James and John began to plot the destruction of that village in retaliation to their rejection. They asked Jesus if they could call fire down from heaven to consume these inhospitable people. It seems like a bold thing to say, but the disciples had been ministering in Galilee for a while now. Jesus had sent them out into the villages, and they were doing miraculous thing in Jesus’s name. They were beginning to think that they could control the very hand and power of God because they were his disciples. In their righteous anger, in their self-righteous anger they wanted to make an example of this village that would be just as memorable of another city that would not provide hospitality to the messengers of God, Sodom.
It is interesting how Jesus responds. He immediately rebukes the sons of thunder; he rebukes the disciple he loves along with his brother. Jesus does not tolerate their self-righteous pride. He rebukes them because Jesus did not come to the world to condemn it but to save it. Both sides were equally wrong. They were spinning half truths to suit their agenda. James and John wanted to smite this village and Jesus tells them to shut up and keep walking.
What good would calling for vengeance do? In Jesus’s eyes these Samaritans were just as important as the people that shared his Judean ancestry. In his eyes they were equal, they were all Israel. To make an example of an inhospitable village would not fulfill the mission of reconciliation of all nations to God, but it would only drive the wedge of separation deeper. Jesus’s kingdom was not about which side was right or wrong, his mission was to restore all people who were damaged by the cancer of sin.
They continue to walk. As they walk people are following. Remember these are people of Samaria not Judea. Jesus did not hold the rejection of one village against the whole nation, but he turns the attention to something more individual. Someone comes over to him as he walks and says to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Another comes, and Jesus asks him to follow, and this man responds, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And a third man says, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”
For us these all seem like very reasonable responses. These people are eager for follow. They want to follow Jesus even though he is a Jew and they are Samaritans. But to each of these people Jesus counters their response with something that takes our breath away. To the one that first says I will follow you wherever you go, Jesus says, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To the second man, the one that wishes to bury his father, Jesus says, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God. And to the third, Jesus says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
I have sat with these responses this week. I considered them. I look at them and I even find the statements of the individuals as being very reasonable. They make sense to me, because even I had prayed prayers like this. When I entered ministry, I was technically a single dad although I was engaged to be married. I prayed that I would minister wherever I was called if it was within driving distance of my son. I thought it was a very reasonable prayer at the time, but what was I saying? I was putting my terms and conditions into the equation. I will serve God if… What happens if something changes? What if God had called me to Alaska Yearly Meeting or Eastern Region? Would I still follow? What if God called me to Africa or India? Would I still follow? What if God did not call me to a Meeting that could pay me? What if I would have to work two or three jobs just to minister? What if?
The responses of these individuals are not that much different to the rejection of the village. Jesus had his sights set on Jerusalem for a reason. They did not like Jerusalem and wanted Jesus to be their Samaritan Messiah. And if he was not, they would not follow. Jesus was poor, yes, he was poor no matter what the guy on TV might say he traveled and depended on the hospitality of others. If our condition is financial and He calls us to poverty will we follow? What if following Jesus would cause dishonor in the family? What if following would mean leaving those we love behind? What if?
Jesus rebuked the disciples for casting judgement on the Samaritan village because of their rejection. Then he turns around and rebukes Samaritans for lack of faith. Am I the only one that finds this odd? Or is he telling us something else? I say these individuals were Samaritans, but they could have been anyone. Jesus is asking each of us a tough question, what is holding you back?
This exchange happens near the end of Jesus’s ministry. At this point the disciples had seen Jesus do countless things that they could not explain. They themselves had done things they never thought possible. They had watch Jesus heal, feed a multitude, silence the religious elite, fill nets with so many fish boats began to sink. They had seen him raise people from the dead, and they had seen him shine on a mountain top while talking to Moses and Elijah. They had seen all this yet still some wanted God on their terms. They wanted Jesus to support their agenda.
We do not know what will happen if we truly follow. We do not know how other will react if we follow. We do not know if people will support us or reject us. We do know some things. We know that Jesus came and lived among mankind. We know he taught and lived a life that was different from the world around him. We know that through him things that can happen that we cannot explain. And we know that he looked beyond the identities and boxes people tried to put him in and calls us each to walk in faith. He calls us to follow him right here and right now. He calls us to live with him. Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living his love with others. He calls us to stop looking at our various groups and heroes within those groups and instead to see that of God in all people. Jesus is calling us, will we answer? He is calling us to participate in his kingdom but are we too focused on the kingdoms of men? Jesus is calling will we reject him, or will we embrace the opportunity?
It does not mater who you are, where you are from, or what you have done. Jesus is calling. He loves you and wants you to join him in the adventure of life. What is holding you back?