"When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, 'Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?' But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, 'I will follow you wherever you go.' 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.' To another he said, 'Follow me.' But he said, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.' But Jesus said to him, 'Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.' Another said, 'I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.' Jesus said to him, 'No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'" (Luke 9:51-62 NRSV)
The second half of this passages from the Gospel of Luke has always been one of the more difficult passages for me.
It seems so harsh.
It seems so uninviting.
It seems to go against the picture I have created of the Jesus I always hoped he would be.
There are those who have used this portion of the passage as a way of eliminating people from the fold of faith. They have used it to make others fearful of their place in the community. They use it as a tool to cast dispersions on others and elevate themselves.
That is the trouble.
Often we rip passages like this one away from their central context, fold them in a certain way, and make them say what it is that we want them to say.
But look at this passage in its context, and it begins to become something different. Its meaning grows deeper.
Luke has just said that Jesus had "set his face to go to Jerusalem."
Jesus was heading somewhere.
He was heading toward Jerusalem.
He was moving with intention.
Jesus' disciples and those he met along the way were invited to follow; to come and see where he was going and what he was about. And Luke's Gospel continues to unfold with all of this as its backdrop.
Many chose to follow.
Many chose otherwise.
Jesus is still heading somewhere and is still inviting us to come along.
Where is he going?
A simple passage from earlier in the Gospel of Luke gives us a clue...
"Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.' And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, 'Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.'" (Luke 4:14-21 NRSV)
Jesus is about good news.
Jesus is about releasing captives.
Jesus is about healing.
Jesus is about liberation of the oppressed.
Jesus is about speaking the Lord's favor.
Jesus is heading somewhere.
Jesus is moving with intention.
We are invited to come along.
But this way is difficult. This way is not one of comfort or selfish ambition.
This is the way of the Christ.