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 towards 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 plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’ (NRSV)
Jesus is determined to go to Jerusalem. He is resolute. Nothing is permitted to distract. It is, of course, exactly what it will take.
No one else quite understands – at least at this stage.
Jesus has begun to speak openly with the disciples about what is to come. But they do not yet understand a Christ called to suffer. Comprehension takes time. This is their paradigm shift.
So when the Samaritans refuse to offer their welcome James and John are ready to defend Jesus’ honor. After all, to their mind, he will soon rule these lands.
The rebuke Jesus directed their way must have stung. They ask only to perform an act of faith in defense of the one they believe Jerusalem will soon crown and honor. They offer their prayer. Heaven itself will do the rest.
But Jesus’ crown will not be gold and heaven is not seeking revenge.
It would seem James and John are not the only ones struggling to understand. Our reading points to three others who offer their service to the Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus turns none of these away.
To each, however, he issues a warning.
Jesus believes his path will not be what what they imagine. Perhaps our first volunteer is envisions serving in a some sort of palace. But Jesus has not had a place to describe as ‘home’ since beginning his public ministry. His arrival in the capital will not alter this.
Jesus initiates the second invitation. This one initially seems to accepts. But it does not take long before he seeks to add his own clause: ‘…first let me bury my father.’
It sounds reasonable, even admirable.
But he is unlikely to be implying that his father is dead and the matter can be resolved in a few hours. It is more likely to point to a man who is patiently waiting for this passing. He seeks to fulfill a social and familial obligation. This will not prevent him joining Jesus.
But there will be a open-ended delay.
The final call involves one who wishes to farewell family. This is a looking two ways. A divided heart is not fit for this kingdom.
Maybe, with Jesus in such a resolute frame of mind it is simply that the time is now. There is no room for even small, noble delays.The time for counting cost is over.
It is time to move.
But this may not be just timing. Each of these responses stand in contrast to the spontaneous response given by the disciples. They left boats and family with comparable ease. There was no delay. So far they have not looked back.
But even these are struggling to match Jesus’ resolve for Jerusalem. But they are still following – even if, as yet, they are not understanding.
We are left to wonder whether any of these new initiates took up Jesus’ invitation.
After all, they just may have found a deeper resolution that their initial requests reveal.