The Cost of Discipleship
Ordinary 13 Year C
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Luke 9: 51 — 62
This week’s reading allows us to “look in” on the opening of our Lord’s long journey to Jerusalem, and all that this city stood for. For eleven Sundays we will focus on the qualities Jesus demands of those who seek to be his disciples. St Luke writes in such a way (and we will identify signs of this) that help us to see the journey of Jesus not so much geographical, as a journey for the whole church: a journey through hardship and suffering, towards glorious fulfilment. Thus there is an emphasis on the on-going mission journey of the Church, and the role of each disciple — that’s us — in this great Divine Plan.
As we open at verses 51 — 56 (part one of our reading) the focus is on those whom the disciples encountered on the way. The writer of the Gospel also depicts Jesus responding to their problems in a way which will continue throughout the Church’s journey.
Some Reflections from our text
Part 1 Verses 51 — 56 People Jesus Encountered
When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he
resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, …..
A note on each word in bold print:
• days: This refers to the days of our Lord’s suffering, death,
resurrection and ascension.
• being taken up: Literally this would read “the days of his
reception up”. Under influence from the Syriac and Arabic
versions, some modern translations have “ascension”.
The same word is used in the Greek Septuagint version for Elijah’s
assumption into heaven. It denotes restored union with God.
• resolutely: Literally Jesus “set his face firmly”. The modelled
behaviour of our Lord is not casual: “if it happens, it happens …..”.
Rather He is decisive and motivated.
• Jerusalem: This will indeed be a place of fulfilment.
The Ascension was to be the crowning event of our Lordꞌs earthy
life; hence this verse means, “when the days of His Ascension were
approaching their accomplishment”. Our Lord was now to leave
Galilee and was going in the direction of Jerusalem, where some
six months later, “after his passion and death,” His Ascension was
to take place. During the six months that intervened, we know,
from St. John (22: 7 — 10), that He made two visits to Jerusalem
before His crucifixion, — at the Feast of Tabernacles and of the
Dedication. Our Lord was occupied, during these six months, in
preaching throughout Judea, Peraea, and Samaria. It is probable
that our Lord, after the Feast of Tabernacles, returned to Galilee.
His final departure thence is given in (11: 17). (Callan, O.P.)
Verse 52 and 53
….. and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they
entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there,
but they would not welcome him because the destination of
his journey was Jerusalem.
Jesus sends messengers ahead of Him, not to preach, but to prepare. This turned out to be more difficult than expected. They were not welcomed in the Samaritan village they entered because they were on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On the rivalry between Jews and Samaritans see 2 Kings 17 and Ezra 4. Christians would do well to remember that they often exchange, even today, the quite noticeable discourtesies and lack of respect, one denomination to another. When will we ever learn?
The Samaritans knew that the Jews were now on their way up to
Jerusalem to worship in the Temple; and hence, from the time,
as well as from the appearance of our Lord and His disciples,
they knew that He was also on His way to worship in the Temple
of Jerusalem. It was because they knew the end and purpose
our Lord had in His journey through Samaria that they refused
Him hospitality. There was a long standing and bitter feud
between the Jews and the Samaritans over the place of the true
worship of God, — the former contending that the Temple, in
Jerusalem, the latter that their temple on Mount Garizim was the
proper place of worship. Had the Samaritans not known the
purpose of our Lord’s going to Jerusalem at this particular time,
they would not have refused Him hospitality any more than the
Samaritan woman at the well had refused Him, or the good
Samaritan had refused help to the wounded Jew. (Callan, O.P.)
When the disciples James and John saw this they asked,
“Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”
When James and John saw the Samaritan reaction, they were quickly aroused. They implied in their comments to Jesus:
“Surely you want us to call down fire from heaven to obliterate them from the face of the earth — the way Elijah did!”
(As Bishop Ambrose remarked in a sermon around C.E. 350 — “No wonder Jesus called James and John, Sons of Thunder!”)
Verses 55 and 56
Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to
So, on learning this, Jesus turned and “rebuked” them: meaning he showed the strongest possible disapproval for their suggested behaviour.
In this way Jesus models the opposite reaction of His two disciples. James and John pitched their fury against the Samaritans. Our Lord in dealing with the incident, “rebukes” them, that is, He focuses on what they wanted to do to the Samaritans. This is a crucial observation in how our Lord trains His disciples, and it highlights a level of correction necessary in the training for discipleship.
The great commentator Cornelius a Lapide paraphrases a fitting response from Jesus.
“Ye think ye are influenced by the Spirit of God, whilst you are
acted on by a human spirit of impatience and revenge.”
James and John were right to be angry, but wrong in their anger to forget mercy. They instinctively wanted to destroy rather than to save those who needed enlightenment. This is surely a lesson we could all benefit from.
When Jesus had made his point he moved on to another village to make a fresh start. Our Lord never harped on an issue. He generally dealt with it incisively and then moved into a new topic or a different location. Good psychology! The consummate teacher.
Part 2 Verses 57 — 62
Jesus is up front about standards required
Verses 57 and 58
As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him,
“I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have
nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.
A new theme of a journey of spiritual growth has begun to emerge in Our Lord’s teaching. Accordingly, he begins to set out clear guidelines from the start. In the second part of our reading (verses 57 — 62) we notice how Jesus does not ask others to do what He has not done Himself.
As Jesus and His band of followers were walking along the road, a man (very likely a scholar) comes up to Him and declares, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
This verse (57) gives us one of many examples of how informed members of Our Lord’s own culture were willing to become His disciples. We should be wary of Christian literature which seeks to convey the opposite impression.
Our Lord, no doubt thrilled to be approached in this way, feels constrained to warn this man (whom He obviously hopes will join Him) that the way will not be easy. “In fact”, He warns “you won’t have anything you can really call your own.” Such is the poverty and lowliness Jesus experienced. The manner in which He confronts His aspiring follower, if we “read between the lines”, indicates that our Lord is holding this out to him, not as something to be despised, but a gift of inestimable value. He never makes such offers to weak characters.
No matter how much we explain this verse, we are obliged to observe the approach to ownership and control of material goods which Jesus holds up for those who would be His teachers and co-workers.
It is not necessarily a sin to be wealthy, and it is not necessarily a virtue to be poor. Our Lord calls for dedication — He invites disciples down through the ages to become His teachers and pass on His vision of the Kingdom. If we accept that calling, then His mission must remain our highest priority — and everything else has to revolve around it. His workers may have great resources at their finger-tips, but they must see such things as merely a means to an end — His End-time Kingdom. In that way we will keep our eye on the target and not go astray.
Verses 59 and 60
And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “(Lord,)
let me go first and bury my father.”
But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you,
go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Our Lord then invites a second man to follow him. The prospective disciple agrees but insists there are family expectations to be completed in the care of his father, who is dying or has already died.
The reply from Jesus, “Let the dead bury their own dead,” has been grossly misinterpreted over the ages. In the worst cases, those who admit only a literal interpretation of Scripture have formed a very negative view of treating the dead, exhibiting almost a fear of honouring the dead, or seeing such honours paid as pagan and unspiritual.
Jesus allowed his closest followers to pay every honour they were able, in the circumstances, to His body from the moment He was taken down off the cross. The Church at large fortunately has kept up that same loving display of warmth, affection and closest possible care for the dead, sparing no effort to let this love be seen.
In this particular incident Jesus is not dismissing attention to the dead as something of lower priority for his disciples!
On the contrary he is using, in a very Jewish manner of speech, the undisputed propriety of completing religious protocols to heighten his listener’s perception of this special call to follow Him. We could present the situation like this:
“Yes indeed, let your father be attended to with all honour and
dignity. But such duties require the time and preoccupation
of those who are available to carry them out. Let those people
do what they can do so very well. You are not needed for that!
But when I call you to follow me, you are needed for that! My
work for you is urgent and no one else has quite what I see in
you. That is why I am calling you, and we must move on now.
There is no time to dither especially when there is no reason
whatsoever to delay. There are others to attend to family duties
with all due attention to detail and ceremony. I shall say it
again, follow me.”
Verses 61 and 62
And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say
farewell to my family at home.”
(To him) Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”
A third man has been called to follow Jesus. His response is loud and clear. “Yes, I will follow you, but I’m not quite able to do it just at this very moment. I will need to organise a number of matters for my family. Once they are all in place, whenever that is, then I will follow you.”
Again, as in the case of the previous man called, Jesus is aware that other people could attend to all of these things satisfactorily. And so he is quite blunt is his reply — which, note, is aimed at getting the man to see this and change his mind. Jesus wants this man!
“No one who puts his hand to the plough, and looks to what was
left behind, is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
No-one who has made a decision and keeps looking back to what
they left behind, can hope to live up to it. They will always be
restless and thinking, “What if ….. .” They will not be able to meet
the demands of the Kingdom of God — will not be able to work
under God’s rule.
Again, we had better be careful how we apply this quotation. We can be very clumsy in using our Lord’s cryptic statements. He is not saying in this case, that it is wrong to treasure special memories if these move us to gratitude. We can also be absolutely certain our Lord is not declaring family connections should be coldly ignored. He is saying: “If you honestly feel committed to continue with the obligations of normal family ties, then by all means do so, with my blessing. But if you decide to accept my invitation to become one of my student-followers then do not let yourself be drawn off course by every little temptation to go back to your former way of life.”
In typical rabbinic style, Jesus is not really talking about looking back, but rather about the need to keep your eye on the distant goal at all times. He knows how hard this can be, and that is why He is so “up front” about the hardships His followers will need to be ready to meet, especially in giving up family ties. But we need to remember that our Lord is always very humane and comforting. He calls not for giving up but for detachment so that our dependence will always be on God alone!
Such a quality as “detachment” — trust in God — will be necessary, Our Lord taught: not just to live holy lives, but to dedicate ourselves to preparing for the Kingdom of God. Everything is really to be oriented to the coming of the Kingdom in all its fullness and perfection. Jesus Messiah is emphatic about how this must feature in the lives of His Body of believers. It was and is an essential key to His mission and call to all the peoples of the world; and it must remain such for us also.
No one listening to Our Lord, considered for one moment that he did not live up to His demands Himself. Indeed there is every chance that the three men spoken to were inspired by His straight talking, and enlisted in His service. Mercifully for us, countless Christians down the ages have responded to His call and the radical demands made, and have persevered with His help in their vocation. They have faithfully passed on the faith. The challenge for us is to do our best likewise to pass it on as best we know how, and to give support to those who have made this their life’s vocation.
If we may be permitted to say so — these weekly Reflections are intended to provide a 3 year weekly curriculum in the Christian way of life. They are “bite-sized” pieces of our Lord’s teaching which we can dwell on, without pressure, and learn to walk in His Way, meditating on His Truth, and growing in His Life.
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The Cost of Discipleship
Ordinary 12 Sunday Year C Luke 9: 51 — 62
1. Those who take Our Lord’s calling seriously are bound to come across
2. If someone turned down His invitation to follow Him and help in the
3. One of the most firmly spoken messages in all of the Gospels is this:
This is a very rabbinic way of stating emphatically that Jesus Messiah
Let us pray for one another that we keep our focus on what the Lord wants
Luke 9: 51 — 62
Ordinary 13 Year C
51 23, 24, 25 When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he
52 26 and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered
53 but they would not welcome him because the destination of his
54 When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord,
55 Jesus turned and rebuked them,
56 and they journeyed to another village.
57 27 As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him,
58 Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have
59 And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “(Lord,) let
60 But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. 28 But you,
61 And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say
62 (To him) Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks
23 [⇒ 9:51-⇒ 18:14] The Galilean ministry of Jesus finishes with the previous episode and a new section of Luke’s gospel begins, the journey to Jerusalem. This journey is based on ⇒ Mark 10:1-52 but Luke uses his Marcan source only in ⇒ Luke 18:15-⇒ 19:27. Before that point he has inserted into his gospel a distinctive collection of sayings of Jesus and stories about him that he has drawn from Q, a collection of sayings of Jesus used also by Matthew, and from his own special traditions. All of the material collected in this section is loosely organized within the framework of a journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, the city of destiny, where his exodus (suffering, death, resurrection, ascension) is to take place (⇒ Luke 9:31), where salvation is accomplished, and from where the proclamation of God’s saving word is to go forth (⇒ Luke 24:47; ⇒ Acts 1:8). Much of the material in the Lucan travel narrative is teaching for the disciples. During the course of this journey Jesus is preparing his chosen Galilean witnesses for the role they will play after his exodus (⇒ Luke 9:31): they are to be his witnesses to the people (⇒ Acts 10:39; ⇒ 13:31) and thereby provide certainty to the readers of Luke’s gospel that the teachings they have received are rooted in the teachings of Jesus (⇒ Luke 1:1-4).
24 [51-55] Just as the Galilean ministry began with a rejection of Jesus in his hometown, so too the travel narrative begins with the rejection of him by Samaritans. In this episode Jesus disassociates himself from the attitude expressed by his disciples that those who reject him are to be punished severely. The story alludes to ⇒ 2 Kings 1:10, ⇒ 12 where the prophet Elijah takes the course of action Jesus rejects, and Jesus thereby rejects the identification of himself with Elijah.
25  Days for his being taken up: like the reference to his exodus in ⇒ Luke 9:31 this is probably a reference to all the events (suffering, death, resurrection, ascension) of his last days in Jerusalem. He resolutely determined: literally, “he set his face.”
26  Samaritan: Samaria was the territory between Judea and Galilee west of the Jordan river. For ethnic and religious reasons, the Samaritans and the Jews were bitterly opposed to one another (see ⇒ John 4:9).
27 [57-62] In these sayings Jesus speaks of the severity and the unconditional nature of Christian discipleship. Even family ties and filial obligations, such as burying one’s parents, cannot distract one no matter how briefly from proclaiming the kingdom of God. The first two sayings are paralleled in ⇒ Matthew 8:19-22; see also the notes there.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised