“Go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:60
Four places in the Gospel reading help us to think about Jesus and to think about our own faith: Jerusalem, a Samaritan village, home, and the kingdom of God.
Saint Luke Chapter 9 Verse 51 says, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus knows what lies ahead, he has warned his disciples about what lies ahead, but they have not understood. It is hard to imagine what thoughts must have passed through Jesus’ mind as he begins this journey that is going to end in the events of Good Friday. The disciples may have felt light-hearted, pleased at the prospect of being in the Holy City for the Passover. This was a special time, a time for rejoicing; the mood of the disciples must have made it all the harder for Jesus to walk that road that would lead to the Cross. Saint Luke tells us that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem,” it captures that sense of Jesus knowing that this is something that must be done, that no matter how he felt inside himself, he must be determined to fulfil God’s purpose. What must Jesus have felt as he took the first step of that long walk? When he looked around him, when he thought about all that might have been, would there not have been a feeling of heartbreak? He sets his face to go to Jerusalem, the holiest of places would become a place of torture and death – and then it would become the place of new life.
Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem, what does that say to us about our own faith? Being Christian means taking hard decisions, it means doing things that we do not want to do, it can mean going to places that we do not want to go. When we are faced with a challenge, are we like Jesus, do we set our face, or do we turn away and think that it is not for us? Do we want an easy faith, something that does not challenge us, something that does not expect too much of us, something that lets us feel that we can do as we please? If our faith is like that, then it is not faith in the Jesus who says we should take up our cross and follow him. Have we the faith to set our face to follow him?
Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem and Verses 52-53 tells us, “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.” Relations between Jews and Samaritans were not good, there was a deep sectarian split between the communities. Jesus might have anticipated that there would be problems, but he uses the opportunity to reject sectarian attitudes. James and John, who were nicknamed “the Sons of Thunder,” live up to their name in Verse 54, they meet sectarianism with sectarianism. “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” they ask in Verse 54. They do not seem to have learned from all that Jesus has taught them, they seem still to believe that hearts and minds can be changed with violence. Jesus rejects the path of violence, Verses 55-56 say, “he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.”
The Samaritan village should be a reminder to us that confrontation and violence are not the way of Jesus, that people cannot be persuaded by violent means. Many times through history, the churches thought they could compel people to believe, they thought that the threat of violence could change people’s hearts, yet we know that once people were no longer compelled to be members, they no longer attended. People will no more be persuaded to believe in Jesus by the church forcing them to say they do than the Samaritan people would have been persuaded to believe in Jesus by their village being destroyed. When we hear of churches using pressure, even subtle pressure, we should remember that village.
Jerusalem, the Samaritan village, the third place to think about is, home. In Verse 58, Jesus says that he has no home, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Then there he meets a young man who says, in Verse 59, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” If the young man’s father had been dead, he would not have been there to meet Jesus, for the custom was to bury on the day a person died. The man is simply putting off the decision to follow Jesus, as is the man who says, in Verse 61, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Neither the man who says he will follow Jesus after his father has died, nor the man who wants to go to say “farewell” want to leave home. Home is a place of security and safety, home is where they feel comfortable; they do not want to give up all they know and step out into the unknown. Home is a reminder of the cost of following Jesus.
We are no different from those who made excuses, those who wanted to stay at home rather than take risks. We like our faith to be comforting, we like to feel secure, we like to do familiar things among familiar people, we do not want to give up what we know. Home for us is where we want to be, how ready would we give up home in order to live out our faith?
Jerusalem, the Samaritan village, home, the fourth place is the kingdom of God. “As for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God, ” says Jesus, in Verse 60, to the man who wanted to delay until after his father had died. “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God,” says Jesus to the man who wanted to go home to say, “farewell.” The kingdom of God is not a geographical place like Jerusalem, or the Samaritan village, or the man’s home, it is a place to which to belong in heart and mind, it is God reigning in the lives of his people. The kingdom demands wholehearted commitment because it is God’s kingdom. To make excuses showed that they had not recognized the kingdom for what it was.
Do we recognize the kingdom, do we belong to that place in our own lives? If it is the kingdom of God, then it is something that demands wholehearted loyalty, for either God is God or he is not God. If we feel we can be Christian when it suits us and ignore our faith when it’s not convenient, then we are saying we do not believe God is God, that we are not part of his kingdom. Jesus is blunt in his words to those who make excuses for avoiding the kingdom.
Four places: Jerusalem, the Samaritan village, home, and the kingdom of God. Four places to challenge us.