What it means to follow

This coming Sunday marks the return to Ordinary Time, the 13th Sunday in Year C. You can read a complete commentary on the Sunday Gospel here.

51 When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, 52 and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, 53 but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem.

54 When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” 55 Jesus turned and rebuked them, 56 and they journeyed to another village. 57 As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” 59 And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied,”(Lord,) let me go first and bury my father.” 60 But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” 62 (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.”

Context. Luke 9:51 reports that Jesus is now heading from Galilee to Jerusalem. This simple statement begins a long section (9:51-17:27) that highlight’s Jesus’ exodus (v.31). Jesus is on the way, on the journey to the cross and resurrection. At the same time, Luke departs from the Markan sequence of events, introducing a large collection of parables, sayings, meal scenes, controversies, and more.  The section is made up a materials share in common with Matthew (often referred to as Q) and materials unique to Luke.

There are aspects of the section that are peculiar, e.g., Luke strongly introduced a travel motif but then makes very few references to Jesus’ actually traveling (9:52, 57; 10:38; 13:22; 14:25; 17:11; 18:31, 35)? Why does he give such vague references to Jesus’ progress toward Jerusalem: “a village of the Samaritans” (9:52), “a certain village” (10:38), “one town and village after another” (13:22), “the region between Samaria and Galilee” (17:11), “Jericho” (18:35; 19:1), “near Jerusalem” (19:11)? The real difficulty, in addition to the general sparsity of such references, is 17:11, which still locates Jesus—after eight chapters of travel—“between Samaria and Galilee.” [Culpepper, 214]

Scholars have also worked to propose a cohesive structure to the travel narrative. There is no consensus in this arena. But there are some key themes which appear: following, the Kingdom, and discipleship.

With the departure for Jerusalem, Luke makes it clear that “following” Jesus is related to joining him in the journey and in the proclamation of the kingdom of God. The following is not only as regarding the journey, but also evangelical. After our gospel scene, Jesus will send the seventy-two for the purpose of preparing the way for Jesus and engaging in a style of ministry that signifies the advent of the kingdom of God. What was previously shared by Peter, James, and John at the Transfiguration (9:28-36) is now available to the large group of followers. It is the same idea that laces the encounter with the scholar of the Law in 10:25 – the one who will share life in the kingdom are those who hear Jesus’ message and change their lives.

Throughout this narrative section Luke introduces language that points to the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God (9:60, 62; 10:9, 11) – using words such as “peace” (10:5, 6), “names … written in heaven” (10:20), revelation (10:21–24), “eternal life” (10:25, 28)—but the conditions for sharing in this salvation remain constant. As Jesus puts it to the legal scholar, “Go and do likewise” (10:37).

In the midst of this “kingdom” language is the noticeable theme of “welcoming” Jesus and his message. On this matter Luke presents good and bad examples. The folk of a Samaritan village do not receive him, nor do some Galilean villages. This is counterbalanced in an interesting way by the hospitality and care shown by a Samaritan traveler (10:33–36). Jesus prepares his missionaries for both eventualities. Finally, though welcomed into a home by Martha, the form of receptiveness he commends is that of her sister, Mary. Clearly, what Jesus seeks is not (only) conventional hospitality but a welcome that embraces fully the message of peace.

Also present in surprising degrees is the way in which Luke is redefining “Israel” to be less geographical boundaries or lineage, but rather the portrayal of discipleship as embodying membership in the Kingdom. It is more than the Samaritan being the hero of the parable, or Jesus’ visit to Samaritan territory, it is also the sending of the seventy-two, a number representing a concern with the peoples of the world – especially seen in the privilege given to the Gentile cities Tyre and Sidon, at the expense of their Galilean counterparts, at the coming of the kingdom of God.

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