Proper 8, Year C, RCL, Track 1
Galatians 5:1,13-25; Luke 9:51-62
Hospitality is vitally important in ancient times. You are to open your doors to your kin, to your neighbors, to people of similar religious tradition, and even to strangers. Hospitality ensures that people have their basic needs met; food, water, and shelter. This concept is a cultural precept that is found throughout the Bible.
In today’s narrative, it appears that the Samaritans do not offer the disciples hospitality. And it’s no wonder; the Samaritans and Jews didn’t like each other very much. It is typically thought that they would sooner help anyone else than cross the line of Samaritan or Jew. Our story today makes me wonder why Jesus would have asked the disciples to go to a Samaritan village. And I can’t imagine why they thought they would have been met with hospitality. And knowing that this would be a difficult task, why do the disciples get so upset when they do not receive the hospitality. But they do get upset and they ask if we can “command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” If this was the growing “Christian” attitude, Jesus put a stop to it without hesitation.
This Jesus, the one who rebukes the disciples for such hatred, is the Jesus we all know and love; the Lord who loves everyone despite their social status. This is the compassionate Christ who protects the Samaritans as much as the Jews. And we recognize this as the Christ in our own lives. But this endearing Christ seems very different from the Jesus we meet in the second paragraph.
This next passage has three people coming to Jesus, wanting to be his followers. To the first he gives an esoteric, snippy comment, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Did Jesus say this because he didn’t get a place to rest his head in the Samaritan village or is it because Jesus thought the man asking the question was too fox-like; sneaky and sly?
Next comes the man who says he needs to bury his father before he can follow Jesus. And Jesus has a seemingly unkind reply. “Let the dead bury their own dead.” The third man is treated no better. He wants to quickly run home and tell his family that he is leaving to follow Jesus. But Jesus says “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Is Jesus bipolar? Is he Dr. Jekyll in the first paragraph, sweet and kind, while Mr. Hyde in the second, a grouchy curmudgeon without sympathy? No, Jesus remains constant. The Jesus that we love to talk about; the one we romanticize in the manger, the healer and lover of our souls, the one who loves us warts and all, the one who is a part of our lives till the end is the same Jesus who tells us the things we do not wish to hear. The same Jesus who tells us of the harsh realities of a Christian lifestyle. The one who tells us that we may have to risk it all to follow him. This is the contrast of the “two” Jesuses we find in today’s passage. Jesus is full of concern and love for us even if we don’t always like the tough love he offers us.
In the first paragraph we see that Jesus is not out to destroy anyone; even those who are culturally different from him, do not like him, or do not agree with him. Jesus wants peace above destruction. In the second paragraph, Jesus it telling us how hard it is to follow him. The work that is set before us is relentless. There is no place to rest our heads; we keep moving onward telling people what the Lord has done for us. The priority of the Christina life is not the stability of a home which we go back to each night, like the foxes and birds. We may be called to pick up and go somewhere else.
Jesus tells us that if we want to follow him the moment is now. We should not worry about our obligations to others. We should not be concerned with getting our affairs in order before we follow him. The moment is now. There is no time like the present. Jesus is calling us to move forward, not to hang out in the past or prolong the present. Following Jesus is relentless and takes first priority. Everything else is secondary.
This is not a message that we want to hear. We often want to put our careers, family, and friends in order before setting out to follow a calling. Talking with pastors I know, this is a common reason that we postpone following our call to ordained ministry. We are concerned about what the world will think of us. We are concerned about the logistics of moving, finances, and the stress on our relationships. But pastors are not the only ones who experience the angst of following a call. I have heard similar stories from others who start ministries. A woman who started a hospice ministry in rural Colorado didn’t know if this ministry would gain traction in the community. How it would be sustainably funded for years to come. How much time and energy it might take to maintain this vibrant ministry, let alone to get it off the ground. Our call to deepen our faith whether staring a ministry or participating more fully in the church can be scary. It is often full of uncertainties and there are no guarantees.
We often think of success in ministry as a measure of its continued presence or its growth. But this is not the true
measure of success. The true measure is trying; trying to do God’s work in the world. Stepping out in faith and boldly going where you have not gone before. I can say with confidence that success in ministry is measured by your faithfulness to the task. It is in seeking to serve God in deeper and more meaningful ways, by stepping out in faith, that you grow in faith and your relationship with God is strengthened.
Let’s take this second paragraph and use it to shed light back on the first. When doing this, we find that no one says that the disciples failed when they couldn’t find a place for Jesus to stay. Even the disciples don’t seem to blame themselves. The disciples didn’t become angry at their lack of success they put the blame on people they already have prejudice against. But there is no blame to be found here. The disciples walked in faith and undertook a task that seemed doomed to fail from the beginning. Nonetheless, this is what Jesus called them to do and they were faithful to their call.
Whether the world recognizes their accomplishments or not doesn’t matter because they followed Jesus to the best of their abilities. God’s kingdom does not look at success and failure in the same way as the world around us does. The disciples were faithfully seeking God, follow God’s will, and making him the first priority. And for this and this alone is why the disciples were successful yet the world would see them as a failure. This is the same grace that we are offered when we follow a call.
If your calling, or the ministry you're involved in, does not continue, or it doesn’t work out the way you thought it should; even if the world says “it looks like you failed;” God does not see you as a failure. You are successful, for you are growing in faith, building your relationships, and following God to the best of your ability.