Christians believe Jesus brought humanity a message of supreme importance. The kingdom of God was breaking into the world, and people needed to ready themselves for it. They had lived lives opposing God, so now they needed to live lives aligned with God.
But we also believe Jesus brought us a gift with how he lived his life and what he did. Just before this passage, Luke tells us that Jesus “set his face towards Jerusalem.” In the context, this means Jesus prepared himself for the most important part of his work – his death and resurrection.
Our call is not exactly the same, because few of us will be asked to die for our faith. But God does expect us to follow his path for us with the same resolution, obedience and determination Jesus showed. How we do that differs as much as we do – each of us hears God’s call in the way God designed us to fulfill it. So the Bible doesn’t offer a lot of specific detail about how we follow God’s path for us.
Here, though, Luke shows us some of the ways we don’t follow that path. I want to deal with the last group first. In them, we see people who say they want to follow Jesus and probably mean it. But they don’t seem ready to devote themselves to fully following him.
The enthusiasm of the first man dwindles when he realizes what he must sacrifice to follow Jesus. Not just the comforts of home – remember, these people live in the open and “rough it” a lot more often than most of us do. Jesus’ words to him reveal that his followers sacrifice the certainty and security most people seek. A follower of Jesus can’t even count on shelter, one of the most basic human needs.
The second and third man have similar issues to each other. Both involve trying to get things squared away, so to speak, before they take up following Jesus. They want to get their affairs in order before they devote themselves to God.
But God has always sought our full devotion. Moses’ law clearly said people were to bring the first and best of their harvests and flocks for their sacrifices, and not whatever they had laying around after they’d paid the bills and stocked the pantry. Neither man puts God first, so neither man is truly ready to follow Jesus, whether he calls to them or they seek him out.
Now to the first incident, which gets a little more complicated. We read that a Samaritan village refuses Jesus a place to stay. Nothing unusual here. Jews and Samaritans disliked each other and rarely offered hospitality to one another.
The disciples ask Jesus if he wants them to call fire from heaven to wipe out the village. Luke says Jesus “rebuked” them, probably because he doesn’t want to write down how many kinds of dumb Jesus must have called them. My guess is the disciples thought the village’s refusal was a rude insult to their leader, and they should punish the people who insulted him. In fact, they should punish them so hard no one else would ever think of doing it again.
Jesus, of course, doesn’t work that way. He’s come to save people, not destroy them, he points out. Again.
If he followed the disciples’ suggestion, who would really be saved? Certainly not the Samaritan villagers. And not many others, either, I imagine. Sure, nobody would refuse Jesus their hospitality again. But would they listen while he was present, or would they secretly want him to hurry up and leave so they wouldn’t make some mistake that got fire rained down on their village?
The disciple’s way imposes Jesus on people through force or threat of force. It doesn’t offer them Christ, it assaults them with Christ. Even if the world works that way, Jesus won’t – and he calls us to lay down our lives, not to lay down the smack.
Throughout history, we Christians have listened to this lesson and sometimes not. Sometimes we use Christ’s methods. That’s how a group of slaves and nobodies spread their faith so far and wide they converted the mightiest empire the world knew at the time, in less than four hundred years.
Sometimes we use the world’s methods. Faced with invasion from another religion, whose followers used the sword to conquer the Holy Land, North Africa and Spain, Christians fought back with the sword. In a mere eight hundred years, they had regained…Spain.
Jesus calls us to follow God, and that means to follow God according to God’s ways. We can’t walk God’s path if we use our own map. We can only use his, and it leads straight to the cross.