The time is now! ~ No looking back
5th after Trinity Luke 9:51-62 2 Kings 2: 1-14
St. Teresa of Avila spent many years traveling on God’s business, founding and reforming convents. Journeys were both unsafe and uncomfortable in those days, but she was never daunted. But one day, when she was near the end of her tether with weariness, her carriage broke and she fell out of it into the mud. She is reported to have shouted at God, ‘No wonder you have so few friends, when you treat them so badly’.
Elijah, in a similar mood in today’s readings expresses himself with the same frankness. Bearing in mind he has recently experienced drought, he has raised the dead, confronted the king and killed the priests of Baal. Now he is fed up and walks away and asks to die. But God has a plan and Elisha is waiting in the wings to carry on the mission. Then again it looks like it will all go wrong. Elijah can hardly believe it. When he finds Elisha and passes on his mantle, Elijah obviously believes that the younger man is going to back out, because he asks for time to go and say goodbye to his parents. You can hear the tiredness and disbelief in Elijah’s voice when he replies more or less, ‘Oh all right, of course you’ll come back – or maybe not’ – All Elijah needed was to trust God one more time – and of course we know the story had a good ending for Elisha turns his back on his old life and takes up the new mantle.
Here is the obvious connection with the Gospel reading from Luke where we find Jesus also on a journey. He has set his face towards Jerusalem where he would be killed and he is wanting disciples to follow him and would carry on the mission he had started. Jesus sent out messengers ahead of him to let the people know to expect him but the Samaritans reject him. Jesus is going to Jerusalem where the Jewish temple is, not to the Samaritan temple, so they give him the cold shoulder. They had missed the point of who Jesus was.
James and John, well named the Sons of Thunder, knew from Jewish history what happened in Samaria. When they gave the prophet Elijah trouble: he had called fire down from heaven and consumed them (2 Kings 1:10-12). So they confidently ask Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” - Here they are getting it wrong again and Jesus actually turned and rebuked them.
As they journey on they get a volunteer. A man says, “Jesus, I will follow you wherever you go.” Matthew’s gospel tells us that this man was a Scribe, a doctor of the Law, well respected, well educated, prominent and usually quite wealthy. You can just imagine how pleased the disciples must have been. “Wow! A Scribe, a professor of the Law is calling our Jesus “Lord.” Maybe we’re beginning to get a little respect at last.” Then Jesus bursts the bubble when He responds, “Foxes have holes in the ground. Birds of the air have their nests. But the Son of Man has no where to lay His head.”
Why would Jesus say that? He wasn’t trying to get pity, but he was giving the Scribe a realistic appraisal of what life would be like on the road. Maybe Jesus sensed he had not stopped to count the cost of discipleship. To follow Jesus is not easy, faith must weigh the cost and then be willing to pay the price. Billy Graham once said “Salvation is free, but discipleship may cost us everything we have.” We don’t know what happened to that Scribe but I am sure most can identify with his dilemma, even if just a little bit.
The next man on the road is the one that Jesus called. He saw something in this man worth appealing to. But yet again Jesus was given an excuse. “But Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Now on the surface, this sounds like a reasonable request, and a rather harsh response from Jesus. “Let the dead bury their own dead...”
Again we ask why would Jesus say something like that. In all probability the man’s father was not actually dead, or near to death. Scholars agree the most accurate translation is ‘I will follow you after my father has died’.
It was a very familiar practice in Jesus’ day. Let me come into some money first. After Dad dies, whenever that might be, then I’ll follow you Jesus, I promise.
We're all pretty good at excuses aren’t we? Many of us are pretty adept at excuses – I know I am. The challenge is to look at where Jesus comes in our list of priorities.
There is one more person on the road who asks to follow Jesus. He says, “Lord, I’ll follow you, but first let me say goodbye to those at home.” Again, it is a reasonable request. Jesus’ reply to this man states a truth, which no one can deny. No ploughman ever ploughed a straight furrow looking back over his shoulder. It is surely hard enough looking forward to get it right but looking back – no chance. There will always be people who long for the past,. They are forever looking backwards and thinking of the good old days. It is a danger for individuals and it is a danger for the church.
All three of these men have some kind of inclination to be followers of Jesus, but all three have other concerns that get in the way. Maybe under ordinary circumstances these distractions would not matter, but all of them have one fatal flaw: they do not understand the urgency of the hour. Jesus did not come on any old day; he came at the climax of a story that had been building up pressure like a pot on the cooker since the day God made His promise to Abraham (Gen 12). Jesus was saying "The time is now! The kingdom of God has come."
The Samaritans didn’t get it at all. The first would-be follower was evidently put off by the lack of a comfortable pillow. The second and third thought that they had ample opportunity to hang around home for years before getting on with it. Urgency was missing, which showed that they failed to see that the story was reaching its climax. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to confront the powers of evil, and to overcome them once and for all. Crucially Jesus would never pass that way again.
There is one thing that makes this text extremely urgent for us today. Of course with hindsight we know Jesus has already come, he has been crucified, risen and ascended, the moment of establishing the kingdom has happened. We may well be thinking, well, I’m here, I don’t need to worry.
But we do all need a reality check, to remind us to keep hold of the plough with all the ups and downs, lumps and rocks we might encounter, and to fix our eyes ahead, on the goal. We need to be people with a mission: not building memorials to days gone by, but people who are fit for the kingdom and show it by our unflinching forward vision, embracing change however uncomfortable it might get.
This is the mission Jesus is calling us to today: to Love God, to Share Christ’s Love with each other and to grow in faith, moving forward, hand to the plough, no looking back, for we remember what happened to Lot's wife; I am sure none of us wants to become a block of salt.