Trinity 5 – Luke 951-62: Confrontation & Commitment
The gospel reading this morning has two, separate sections. One about Jesus travelling being turned away in Samaria, and the other about Jesus turning potential disciples away. In the light of events this week, I am only going to look at the first part, verse 51-55.
 Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem from Galilee, and was passing through Samaria. It is only about 100km as the crow flies, 60 miles. For it would be an hour or so in the car, but for Jesus it was a few days’ walk, particularly if Jesus was meeting people, teaching or healing. So he and his disciples would need to spend a few nights on the way. This would not have been in the local Hilton on expenses.  When Jesus sent out the disciples he told them to take no bag, no money, no bread (Mark 67-12), though in Luke 8 we are told there were some women who used to provide for Jesus. Most likely Jesus would have been sleeping fairly rough, in plain buildings with earth floors, eating bread, olive oil and vegetables as stables, relying a lot on hospitality. So, while travelling, he sent some of the disciples on ahead to make preparations, to find food and somewhere to stay. But they were turned away.
 They were in Samaria, roughly in the middle of Israel. We know of the Samaritans from the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), which led to our Samaritans helplines, though it appears they were not all so kind. There is also the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) that Jesus talks to. Samaritans believed they preserved the original religion of the Israelites, before it was distorted in exile in Babylon. They see themselves as descendants of Joseph and the Levites. One of the most important differences with the Jews in the South was their belief that God had been worshipped from Joshua’s time on Mount Gerizim, and should be still, rather than on Mount Zion.  So seeing a party of Jews clearly heading south for a festival in Jerusalem, they saw them as members of what they saw as a heretical Jewish sect in the South. They would not welcome them, or help them on their travels.
How do you deal with opposition? It seems the natural, human reaction is to fight back, to use force to get your way if you can. At the extreme there is the terrorism that you either side with us or you die. But though we think of ourselves as a civilised country, we still come across people who threaten violence if you cross them,  we have road rage and general bad-temperedness when driving. And even when we do not resort to violence, we tend to write off those who disagree with us, dismiss their motives, be-little them so we can ignore them.
Jesus’ two more belligerent disciples, the brothers James and John, immediately went into battle mode. What use is it having the Son of God with you if you cannot smite people? “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” Jesus did not. He does not wipe out the village, he does not even tell them off, or prophecy against them. Instead, he rebukes James and John, and simply moves on.
 This has been a momentous week. We woke up on Friday to find that the country had narrowly voted to leave the European Union. Some people are jubilant, others are quite depressed. The country split almost exactly in half, with strong feeling on either side. I wonder how it has affected you? Or even which way you voted; there is a tendency to assume that everyone we know will think the same as we do, but a feature of this campaign has been how it has divided people. I have found that I have been suprisingly upset by the result. At worst, in the country and the media, we have one side gloating, the other side denigrating those who won. How do you think Jesus would speak to us?
From this passage, walking away from your anger seems a good starting point. It does not mean we cannot be concerned about the way the campaign was conducted, about the truthfulness of the claims made. But we do have to go on living with the other half of the country, and should not demonise them.
The vote to withdraw from the European Union means that now we must all re-imagine both what it means to be the United Kingdom in an interdependent world and what values and virtues should shape and guide our relationships with others.
As citizens of the United Kingdom, whatever our views during the referendum campaign, we must now unite in a common task to build a generous and forward looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world. We must remain hospitable and compassionate, builders of bridges and not barriers. Many of those living among us and alongside us as neighbours, friends and work colleagues come from overseas and some will feel a deep sense of insecurity. We must respond by offering reassurance, by cherishing our wonderfully diverse society, and by affirming the unique contribution of each and every one.
Clearly those who wanted to stay in Europe will be disappointed. But that there was a majority for leaving says a lot about people feeling left out, not feeling they benefit from the economy, being threatened by immigration. That too adds up to a divided country, and as Christians we should be seeking greater justice and equality.
It is going to be an interesting and difficult few years, I think. As Christians, what we have to offer is a focus on values and virtue, asking people to consider what is right, not just what is in their narrow self interest. Justin Welby said before the referendum, “The vision for our future cannot be only about ourselves. We are most human when we exist for others.” Following Jesus, we should not be angry with those who take a different view, but seek to do what is good.
St. John and St. Stephens.
51 As the time drew near when Jesus would be taken up to heaven, he made up his mind and set out on his way to Jerusalem. 52 He sent messengers ahead of him, who went into a village in Samaria to get everything ready for him. 53 But the people there would not receive him, because it was clear that he was on his way to Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”
55 Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then Jesus and his disciples went on to another village.
57 As they went on their way, a man said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
58 Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lie down and rest.”
59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”
But that man said, “Sir, first let me go back and bury my father.”
60 Jesus answered, “Let the dead bury their own dead. You go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.”
61 Someone else said, “I will follow you, sir; but first let me go and say good-bye to my family.”
62 Jesus said to him, “Anyone who starts to plow and then keeps looking back is of no use for the Kingdom of God.”
Let the dead bury their own dead. Sounds hard.
Interpreted as saying those who are spiritually dead should be concerned with death. Others should not be held back by custom but work for God.
Burial was immediate, placing the body in a burial cave hewn out of bedrock. In a hot climate you have to bury people quickly. Turkana journey. There was then an intense 7-day period of mourning for the family where they separated themselves. If the man had been following shiv’ah he would not have been approaching Jesus. Then a 30 day period call shloshim. After a year, when the body had decayed and only the bones were left, the bones were placed in ossuaries, or chests, in the final act of mourning. If this was what the man meant he wanted to wait for, it could have been months off, and Jesus’ response is more reasonable.
Rabbinic tradition that decay of flesh was redemptive, atoning for the dead person’s sins. Jesus is also saying that true redemption comes in the Kingdom of God, and the man should be preaching this.