A Gospel Reflection on Luke 9:51-62 for Proper 8C
Refusing to make a decision is still making a decision. But, usually, when we resist making a positive, intentional decision for something, it’s because we’re allowing our fear to drive us. We are afraid of what we might lose if we make this choice, so we try to keep our options open by delaying our decision. We are afraid of what the implications of the decision might be, or what consequences it might bring about, and so we try to protect ourselves by resisting the decision. The problem, though, is that, in some part of us, we want to make the decision. We believe that it offers us some value, or we believe in the cause, and so we can’t let go and just say, “no”.
This seems to me to be the problem with the people in the Gospel reading fro this Sunday. The list begins with someone who promises to follow Jesus wherever he may go. But, when Jesus speaks of having no place for his head, it seems that the promise quickly got withdrawn – the sudden shift to the next person speaks volumes.
The next person then asks to be permitted to bury his father before choosing to follow Jesus. The question here is one of duty. It was considered a son’s binding duty to bury his father, but here, this familial duty seems to be taking priority over the choice to follow Jesus. Following on from this, the next person simply wants to say a proper goodbye to his relatives. But, again, Jesus responds in a way that indicates that this is simply an excuse to delay giving himself completely to God’s Reign.
Each of these people, it seems, would have claimed to be believers in Jesus’ message and mission. But, when it came to making a decision to orient their lives around Jesus, they resisted making the decision. They didn’t say “no”, they just didn’t say “yes” either. Clearly, they wanted to put their beliefs into action, but something was holding them back.
Perhaps that’s what Luke is trying to reveal with the story of the Samaritan village that rejected Jesus. The Gospel says they refused to welcome him because he was determined to go to Jerusalem. They must have been aware of the resistance to Jesus from those in power, and so they probably had a sense that nothing good could come of Jesus going to Jerusalem. And, of course, if Jesus was executed, the same fate could await anyone who was associated with him. So, this village, in their fear, chose to keep their distance. However, when the disciples want to bring down judgement on the village, Jesus rebukes them and moves on. The Reign of God is not like the Empire of Rome, which destroys all opponents. Jesus offers the chance to receive God’s grace, but it is not forced on those who, for whatever reason, cannot or will not accept it.
There is definitely a sense, though, that Jesus is seeking those who will be decisive about their embrace of God’s Reign. To say “I believe” is easy. To live what we believe in every moment – especially when it might bring hardship, persecution or death – is much, much harder. But, the Reign of God is never about what we say, or what ideas we hold in our heads. It’s about having the courage to risk the decision, and embrace the consequences – both those of joy and blessing, and those of grief and hardship. It’s not a decision we can make for anyone else – and we are not entitled to call down judgement on those who decide differently than we do. But, it is a decision that we must make for ourselves – which is why these stories of decision come very soon after Jesus asks the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” We each need to answer that question for ourselves, and then we each need to decide what we will do with our answer.