SO WHAT’S A DISCIPLE TO DO?
John Wesley’s cryptic commentary on the first part of this lectionary passage (Luke 9:51-56) is commentary on a couple of sentences that are not in the earliest manuscripts!
The earliest manuscripts of Luke 9:55-56 record Jesus saying “But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.” (NIV) These verses report Jesus’ response to disciples who wanted to call down fire on the Samaritan village for being inhospitable to them.
However, later manuscripts record Jesus’ response this way: “But He turned and rebuked them, [and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”] And they went on to another village.” (NASB)
Biblical scholars now believe the additional text was an editor’s clarification of the Greek word “rebuke,” which can also mean “honor” depending on the context. So John Wesley’s comment on the text from which he was working was: “‘Ye know not what manner of spirit’ - The spirit of Christianity is. It is not a spirit of wrath and vengeance, but of peace, and gentleness, and love.” http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/john-wesleys-notes-on-the-bible/
This event occurs just after Jesus resolutely determines to go Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). He of course knows the kind of exodus (Luke 9:31) that awaits Him but the disciples are still fairly ignorant of what is ahead. They are thinking that perhaps Jesus is going to be a violently coercive conquering Messiah, inflicting judgment on the enemies of God’s kingdom. It is how most Messiah’s understood their vocation after all. That the disciples believed that they might be the ones to execute God’s judgment can be discerned by noting that the disciples were armed with swords, which Jesus did not think necessary to confiscate, even during the week of his passion. (Luke 22:36-38) So when the Samaritans refused to welcome Jesus and His disciples, because Jesus was implicitly affirming the priority of Jerusalem over Mount Gerizim (Luke 9:53), the disciples thought it perhaps reasonable to rebuke them with fire from heaven, as Elijah had done to those who refused to recognize a man of God. (2 Kings 1:1-12) There was precedent and three of those disciples had just been with Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration and had heard Elijah’s affirmation of Jesus. (Luke 9:28-36)
But of course, Jesus rebuked them for suggesting such a thing. And an anonymous editor copying the text from earlier manuscripts, and evidently thinking the earlier manuscripts weren’t clear enough, added. “…for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”
Silly disciples, not knowing that.
Next Sunday, on July 3rd, we will read Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, which is the story of Jesus sending out the 72, with these instructions: “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’” (Luke 10:8-11)
The lectionary, interestingly enough, omits Luke 10:12-15 from the public reading, which reports Jesus saying: “I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.”
So what’s a disciple to do? Evidently, they could shake the dust from their feet as a warning of God’s judgment to people who rejected the message that the kingdom of God was near; they just couldn’t call down the judgment themselves. They were to leave judgment in God’s hands. But we should note, in fairness to those disciples, that they were not in error about whether or not there was going to be a judgment. Christ was clear on that point: judgment was coming. The issue was who was to visit that judgment.
Now, recognizing that there is going to be judgment but leaving that judgment in God’s hands is no small matter. As I wrote above, the disciples’ error was not in recognizing that there was going to be judgment; it was in thinking that they had the authority to request it, name it, inflict it, or desire it. John Wesley’s comment that Christianity “is not a spirit of wrath and vengeance, but of peace, and gentleness, and love” is very true, but this characterization of the spirit of Christianity doesn’t contradict the severe truth that those who reject the peace, gentleness and love of Christ invite God’s judgement on themselves. This hard truth should compel those who have received the mercy of God to be even more merciful to those who are rejecting it. The rebuke of disciples who wanted God’s judgment to be visited on those who reject Him was itself a mercy to those disciples.
These two teachings regarding how best to respond to those who reject the message of the Christ bracket Jesus’ teaching about who is worthy to be a follower of Christ. (Luke 9:57-62). According to Luke, according to Jesus, if one has property (…the Son of Man has no place to lay His head) or is responsible to their family (…let me go bury my father, let me go back and say good-bye to my family), they are precluded from being one of His followers. Wow! Elisha, who was called to follow Elijah, wasn’t even held to such a high standard. Elisha was allowed to go back and say good-bye to his family. (1 Kings 19:19-21) Clearly, someone with much more authority than even Elijah was present with those disciples.
These three stories at the least, speak of the all-or-nothing nature of Christian discipleship and the costly consequences of not understanding discipleship in that way. These passages, which will be read over the next two weeks (except for Luke 10:12-15), are in my view, a helpful corrective to a very popular understanding of discipleship, which gladly accepts that Jesus has laid down His life for us, but doesn’t believe that ever needs to be reciprocated. These verses seem to indicate that following Christ is, after all, a costly matter, requiring unreserved allegiance.
The Wesleyan tradition has long understood discipleship in this way. And if I may speak from my own tradition, the Wesleyan-(American)-holiness tradition believed that this kind of allegiance to Christ was absolutely essential to the continued work of Christ in believer’s lives. Indeed, they understood that an unreserved commitment to the unequivocal call of Christ was nothing less than entirely sanctifying!
Regardless, in my view, these passages reveal the value of preaching from the lectionary for they require us to speak from “difficult” passages from which we might not otherwise, but which are worthy of serious consideration. The question prompted by this passage just might be: “Do we follow after Christ so unreservedly, and if not, are we then subject to the judgment of a God who is worthy of nothing less than our complete allegiance?