Summary: On their way to Jerusalem and the cross, Jesus has three encounters that become teaching opportunities on stumbling blocks to following Him and embracing the cross
According to the UPI news, the Metropolitan Insurance Company received some unusual explanations for accidents from its automobile policyholders. The following are just few:
“An invisible car came out of nowhere, struck my car, and vanished.”
“The other car collided with mine without warning me of its intention.”
“I had been driving my car for 40 years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had the accident.”
“As I reached an intersection, a hedge sprang up, obscuring my vision.”
“The pedestrian had no idea which direction to go, so I ran over him.”
“The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.”
“I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law, and headed over the embankment.”
Excuses. They can often become stumbling blocks in our lives but where they are even more dangerous is when they become stumbling blocks in our spiritual journey.
Last week, we looked at the impact of Jesus’ realization that His time here on earth and his ministry was coming to an end and He has just a few months to live. It changes everything for Him. His impending crucifixion and death cast a long shadow over every word, every act and every decision thereafter. It changed his priorities as he shifted from his public ministry with the crowds to now focusing on the disciples and preparing them for His eventual death. It also changed his teaching as Jesus moved from speaking of the Kingdom of God to speaking about his crucifixion, death and resurrection and what it means to follow him. Jesus must have realized he had much work to do with the disciples. Prior to our Scripture, the disciples reveal an inability to heal a demonic boy (9:37-42), a lack of comprehension of Jesus’ crucifixion and death (9:43-45), engage in petty arguments about who was the greatest among them (9:46-48), and then showed their prejudice and hatred of the Samaritans when they asked Jesus to call down God’s judgment and fire from heaven on them. (9:49-56) Clearly, disciples’ lack spiritual maturity and understanding of the true nature of Jesus ministry and messiahship.
Jesus’ chosen path to Jerusalem was through Samaria, a much shorter and easier 3 day journey than the alternative route which took 7 days. The Jews hated the Samaritans and so pilgrims travelling through Samaria to Jerusalem would spend the night in the last city in Jewish territory and the next day walk across Samaria to the first Jewish city of Judea. But Jesus decides to stop and minister to the Samaritans along the way. He sends an advance team to a town to prepare for his arrival but the townspeople reject the disciples. So the disciples and Jesus move onto the next town. On their way, Jesus has three encounters that become teaching opportunities on stumbling blocks to following Him and embracing the cross.
The first stumbling block is a comfortable lifestyle. Jesus is approached by a man who has obviously been impacted by Jesus’s teaching and ministry, and who wants to become a disciple. So he expresses a willingness and desire to follow Jesus “wherever you go.” Surely Jesus and the disciples should be excited about another follower willing to join them. But Jesus’ reply is, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” What’s interesting is that Jesus would say this when he had just finished staying at Peter’s mother’s house in his home base of Capernaum. Yet now he says he has no place to lay his head. Part of this reveals Jesus intention not to travel directly to Jerusalem but instead will be taking more time to do so because he is going to minister along the way.
Second, Jesus’ words also reflect the nature of travel in Jesus’ day. Travelling was always filled with risks, dangers and hardships that included attacks by wild beasts like lions and bears. But far more likely were attacks by bandits along isolated stretches of road. The most dangerous time was at night. So where one stayed after nightfall was of critical importance. There were typically three limited options for housing. The first was a room in a home, the Greek word kataluma. A 15’ x 15’ foot home had a section walled off part just large enough for one or two people to lay down and sleep. Hospitality to strangers and travelers was mandated by God and was the responsibility of all Jews. Jesus and the disciples were too large a group for this option. The second option was a public building where a small room was rented to individuals or large caravans but that cost money, money Jesus and the disciples didn't have. It was also complicated by the fact that these places were seedy and didn’t have the best reputation. The third option would have been a stretch of ground along the side of the road that had a 4 foot tall, stone wall surrounding it for protection. These were suitable for large caravans of people and thus was the most likely option for Jesus and the disciples.