Summary: Today I would like us to do two things: (1) to try and understand some of Jesus’ difficult sayings about discipleship; and (2) to share a couple of introductory reflections on discipleship.
By Rev Bill Stewart
As Chris mentioned last Sunday, today we are officially beginning a series of sermons on the theme of "discipleship". Although discipleship seems to have already been the theme for at least two weeks now. Two weeks ago we saw how Jesus called people to be disciples and then directed them to call other disciples to follow him. Last week we were reminded that the call to follow Jesus is one that each of us must answer for ourselves. Today I would like us to do two things: (1) Firstly, to try and understand some of Jesus’ difficult sayings about discipleship; and (2) secondly, to share a couple of introductory reflections on discipleship.
1. Bernard and Doreen
In the Australian War Memorial Collection there is a black and white photograph taken here in Melbourne on 15 December 1939. In the foreground four women and two children are standing on a pier with their backs to the camera. In the background a ship is sailing out to sea. One of the women is standing right on the edge of the pier. Her name we are told was Doreen and she lived in Mildura. The departing ship was a troop transport named the Strathallan carrying an advance party of the 6th Division AIF for overseas service in World War II. Mrs Martin and her family were saying farewell to her husband, a signalman named Bernard. [The photo by Edward Cranstone can be viewed at http://cas.awm.gov.au/photograph/000304/01 (public domain)].
I am thankful that I have never been forced to make the choice Bernard made. But I know from talking with you that there are people here who have. Having been called to protect his country, his community, and his family, Bernard chose to leave his family, his community, and his country, and go off to the war front. In recent years many Australians have been called upon to make the same choice in relation to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as peace-keeping missions in several countries. This is not the time to debate the rights and wrongs of any of those conflicts – there will be different views among us I expect. The point I want to take from Bernard’s experience is that sometimes we find ourselves with conflicting loyalties. And it is not only in war that we find ourselves having to choose our priorities. I hope that this picture will help us as we try to understand the difficult sayings which we have heard from the lips of Jesus in this morning’s Gospel reading and to relate them to Jesus’ call to each of us: "Follow me" (Luke 9:59).
2. Understanding Luke 9.57-62
Let’s begin by looking closely at the section section of the Gospel reading, verses 57-62. Luke tells us that:
57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." 58And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." 59To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." 60But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." 61Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." 62Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
Jesus sayings here seems very harsh don’t they? They seem to contradict common sense – even common decency! Surely Jesus does not expect his followers to behave like that? In fact, wasn’t Jesus contradicting not just good sense but even the Bible? After all, if we take the second of Jesus sayings here: "Let the dead bury their own dead" (v. 60) – we discover that burial of the dead was a religious duty that took precedence even over the study of the Law (God’s word). Leviticus tells us that even priests who could not normally touch a dead body without becoming unclean could do so in the case of relatives (Leviticus 21:1-3):
1The LORD said to Moses: Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: No one shall defile himself for a dead person among his relatives, 2except for his nearest kin: his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother; 3likewise, for a virgin sister, close to him because she has had no husband, he may defile himself for her.
To leave this duty undone was scandalous. And in the third of Jesus’ replies he suggests that someone who goes to say farewell to his family before becoming a follower of Jesus is not fit for the kingdom of God. But in the Old Testament even the great prophet Elisha was allowed to return home to say farewell to his parents before following Elijah (1 Kings 19:19-21):