Weekly Meditation: 26th June 2016
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
It is not often that we consider the ‘hard sayings’ of Christ, but in our gospel reading we come face to face with some of the harshest words that Jesus spoke. Having ‘resolutely set out for Jerusalem’ (Luke 9:52) and all that awaited him there, Jesus wanted to prepare his disciples and potential followers for the challenges they might have to contend with.
James and John wanted to ‘call down fire from heaven to destroy’ one of the villages that had rejected them (9:54). One cannot help wondering if they had the means to accomplish such a threat – might Jesus have had to hide a smile from these ‘sons of thunder’ (Mark 3:17)? However, he rebuked them for their vengeful thoughts – this was not to be the Christian way of dealing with opposition.
Then Jesus had a series of encounters with men who wanted to follow him but who had certain reservations. One promised to follow Jesus wherever he went, and Jesus warned that he might lead him where there was ‘nowhere to lay his head’ (9:57-58). It is not wrong for Christians to have homes and a place to sleep at night. Jesus sometimes accepted hospitality from those who did own a home (Luke 10:38). He needed to emphasise, however, that if – in following him – it was necessary to sacrifice home and bed, a Christian must be prepared to do so.
Next Jesus called a man to follow him, but the man asked first to be allowed to go and bury his father. Jesus’ words, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead’ sound particularly heartless. In first century Palestine it would have been shocking for a son not to attend his father’s funeral and to perform all that was expected of him, so the command that he should, instead, ‘Go and proclaim the Kingdom of God’ seems almost offensive. Bible commentators point out, however, that if this man’s father had just died he would have already been fully occupied. It appears, rather, that he was asking to wait until his father had died, and then – presumably having secured his inheritance – he would follow Jesus. Again, the issue was one of security in wealth and possessions, rather than faith in Jesus. Jesus’ reply challenged him to leave such matters to the spiritually dead, and to put the kingdom first.
A third man offered to follow Jesus but asked first to be allowed to say goodbye to his family. It sounds a reasonable request. Jesus’ answer, however, implied that the man’s heart was not really in his words; he would forever be looking back, perhaps with regret.
The sayings of Jesus in this passage are not concerned with final salvation. He is not warning that if we fail in any of these ways – putting property or family before the Kingdom – that we will lose our eternal inheritance. This is not a denial of grace. Jesus is simply stating that for those who join him in furthering the Kingdom – and this should be all of us – then the only way to drive a straight furrow is to look ahead; nothing else is “fit for service in the Kingdom”. When we embark on our Christian life we have no idea where it will lead us along the way, although we can be certain of our destination. We must be prepared to sacrifice home and family, respectability and security, trusting in God to provide all we need.
Psalm 77 speaks of the assurance we have in God, because of his mighty power. He is the God who led his people through the Red Sea (77:16-20). When the Psalmist is in distress (77:2) he recalls ‘the deeds of the Lord … [his] miracles of long ago’ and meditates upon them (77:11-12). We can do the same, reading of the ways in which God has acted on behalf of his people and sustained them. Our Old Testament reading is the account of how the strength and authority that God had invested in Elijah was transferred to his follower Elisha, empowering him to do even greater deeds (2 Kings 2:9,13-14). It is very inspiring to think over passages such as this and remember all that God has done to bring about his Kingdom. Most of all, however, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit and the wonderful fruitage that is his gift (Galatians 5:22-23), building qualities in us that no loss or disaster can ever shake, and equipping us to serve the Kingdom in the footsteps of Jesus.
By Susan Thorne