The time grew near for Jesus to be taken up to heaven. So he made up his mind to go to Jerusalem. He sent messengers on ahead. They went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him. But the people there did not welcome Jesus. That was because he was heading for Jerusalem. The disciples James and John saw this. They asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy them?’ But Jesus turned and commanded them not to do it. Then Jesus and his disciples went on to another village. Once Jesus and those who were with him were walking along the road. A man said to Jesus, ‘I will follow you no matter where you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens. Birds have nests. But the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’ He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But the man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let dead people bury their own dead. You go and tell others about God’s kingdom.’ Still another person said, ‘I will follow you, Lord. But first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’ Jesus replied, ‘Suppose someone starts to plough and then looks back. That person is not fit for service in God’s kingdom.’
“The time grew near for Jesus to be taken up to heaven. So he made up his mind to go to Jerusalem.“ (cf. verse 51)
In the present Gospel, Jesus again says very important things that concern each of us who want to follow Christ on his way to Jerusalem. The way to Jerusalem is the way of discipleship. And Jerusalem is the place where Jesus awaits death and resurrection. We want to follow him and become one with his whole life and suffering.
The first thing that catches the eye is the time and place at the beginning of the text: "the time ... when Jesus was to be taken up into heaven". This sentence makes it very clear: Jesus' hour is near. His days are numbered and they will be completed on the day of his ascension into heaven, which, however, will be preceded by his ascension to the cross and his resurrection. With the death and resurrection of Jesus, however, not everything is over: the days of Jesus do not simply come to an end, but they are completed in God's plan of salvation.
Jesus now no longer wanders from place to place proclaiming, but he goes towards the destination determined by God: Jerusalem, the city of the murderers of the prophets. But Jerusalem will also be for Jesus the city of absorption and completion. It is not only the place of his death, but also of his resurrection. Jerusalem is the place of his sending of the Spirit and thus also a place of salvation and ultimately a symbol of the Church.
“He sent messengers on ahead. They went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him. But the people there did not welcome Jesus. That was because he was heading for Jerusalem. The disciples James and John saw this. They asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy them?’ But Jesus turned and commanded them not to do it. Then Jesus and his disciples went on to another village.“ (cf. verse 52-56)
So Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and sends messengers with the seemingly ordinary task of making quarters, but this "sending" here at the same time brings to light the majesty of the Kyrios. For just as the Father sent him, Jesus now sends his apostles.
The refusal to accept Jesus in the Samaritan village is not surprising at first: at that time, Jews and Samaritans were absolute enemies, and since Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, the Samaritans know that he must be a Jew. Therefore they do not accept him. That is first of all the historical context. But more is expressed here: not only do they not receive Jesus, but they also reject his message. Of course, the Samaritans do not know who and what they are rejecting. The disciples, on the other hand, know and want to punish the Samaritans by letting fire fall from heaven like Elijah. The disciples' question, however, makes it very clear: Jesus' disciples, with their commanding word, are completely dependent on the will of the Kyrios. They cannot do such a thing on their own authority or power.
But Jesus rebukes them. Literally it says: "He drives at them harshly". Despite Jesus' delegation of authority, it is not the task of the disciples to execute the judgment of Sodom on such unrepentant cities. That is God's business alone. The disciples, on the other hand, are to live out love of enemies. That is their mission and task and that is inherent in this delegation of authority by Jesus. Jesus does not go to Jerusalem as a judge, but as a saviour. Therefore, he rebukes them and harshly rebukes them for having such thoughts.
These statements are essential for all of us: how quickly we are always in the process of passing judgement on others and calling forth Sodom and Gomorrah. But we too - like the disciples - are on the way to Jerusalem with Christ, the Saviour, and called to live love of the enemy. The consequences of man's wickedness - that is God's business alone.
“Once Jesus and those who were with him were walking along the road. A man said to Jesus, ‘I will follow you no matter where you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens. Birds have nests. But the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’“ (cf. verse 57-58)
When Jesus sets out for Jerusalem, the circle of disciples has actually already been formed. Now it is a question of the conditions of admission for those who want to follow Christ, because those who want to follow Christ must fulfil certain conditions. Now someone offers himself with great enthusiasm and says: "I will follow you everywhere". At first this sounds great. But Jesus reacts unexpectedly: His answer points to the fate of the Son of Man, in which the fate of the disciple is also marked out. For Jesus, his houseless wandering means being free for obedience to his task, not being bound or obligated anywhere except to the Father's mission. Therefore, his answer to the one who wants to follow him is rather a question: Can you share the destiny of the Son of Man? Can you lead my houseless life? Can you follow the path to the cross on which I am now walking? If so, then follow me.
“He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But the man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let dead people bury their own dead. You go and tell others about God’s kingdom.’“ (cf. verse 59-60)
In contrast to the first one from the previous verses, Jesus himself calls this second one here to follow him, and that is the decisive difference: our offer is trivial. We must respond to Jesus' call. And here it becomes quite clear that nothing may be preferred to this call of Jesus to discipleship, not even the highest duty of piety. There is nothing that may be preferred to the call to discipleship. Jesus calls in a command form and without comment. "Up! Behind me!" it says literally, and not "in front of me." It is not we who lead the way, but he. His call is more power than command, i.e. Jesus does not demand something that we cannot do, but at the same time, through his call, he gives us the strength to really be able to comply with it. So when we perceive such a call from God and perhaps immediately become afraid:
"I can't do that," etc., then we should remember: the call of God is more power than command, i.e., the call of God is at the same time a skill.
Whoever is called directly by Jesus must therefore put even the most sacred duty - in this example, to bury the father - before entering into discipleship and the mission of proclamation. This does not mean that he may not bury the father, but Jesus wants to make it clear here: There is nothing higher than obedience to the call to discipleship, and the proclamation mandate of the disciple. We too need to look at our lives again and again in the light of this word: How often do we do what we want and do not listen to the call of the Lord.
The inner reason for this unconditionality of Jesus' demand is actually the urgent need for people to experience the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God must be proclaimed and that is much more important than anything else. People need to know about this message. They need to know about salvation. It is about their eternal salvation. That is much more important than everything else that seems to be so great and important in this world. This also makes it clear how necessary the proclamation of the message of salvation is: it is simply necessary because it is about man's eternal salvation. It is not about a trivial matter. It is not about something that can be undone later. If I have lived my life wrongly, nothing can be undone. Therefore, there is nothing more important than following Christ and proclaiming the kingdom of God.
And here again the question for ourselves, who want to follow Christ: How do I express this proclamation in my life so that people can read the Gospel from my life? How do I also express it in the Word when I have the opportunity to do so? Am I really concerned with doing the most important thing, saving people from eternal damnation and showing them the way of salvation? To proclaim the approaching kingdom of God and his salvation - that is the decisive thing.
“Still another person said, ‘I will follow you, Lord. But first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’ Jesus replied, ‘Suppose someone starts to plough and then looks back. That person is not fit for service in God’s kingdom.’“ (cf. verse 61-62)
Here again, someone declares his willingness to follow Jesus without being called by Jesus. However, he sets a precondition for his discipleship: he still wants to say goodbye. Perhaps he was thinking here of the example of the prophet Elisha. But what exactly did Elisha do? Elisha was with the 12th team, that is, ploughing. The oxen and the yoke were his business. That's how he earned his living. But he goes home, slaughters the oxen and burns the yoke, cooks the meat with it, gives it to his own and then he goes ..., that is, he burns all bridges behind him. He no longer has any security, for example in the sense of: Yes, if it doesn't work out with this succession, then I still have a business at home and can still get by quite well. No, Elisha really burns all bridges behind him. And everyone who follows Christ must ask himself: Have I slaughtered my oxen and burned my yoke or are my oxen still at home in the stable, so to speak as a safeguard, according to the motto: If it doesn't work out with Christ, then I still have something to live on? That is the crucial question, that is what it is all about. Elisha has burnt all bridges. He can no longer go back. He now commits himself to God absolutely, for better or worse. That is following Christ.
That is why Jesus says quite clearly here: Whoever has decided to follow Christ and then still looks back because he is still looking for a hedge somewhere in the background is not fit for the kingdom of God, because at every little difficulty he shrinks back and returns home, to stay in the picture. Jesus' imagery rejects a worker who, after declaring his readiness to follow, still thinks back to what he wants to leave or has already left. Therefore, here again Jesus asks us a question that goes to the heart of the matter: If you want to follow me, have you burned all bridges? Is your discipleship so radical that you commit your being and your life to my fate? ∎