33C Third Sunday after Pentecost
Hold On, Hold On
When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And 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.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:51-62
In the days of the prophet Elijah, the entire nation of Israel had abandoned God for a competing idol, Baal, the god of Jezebel. And even after Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal by setting ablaze a pile of water-logged wood there was still a price on Elijah’s head. He was a hunted man.
When God finds Elijah sitting under a broom tree, he is sulking and bemoaning his lot. He’s feeling sorry for himself, indulging in a strong case of the “poor me’s”, tottering on the brink of despair. Have you ever been there? Have you ever tottered on the brink of despair? You have done everything right and all seems to have gone wrong.
As the story is told, God instructs Elijah to commission Elisha to inherit his prophetic mantle and to be the heir to his prophetic spirit. Elijah is going to be relieved of his burden and Elisha is going to carry on with the daunting task of turning the hearts of the people back to the one true God. In this morning’s except, Elisha asks for and receives a double portion of Elijah’s power that he might be up to the challenge.
But the only strategy that both Elijah and Elisha seem to know for dealing with the enemy is to call down a destroying fire from heaven. And Elisha orders up a double batch of whatever destructiveness Elijah could muster. Elisha strikes back at any and all opponents, even summoning a couple of she bears to gobble up forty-two of the little boys who taunt him about his bald head! You gotta love these fantastic tales. They do make a lasting impression.
Given this religious tradition, we can understand, the disciples wanting to rain fire from heaven on those offensive Samaritans. The Samaritans reject Jesus. They want nothing to do with Him, because Jesus is calling them to return to the worship of God in Jerusalem and they want to worship elsewhere and otherwise. The faith of the Samaritans had been compromised thru their association with foreign idolaters.
It is easy to have some sympathy for the request of the disciples. If we are honest with ourselves, we would not all like to take care of annoying, stubborn, hostile, threatening people this way? And why not resolve problems in this way, if we could? Just wipe them out.
Well, as it turns out, the “Why not?” is Jesus, who says, “No, we don’t do that kind of thing. We don’t wipe out our enemies. No time for that nonsense. Rather keep your eyes on the prize. Set your face toward Jerusalem and the cross. Keep your hand on that plow; hold on, hold on, hold on.” That plow is love and it is the only way forward.
There are two important things to note in this gospel passage.
First of all, Luke is making clear, once and for all, that Jesus is not Elijah whom the people believed would return.
When Elisha took his hands off the plow and asked to have a farewell party with his family before following Elijah, Elijah said, “Sure, go ahead.” Not so with Jesus. No time to bury your dead father. No time to say good-bye. No time to turn back to the way things used to be. Set your face toward Jerusalem, toward the cross, keep your hand on that plow, and hold on, hold on, hold on.
Secondly the prophet Malachi had said, “I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children, and children to their parents.”
Whereas we hear Jesus talking of turning fathers against sons, husbands against in-laws, and all the rest. We hear Jesus saying there is no time for traditional priorities. The urgency of proclaiming the kingdom of God calls for a radical break with tradition, familiar institutions, comfortable assumptions, and our ordinary ways of being and doing. Set your face toward Jerusalem, toward the cross, and keep your hand on that plow, and hold on, hold on, hold on.
Jesus is carving out new territory and advancing new strategies for dealing with offense, rejection, hurt, pain, loss and even the outright rejection of God. Keep focused on Jerusalem, on the cross; keep focused on the good news of the kingdom of God; and plow a furrow straight into the heart and mind and love of God, where there is no room for nursing old wounds, no room for ancient quarrels, no room for silly displays of power, not room for the destruction of our enemies.
Rather Jesus would have his disciples see even their enemies as their neighbors, whom they are to serve and love even as they care for and love themselves. Those stubborn Samaritans like it or not are your neighbors. Later he will tell his disciples a story through which they might learn that on some days the only person who seems to understand what he is saying, doing, and urging them to do, will be one of those Samaritans whom they want to roast with a heavenly barbeque! There are good Samaritans everywhere.
Facing hostile rejection among the Samaritans, Jesus could have done as the disciples had asked. He could have chosen the Elijah solution.
But Jesus knows the story that has unfolded. He lets his memory serve him. His focus is not on the hatred of the Samaritans. Rather He remembers what God has done. He lays the ancient wonders out on the table. He ponders all the things God has accomplished. He gives a long, loving look at God’s faithful deeds.
When we set our faces toward Jerusalem, when we hold on to the plow without looking back at all the distractions, all the rejection, all the hurt, all the losses, all the brokenness; we see, we remember the things God has done. We remember God’s care for God’s people. We stand in awe of the goodness of the Lord and of all mighty things the Lord has done all the way back to the beginning.
Jesus knows that fixing our hearts and minds on this God will lead us away from senseless controversies, away from any feeling of rejection, abandonment, and defeat, and reset our faces toward Jerusalem and the cross.
This God will once again give us the strength to put our hand to that plow and hold on. It’s the gospel plow taking us straight to the heart of God and God’s love. Hold on, because God has new, awesome, and amazing things for us to do and to experience.
Even when we sing our song of lament wondering how we are going to get thru our life our God will not only hear us but He will hold us in his hands.
It’s like singing the blues, like singing those old-time gospel blues:
Keep on plowing, don’t you tire,
Every round goes higher an’ higher,
That gospel line gets mighty hot,
Just hang on with all you got,
You can talk on me as much as you please,
For your talkin’ ain’t gonna stay on me
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
Come on to me, I am the Way
Keep your hand on that plow, hold on
Hold on, hold on,
Keep your hand on that plow, hold on
When we keep our hands on that gospel plow, when we take time to remember what God has done, we find ourselves staying away from contrived and meaningless controversies.
Then, and only then, can God’s healing Spirit enter into our hearts to repair and heal our brokenness, help us discern what the real issues are, bring us back from the dark places, and allow us to commit ourselves to the work of effecting just and godly solutions.
Keep your hand on that plow, hold on! Hold on! Hold on!
It is possible for each of us, for we are all heirs of the same grace given to a prophet like Nelson Mandela, who in the midst of all he suffered, kept his hand on that plow, kept his face toward Jerusalem, his eyes on the cross, and became a source of healing and reconciliation for so many.