PENTECOST 3, June 26th, 2022 In the Name...
The story is told of a pompous speaker who was so boring that his audience began to get up and leave. Furious, he shouted at them, “You are all nothing more than philistines.” One of the audience then turned and retorted, “And you are like Samson wielding the jawbone of an ass.”
Ah, what a wonderful contrast in our readings this morning. On the one hand we have a story about Elijah, the man of God renowned for destroying false prophets with heavenly thunderbolts and, on the other, the man who was God apparently forbidding his followers from doing the same. We have Elijah, who gave his chosen successor Elisha leave to settle his domestic affairs before setting out with him, and we have Jesus, who warned his would-be disciples that in following him there was no place for goodbyes. Quite a contrast. And one which finds expression in the rebuke of Jesus to his disciples in words recorded in another of the Gospels, "You do not know of what spirit you are."
Since the earliest days of the Christian community there has been debate about the relationship of the Old and New Testaments. All agree the Old Testament contains the record of God's progressive revelation to mankind and the prophecies about Jesus, but, it also contains much material people find difficult to accept. After all, it's one thing to compare the Ten Commandments with the Sermon on the Mount, but, how can one reconcile Exodus 15's, "The Lord is a man of war" with John 18's, "Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword", or explain the elaborate dietary laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy in view of the fact that Jesus said nothing that goes in to a man defiles him?
Questions such as these have caused many Christians to regard the Old Testament much as we might regard the discovery that one of our ancestors was hanged as a horse thief. We have to acknowledge its existence, but try not to think about it too much.
But, if we do use a little thought and remember Jesus' words, "I have come not to destroy, but to fulfil", then we might get a sense of how he fulfills the Old in his life and work and even as demonstrated in our lessons today.
Let's consider the Samaritan village. There was no love lost between Samaritans and Jews. They each regarded the other as unwelcome occupiers of "their" land. The Jews considered Samaritans blasphemers because they mingled pagan and Jewish practices. The two groups had a long history of ethnic and religious contention - even violence. Under Roman rule, they were forced to live together in peace - so they couldn't kill each other - but they could still be sullen and rude. So, this village sees a famous Jewish preacher travelling with his entourage to Jerusalem and rolls up the red carpet. Typical reaction.
Earlier in the Gospel, we read that people were comparing Jesus to Elijah. It was only natural, then, that James and John should recall how Elijah called fire from Heaven to destroy heretics, like those nasty Samaritans, and they ask Jesus to do the same. But, that's where they make a serious mistake. Elijah never destroyed anybody just because he didn't like them. He only brought fire on those who were actively thwarting God's will and only then after great prayer. He never made a miracle - good or bad - for his personal satisfaction.
The issue Jesus faced here was not rebellion against God. It was just common prejudice. By rebuking his disciples, Jesus was doing what Elijah would have done. James and John were thinking not so much in Old Testament terms, but, in worldly terms, secular terms. If they had known their Bible better, they would have known better.
The second part of the Gospel deals with would-be disciples and three examples are given of people who express their willingness to follow Jesus. Jesus tells each of them that they have to leave everything, even – and this would have been really shocking to Jesus’ audience - the sacred familial duty of burial, to follow him and does so in ways that parallel the lesson from 1st Kings when Elijah calls Elisha, but, first lets him go home and throw a party.
"What have I done to you?” Elijah says, or to update the idiom, "Who am I to control you?” You see Elijah and Jesus have a lot in common, but one thing separates them. Elijah is a man; Jesus is God. And the point Jesus makes is that no man can ever demand total obedience of another. God alone can place that kind of call on our lives.
Elijah himself responded to that call of God. He had to leave family and friends. He had to hide in desert caves when the king sent assassins after him. But, in every case, even when he was caught up in clinical depression, he was supported, encouraged, and healed by the God for whom he gave everything.
And, that’s how God justifies his claim, his call, by providing those who respond with His total support in ways that no mere human ever could.
When Jesus says, "Let the dead bury the dead", he's saying something important about himself. He's saying that he and he alone speaks with the voice and the authority of God.
Now, it’s nice that these incidents - the Samaritan village and the would-be disciples - illustrate some things about Jesus, but their ultimate lesson is about us, about the ones who, like him, set our faces towards Jerusalem, and choose to walk with him.
On that road, we will experience inhospitable places and people who do not want to receive us or hear God’s words and they will do so more intensely than merely by denying us a night's lodging. We will encounter opposition, ridicule, sarcasm, emotional blackmail, and we need to be mature enough to rise above it and not harbour the sins of hatred and revenge.
On that road, we will experience that life in this world does not provide us with true security and learn that it cannot claim our ultimate loyalty. To walk with the Saviour, we must exhibit tremendous courage and resolve. We must exercise superhuman restraint and focus. We must live above attachments to both the good things, like family and friends, and to the dark things, like anger and bitterness, which, at times, can also seem just as attractive.
We will need to cultivate within ourselves the fruits of the Spirit that we heard St. Paul describe to the Galatians – love, joy, peace, patience, self-control and more besides.
These were things the disciples had to learn. Sometimes they found it very difficult. Why can't we blow up our enemies? they asked. Because, Jesus said, "You do not know of what spirit you are." May we avoid that rebuke by always knowing what that spirit is and living accordingly.
In the Name...