Once Elisha started following Elijah (after he killed and cooked and served the oxen he was using to plow a field), he never stopped until Elijah was taken up by God in a chariot of fire. So, I guess Jesus is telling people they need to follow Elisha’s example.
I am thinking it would have taken a bit of time to slaughter and butcher and cook up an oxen team. I’m also thinking of the folks who had a temporary feast but no longer had a means of plowing their fields. I wonder how often they thought about those oxen and how much they could have used them over the ensuing years--and whether they recalled the meat as being rather tough.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians covers just about every sin he could think of, and he mentions that what the spirit calls us to do in our place of freedom is not against the law. Well, maybe not in his time. Apparently, providing aid to strangers in our midst: generosity, is not always a legal action. Though, juries of peers have not found it in their hearts to convict anyone so far. As Paul wrote…”Let us also be guided by the spirit.”
In today’s Gospel, apparently the Samaritans didn’t want someone headed to Jerusalem in their company and it made Jesus’ followers mad. Now, I don’t know how often his followers had called down fire from heaven but they seem confident they can do it. It’s a different story than when some of them had trouble casting out demons (maybe fire from heaven is an easier task); I can see how it might be. Demons can be gnarly and scary.
Then we have the person who said they would follow Jesus anywhere, just like Elisha did with Elijah. Jesus reminds them of his status as a homeless person: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” And, that can be the case for a homeless person even in death.
Then there is the really hard, uncomfortable message that one should leave behind the duty to bury a parent and head on out with Jesus. Many of us have experienced the loss of a loved one. None of us would have abandoned that person in their dying or after their death by heading on out to follow some itinerate preacher/prophet. This story could make all of us uncomfortable. “…let me first say farewell to those at my home.”
“Let the dead bury their own dead.” “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
And, I am reminded of the cremains left on mortuary shelves. One of our recent deaths of a resident of the river camp: cremains on a shelf until a legal relative can be contacted and claim them (if they have the funds to pay for them). I know of such cremains on other shelves that have sat there for decades waiting for someone to claim them. This is what happens to folks in the USA if they die poor. A cardboard box on a shelf with a plastic bag liner is their final resting place.
Or maybe Jesus was suggesting folks should return to the more ancient practice of placing the body out in the elements and collecting the bones later. Or maybe he was saying the dead didn’t matter--at least their bodies didn’t.
Or maybe he was just irritated the Samaritans had turned him away, and he really wanted to call fire down from heaven on them but restrained himself because the Holy Spirit held him back. Then he took out his frustration on the folks who were trying to join his band.
This is what I do know: Jesus wasn’t a very comforting guy. He was demanding, he got frustrated with people’s lack of understanding and compassion, and he wanted to make the comfortable uncomfortable. After all, if you have the luxury of setting things in your life aside to follow an itinerate preacher/prophet, you might be comfortable in your life. You might be in a place of privilege because you have that choice. Lots of poor folks didn’t have that choice. Lots of poor people today don’t have the luxury of making many choices about what they do with their time.
Maybe that was Jesus’ irritation: the one man had a father to bury, the Samaritans had the option of providing hospitality or not, and the other man had a home and people there who would worry about him if he just disappeared.
I can see both sides of each of these situations so it is hard for me to say: Well, Jesus said to leave everything behind--responsibility, family and love--to follow him so that is what we must do.
This isn’t a mandate like with the rich, young man to give away his wealth and follow Jesus, this is leaving those who rely on you behind to deal with death and loss all on their own so you can follow Jesus. It’s harsh. So what do we do with this? Some of us have no choice about leaving family behind.
If you are arrested and jailed, there you are. If your family can and wants to stay in contact, they will--if not, the person is left with no idea what is going on. How can we leave those we love, those we feel responsibility for in the dust? Today I like Paul better.
He speaks of freedom and how we should use that freedom. Instead of committing sin because we have freedom in Christ, Paul suggests we can exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit: patience in suffering, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, generosity, and self-control. This new life in the Spirit elevates us to a higher level of excellence, and that excellence is exhibited in our ability to love one another. But not just the folks who are like us but also, the folks who are different from us.
A. Weatherall Johnson said, “When my heart is secure in God’s love for me and giving back love to God, it spills out in love to others.” She felt this love was enabled by the Holy Spirit. When we sit with someone who is a stranger to us and listen and learn from them, then we can gain some understanding of who they are. We can love them as a child of God.
And that is something anyone can do. No matter how poor or how rich. No matter whether coming from a place of privilege or not. We can listen to those around us and get to know them. We can try to understand their struggles even if they are very different from our own. That love we feel from God can overflow on the Samaritan, the oxen, the dedicated disciple and those who must bury the dead. We can exhibit generosity by listening and absorbing and finally, loving our companions on the road.