Saturday, June 25, 2022

Outright Rejection and Hesitant Responses

Below is a rough translation and some initial comments regarding Luke 9:51-62. This reading seems to contain two pericopes. Verses 51-56 is the story of Jesus preparing to stay at an village of Samaritans but being denied, and the harsh reaction by James and John. Verses 57-62 are a series of brief dialogues between Jesus and some who are either called to follow or who offer to follow. Each has stipulations and Jesus does not seem sympathetic with those stipulations. 
I welcome your comments. 

Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ συμπληροῦσθαι τὰς ἡμέρας τῆς ἀναλήμψεως αὐτοῦ καὶ 
αὐτὸς τὸ πρόσωπον ἐστήρισεν τοῦ πορεύεσθαι εἰς Ἰερουσαλήμ,
Yet it happened in the fulfilling of the days of his being taken up and he firmly set his faceto the journeyinginto Jerusalem.  
Ἐγένετο : AMI 3s, γίνομαι,  1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive 
συμπληροῦσθαι: PPInf, συμπληρόω, 1) to fill completely  1a) of the hold of a ship  2) to complete entirely, be fulfilled: of time
ἐστήρισεν : AAI 3s, στηρίζω, 1) to make stable, place firmly, set fast, fix  2) to strengthen, make firm  3) to render constant, confirm, one's mind 
πορεύεσθαι: PMInf, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer  1a) to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on  one's journey
1. This verse seems an odd reference and foreshadowing, when Luke speaks of the “fulfilling of the days of [Jesus] being taken up.” The “fulfilling” (συμπληροῦσθαι) is the same way that Luke introduces the story of the Day of Pentecost. I understand that story, particularly as Peter interprets it through the prophecy of Joel, as fulfilling the original meaning and purpose of the festival of weeks (another name for Pentecost). 
2. The word for “taken up” (ἀναλήμψεως) is only used here in the NT. I am wondering if this is a reference to Jesus’ ascension. 
It is not the term that Luke uses in 24:51 when Luke says that Jesus was “carried up” (ἀναφέρω) into heaven.
It is not the term used in Acts 1:9, when Jesus is “taken up” (ἐπαίρω) and clouds obscure their sight. 
But it is in the family of the verb ἀναλαμβάνω, which is in Acts 1:11, “… This same Jesus who is taken upfrom you into the heaven …”
3. If the use of συμπληρόω suggests that the journey to Jerusalem is a fulfillment, and if the term ἀναλήμψεως is a reference to the ascension, then – in Luke’s theology – the journey to Jerusalem shows the means by which the ascension is fulfilled. That could be different from saying, for example, that the point of this journey is the cross or even the resurrection. It would shift the focus to the ascension as the end point and fulfillment of the events that precede it. 
4. The terms “face” (πρόσωπον) and “journeying” (πορεύομαι) will appear over the next 2 verses also, with πορεύομαι appearing throughout the pericope and in the first verse of the next chapter, when Jesus appoints 70 messengers and sends them out two by two “before his face” in to every city where he would go. 
The use of the word “face” deserves reflection. John the Baptizer would go “before the face of the Lord” to prepare (1:76, 7:27); People fall on their faces when begging for help (5:12) or thanking (17:16) or fright (24:5); “Face” is used for “the face of the earth” (21:35) and “the face of the sky” (12:56) – all of which means that it is and it isn’t the thing we see in our mirrors. It is our appearance, but it is also representative of our being, our purpose, our posture in life. 

 52 καὶ ἀπέστειλεν ἀγγέλους πρὸ προσώπου αὐτοῦ. καὶ πορευθέντες εἰσῆλθον εἰςκώμην Σαμαριτῶν, ὡς ἑτοιμάσαι αὐτῷ:
And he sent messengers before his face.  And having journeyed, they entered into a village of Samaritans, in order to prepare for him. 
ἀπέστειλεν : AAI 3s, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed  2) to send away, dismiss  
πορευθέντες: AAPart npm, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer  1a) to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on  one's journey  
εἰσῆλθον: AAI 3pl, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter  
ἑτοιμάσαι : AAInf, ἑτοιμάζω, 1) to make ready, prepare  
1. The word for “messengers” is the same word that is translated “angels” in other stories, most notably the birth narratives. I would entertain a motion and a second that we simply use the word “messenger” and drop the word “angel” which is a transliteration that has lost its function of messaging and has become a mythic bird-person who does almost anything except carry messages any more. All in favor? 
2. The word “prepare” (ἑτοιμάζω) gets quite a workout in Luke’s gospel
...of the just; to make ready a people prepared...
...of the Lord to prepare his ways;
Which thou hast prepared before the face... the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of...
...the Samaritans, to make ready for him.
...things be, which thou hast provided?
...lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither...
...say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may...
...saying, Go and prepare us the passover...
...Where wilt thou that we prepare? furnished: there make ready.
...unto them: and they made ready the passover.
...they returned, and prepared spices and ointments...
...the spices which they had prepared, and certain others...

 53καὶ οὐκ ἐδέξαντο αὐτόν, ὅτι τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ ἦν πορευόμενον εἰς 
And they did not welcome him, because his face was journeying into Jerusalem.  
ἐδέξαντο : AMI 3pl, δέχομαι, 1) to take with the hand  1a) to take hold of, take up  2) to take up, receive  
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
πορευόμενον : PMPart, nns, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer  1a) to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on  one's journey 
1. The lack of “receiving” Jesus was more than a personal slight. It speaks of the deep cultural value of hospitality. In addition, just prior to this pericope Jesus said:“Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me....”Lk. 9:48. When Jesus sends out the 70 messengers in the next chapter, it remains an ongoing question of whether or not they’ll be welcomed (10:8-10). I would imagine that whether or not a city allows travelers through their gate was a matter of great importance, particularly when there are ancient rivalries at stake. It might be better to think about the city gate here a less than a border that one crosses from one city to the next, and more like an international terminal at an airport. We have to remember how provincial these cities were, surrounded by walls and deeply suspicious of visitors. I imagine that is why the marketplace or the temple (for all nations) would be such notable exceptions to ordinary space. 
2. The antipathy between Jews and Samaritans is thick in this story. We remember that it is after this story in Luke that Jesus tells a parable making a Samaritan the hero because that Samaritan offers cross-cultural hospitality. 

 54 ἰδόντες δὲ οἱ μαθηταὶ Ἰάκωβος καὶ Ἰωάννης εἶπαν, Κύριε, θέλεις εἴπωμεν 
πῦρ καταβῆναι ἀπὸ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ἀναλῶσαι αὐτούς;
Yet having seen, the disciples James and John said, “Lord, do you want that we might command fire to come down from the heaven and to consume them?” 
ἰδόντες : AAPart, nmpl, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know  
εἶπαν: AAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
θέλεις: PAI 2s, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend  
εἴπωμεν : AASubj, 1pl, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  
καταβῆναι: AAInf, καταβαίνω, 1) to go down, come down, descend
ἀναλῶσαι : AAInf, ἀναλίσκω, 1) to expend  1a) to consume, e.g. spend money  2) to consume, use up, destroy 
1. There may be some irony at work here, with J&J wanting to call down fire from heaven, after Luke has introduced this story as about Jesus’ being taken up. 
2. And when did James and John become mighty fire-callers, anyway? 

55 στραφεὶς δὲ ἐπετίμησεν αὐτοῖς.
Yet having turned to them, he rebuked/honored.  
στραφεὶς : APPart, nms, στρέφω, 1) to turn, turn around  2) to turn one's self (i.e. to turn the back to one  
ἐπετίμησενἐπιτιμάω, 1) to show honor to, to honor  ...  3) to adjudge, award, in the sense of merited penalty  4) to tax with fault, rate, chide, rebuke, reprove, censure severely  4a) to admonish or charge sharply
1. The word ἐπιτιμάω is translated “rebuke” across the board, but it could also mean “honor.” That is a very elastic word! 
2. Older manuscripts have more in vv. 55 and 56, making it clear that this is a rebuke. Jesus says, “Ye have not known of what spirit ye are; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save” (YLT). The brevity of earlier manuscripts leave it more ambiguous. My sense is that Jesus’ use of a Samaritan so favorably in a later parable would suggest a rebuke. But, maybe a good rebuke both honors someone’s anger and yet does not allow it to have its way. (Now there’s a sermon based on the ambiguity of a single Greek word!) 
3. The pronoun “them” is in the dative case, making it an indirect object “to them,” so I’m assuming that it goes with the participle “having turned.” “Rebuke/honor” would require a direct object in the accusative case. At least that would be the case in English. I can’t be certain about ancient Greek.  

 56καὶ ἐπορεύθησαν εἰς ἑτέραν κώμην.
And they journeyed into another village. 
ἐπορεύθησαν: API 3p, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer 1a) to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on  one's journey   
1. This new village is not identified as either Samaritan or not. 

 57Καὶ πορευομένων αὐτῶν ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ εἶπέν τις πρὸς αὐτόν, Ἀκολουθήσω σοι ὅπου ἐὰν ἀπέρχῃ.
And as they were journeying on the road, a certain man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you may go.”  
πορευομένων: PMPart, gmpl, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer  1a) to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on  one's journey  
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
Ἀκολουθήσω: FAI 1sg, ἀκολουθέω, 1) to follow one who precedes, join him as his attendant,  accompany him  
ἀπέρχῃ: 2s, PMSubj, ἀπέρχομαι, 1) to go away, depart  1a) to go away in order to follow any one, go after him, to  follow his party, follow him as a leader  
1. The word ἀκολουθέω (follow) has inspired a fascinating book by Robert Scharlemann called The Reason of Following, in which Scharlemann describes theimmediate, unconditional responses that Jesus’ call to follow evokes in the disciples’ call stories. Here, however, the responses are hesitant and conditional.  
2. Likewise, just prior to our pericope, the disciples try to stop someone from driving out demons in Jesus’ name, because he did not follow them. Jesus’ reaction is a rather capacious, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Here, it seems that following is a much more difficult matter. 

 58καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ  Ἰησοῦς, Αἱ ἀλώπεκες φωλεοὺς ἔχουσιν καὶ τὰπετεινὰ τοῦ 
οὐρανοῦ κατασκηνώσεις,  δὲ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου οὐκ ἔχει ποῦ τὴν κεφαλὴν 
And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and birds of the heaven (have) nests, but the son of man has nowhere he may lay the head.”  
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
ἔχουσιν: PAI 3p, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold
ἔχει: PAI 3s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold
κλίνῃ: PASubj, 3s, κλίνω, 1) transitively  1a) to incline, bow  1b) to cause to fall back  1c) to recline  1c1) in a place for repose  
1. The curiosity of this verse is that the person in v.57 seems to be saying exactly what we think one should say to Jesus. And we would assume that Jesus would welcome the sentiment and say, “Great, let’s go.” Instead, we get this simple statement, which seems to imply that the offer is not realistic about the costs. 
2. Jesus will refer to Herod as “that fox” in Lk. 13:32. Likewise, the “birds of the heaven” were illustrative of those that destroy seeds in the parable of the soils (c.8). Are the references to ‘foxes’ and ‘birds’ here simply animal references about having a home, or do these particular animals represent something larger? 

 59 Εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς ἕτερον, Ἀκολούθει μοι.  δὲ εἶπεν, [Κύριε,] ἐπίτρεψόν μοι 
ἀπελθόντι πρῶτον θάψαι τὸν πατέρα μου.
Yet he said to another, “Follow me.”  But he said, “[Lord,] permit me having gone first to bury my father.”  
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
Ἀκολούθει: PAImpv 2s, ἀκολουθέω, 1) to follow one who precedes, join him as his attendant,  accompany him
ἐπίτρεψόν : AAImp, 2s, ἐπιτρέπω, 1) to turn to, transfer, commit, instruct  2) to permit, allow, give leave
ἀπελθόντι : AAPart, dms, ἀπέρχομαι, 1) to go away, depart  1a) to go away in order to follow any one, go after him, to  follow his party, follow him as a leader  
θάψαι: AAInf, θάπτω, 1) to bury, inter 
1. I guess a lot rides here on whether the father was dead, near death, or whether this person was simply going to be a good son until such a time as his father expired. Perhaps that would have given him an inheritance that would make the journey less costly. If his father is dead or almost dead, this seems like both a reasonable and a compassionate reason to delay one’s departure. 

 60 εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ, Ἄφες τοὺς νεκροὺς θάψαι τοὺς ἑαυτῶν νεκρούς, σὺ δὲ 
ἀπελθὼν διάγγελλε τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ.
But he said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but having gone away, you proclaim the reign of God.”  
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
Ἄφες: AAImpv 2s, ἀφίημι, 1) to send away  1a) to bid going away or depart  ...  2) to permit, allow, not to hinder, to give up a thing to a person 
θάψαι : AAInf, θάπτω, 1) to bury, inter 
ἀπελθὼν : AAPart, nms, ἀπέρχομαι, 1) to go away, depart  1a) to go away in 
order to follow any one, go after him, to  follow his party, follow him as a leader  
διάγγελλε : PAImp, 2s, διαγγέλλω, 1) to carry a message through, announce everywhere, through places, through assemblies etc.  
1. After years of thinking about this verse, looking at it, listening about it, praying about it, taking stabs at different ways of holding it, I need to ‘fess up. I got nothing. I don’t get it. I don’t like it. I’m hoping it is a reference to some kind of working proverb that is unknown to me and makes it all okay. 

 61 Εἶπεν δὲ καὶ ἕτερος, Ἀκολουθήσω σοι, κύριε: πρῶτον δὲ ἐπίτρεψόν μοι ἀποτάξασθαι τοῖς εἰς τὸν οἶκόν μου.
Yet another said also, “I will follow you, Lord; but first permit me to take leave of those in my house.”  
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
Ἀκολουθήσω: FAI 1s, ἀκολουθέω, 1) to follow one who precedes, join him as his attendant,  accompany him
ἐπίτρεψόν: AAImpv 2s, ἐπιτρέπω, 1) to turn to, transfer, commit, instruct  2) to permit, allow, give leave
ἀποτάξασθαι : AMInf, ἀποτάσσομαι, 1) to set apart, separate  1a) to separate one's self, withdraw one's self from anyone  1a1) to take leave of, bid farewell to  1b) to renounce, forsake 
1. It is, again, hard to tell what is at stake here in taking leave of one’s house. Is it simply going to say goodbye? It is sticking around to fulfill some longer-term obligations? If the former, this seems reasonable enough. If the latter, I can see that, perhaps this call just isn’t for this person. 

 62 εἶπεν δὲ [πρὸς αὐτὸν]  Ἰησοῦς, Οὐδεὶς ἐπιβαλὼν τὴν χεῖρα ἐπ'ἄροτρον καὶ 
βλέπων εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω εὔθετός ἐστιν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ.
But Jesus said [to him], “No one having put the hand on the plow and looking to the back is fit in the reign of God.  
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
ἐπιβαλὼν : AAPart, nms, ἐπιβάλλω, 1) to cast upon, to lay upon  
βλέπων :  PAPart, nms, βλέπω, 1) to see, discern, of the bodily eye  ... 1c) to turn the eyes to anything: to look at, look upon, gaze at  
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
1. I hear echoes of Lot’s wife in this comment. 
2. I do not know quite what to do with these brief dialogues about following Jesus. None of the hesitations seem unreasonable, although they may be more culturally laden than they appear. Certainly in the 21stcentury leaving one’s home is fairly common and so saying goodbye and putting one’s affairs in order are done routinely and can be done efficiently. Perhaps in 1stcentury Palestine these actions are much less practical and, therefore, more troubling as an answer. Or, maybe we are seeing the practical applications and costs involved in the saying, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (9:23) 
3. Two friends have commented that perhaps Jesus is not being critical, but realistic, and that for these folks the best place to proclaim is where they are and not to joining Jesus’ itinerate work. I want to go there, but the text is pushing back a little. The word that I’ve translated as “fit” (εὔθετός) is the prefix εὔ, which means “good,” and the noun θετός, which is related to θήκη, a sheath for a sword or the verb τίθημι, which means “to place” or “to lay.” Perhaps it should be “… is not well-fitted.” Even so, Jesus does not say, “… is not well-fitted for this particular work,” but “… is not well-fitted for the reign of God.” That’s why these responses seem so harsh, as if the reign of God is ever-itinerate and never settled into a kind of actual locale. It reminds me of Paul’s opinion that – because of the imminent return of Christ – marriage is not the best path for God’s people to take. I’m also being mindful that this is Luke’s interpretation of Jesus and I have no idea what Jesus’ actual mind is on this matter outside of Luke’s presentation of it here. So, perhaps Luke feels that the reign of God is such a critical matter right now that the typical lifestyle of settling in, making family, having a home, etc. are detrimental to the work at hand. 
And perhaps that is the most obvious interpretation of this text and I simply don’t have the capacity to imagine what that means for me or for a church that has become so comfortably instituted in its culture. 


  1. I wonder if Jesus is actually saying "if your heart is here, then stay here and witness for me rather than follow"

    1. I like that! Sometimes the way to follow Jesus is to stay where you are and work on helping the people around you to follow, too.

  2. Rev. Terence DoughertyJune 24, 2019 at 8:18 AM

    I wonder whether Jesus' "discouraging words" to those offering to accompany Him bear any relationship to God's merciful reduction of the Israelite troops sent into battle with Gideon to just three hundred? Can a case be made that Jesus (who insisted the Romans allow those with Him in Gethsemane to leave) is confident God's mission can be fulfilled without risking great upheaval in too many lives? Is He limiting this mission to a faithful few, who do and will commit to losing everything?

  3. Yes, at one level this is tough talk from Jesus and undermining all my securities and things I hold dear. On a another level, it is also incredibly freeing talk. Families can be great, but duty and obligation can be extremely burdensome and cause all kinds of guilt. Families can offer security, safety, protection and honor, but they can also be demanding, dangerous and violent places, emotionally and physically. I wonder if the word 'Lord' isn't significant in this episode. If Jesus is 'Lord' then he is my shepherd and that means he cares for me, protects me, walks with me in danger, gives me honor, and joy (a la Ps 23, of course). So this passage is as much an offer as it is a call. The offer of leaving the past, of not looking back and being burdened by it, and to walk into his future of freedom, of the kingdom etc.

  4. It's hard to square a circle. Even harder to make every bit of the text fit into my worldview, or to justify its discordance with it. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar...

  5. I’m working with a lot of churches that are very small and without a pastor. They are at a crossroads, they need to discern what following Jesus is going to mean for them as a community. Looking back, doing what is familiar, tending to the details of communal life seems to be a way to avoid the upheaval that seems to go along with following Jesus wherever he might lead. Perhaps Luke is speaking to his community and asking them to do the same.

  6. Michael Rogess in working Preacher asks...Could these would be followers become an occasion for Jesus to speak to those who are are already following him, not to potential followers. He is set on going to his death, resurrection and ascension. The disciples end up turning back to the familiar before they encounter the Holy Spirit and end up being called by the Spirit into a nomadic life as messengers of the good news.

  7. Hi Carol. For some reason my ability to sign in as myself is weirdly blocked. Thanks for your comment. I suspect the question might be better framed to ask if Luke is speaking to followers through this conversation. And I would think that he is. Thanks again. MD


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