Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

  Northern Great Lakes SynodEvangelical Lutheran Church in AmericaBethany on Facebook  

Pentecost - 7/1/07

One of the more interesting things about today’s gospel lesson is a verse that isn’t there.  At the beginning of this text the disciples were upset because the people of Samaria did not welcome Jesus so they wanted to know if Jesus wanted them to command fire to come down from heaven to consume the Samaritans.  Verse 55 just says that Jesus turned and rebuked them.  But in this Bible, and I’ll bet that if you look in your Bible at home it would be the same, there is a footnote that says, “Other ancient authorities read, ‘Jesus rebuked them and said, “You do not know what spirit you are of, for the Son of Man has not come to destroy the lives of human beings, but to save them.”’”

This is what is known as a textual variant.  In reading about this I found that by one count there are 5735 ancient manuscripts that contain at least part of the New Testament.  Some of them are complete books, some are merely fragments and pieces of papyrus, all in the original Greek.  In order to come with the New Testament that we read, one which is as authentic as possible, textual scholars go through these manuscripts word by word and phrase by phrase looking for differences as they try to determine what is the original work of the gospel writer or letter writer and what might be the additions of scribes who came along later.  It’s pretty much a numbers thing as the versions that show up most frequently become accepted as normative. 

There are more of these textual variants than you might think but as we read an English translation of the Bible most of them aren’t mentioned because they appear in so few of the old manuscripts.  This one today though, about the Son of Man not coming not to destroy the lives of human beings but to save them, apparently doesn’t appear in enough places to be considered the actual work of Luke himself, but it appears enough and is consistent enough with the kinds of things that Jesus says in other places, that it warrants a footnote.  Even if it was added later, the textual scholars felt that it at least deserved a mention.  Even if it was added later, it pretty accurately reflects the spirit and teaching of Jesus.

The first part of this gospel text today, from which this textual variant comes, is yet another example of the disciples’ failure to “get it.”  They had to have had some sense that Jesus’ ways were not the usual ways of the world, yet when faced with frustration, in their anger they were ready to exact revenge, to use violence to get back at those unwelcoming Samaritans.  They were ready to go against the teachings of Jesus, all those things he had said about loving your enemies, doing good to those who hate you, praying for those who abuse you, if anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other one too.  Yeah, right.  In this world you have to take care of business.  But Jesus rebuked them.  The Son of Man has come not to destroy the lives of human beings but to save them.

What?  You mean we’re supposed to take all that stuff Jesus said seriously?  It’s probably a good thing that little Anders doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into by being baptized here today.  In the Lutheran church we do understand baptism to be a gift of God’s grace as we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, as we’re marked with the cross of Christ and become children of God, so it’s not necessary that Anders understand everything. 

Still, a proper approach to baptism has always included a level of commitment.  The gift doesn’t mean much without it.  The gift remains given no matter what; it’s not taken away.  But when an infant is baptized, as is the case today, his parents and sponsors are saying that they do take all that stuff Jesus said seriously and they are committed to teaching their child about Jesus knowing that an awful lot of what he said and taught flies in the face of what the world accepts as normal.  It’s a strange new world that Jesus offers.  It’s no wonder though, that the disciples and all the rest of us trip over his teachings on a pretty regular basis.  You mean we really are supposed to take all this seriously?

The rest of this gospel lesson further illustrates the seriousness of the commitment to follow Jesus and gives us more to trip over along the way.  But first it’s important to recognize that a key change took place back in verse 51.  “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  He set his face to go to Jerusalem.  We’ve got about another ten chapters before Jesus gets to Jerusalem, but from this point on imagine a changed Jesus, a different look in his eyes, a new level of focus and intensity about what he is called to do. 

As we go through these chapters for the rest of the summer and into the fall a lot will seem the same, stories about Jesus teaching and healing.  But we have to imagine that the agenda has shifted.  In whatever he does along the way Jesus knows that he can’t be distracted from Jerusalem; that’s the focus as that is where he has to take his alternative vision of the world, directly to the seat of religious and political power, knowing full well that the outcome is probably going to be bad.

This may at least in part account for the apparent abruptness in Jesus response to those who want to follow him but who first want to clean up unfinished family business, one person wanting bereavement leave in order to bury his father, the other just wanting a chance to say good-bye to friends and family.  Those aren’t unreasonable requests; in fact we would find it unreasonable to do otherwise.  “Of course you have to do those things…and take all the time you need.  There’s nothing more important than family after all.”  That’s what we wish Jesus had said.  But he didn’t.  The way of Jesus is often not an easy fit with what we would like it to be so we need to hear his words of rebuke when we make his words an echo of what we want them to say. 

This is where the baptismal commitment to follow gets tricky.  Some of the commitment at least makes sense.  It’s easy to understand Jesus rebuking the disciples for their desire to bring fire down from heaven to consume the Samaritans.  That clearly wasn’t Jesus’ style so we understand that following him involves turning away from some of our less attractive inclinations.  We might still have those inclinations but at our best we know they’re bad.

But this text, and others, make it sound like that in order to follow we have to turn away from, or at least reprioritize some good things.  Logically, we resist.  Mostly what we wind up doing is to say, “Jesus didn’t really mean that,” and we go ahead and live with whatever priorities we have established as being good because after all they are good. 

Maybe though it’s the “but first” part of these statements that Jesus objected to.  He had to know that all of us have worldly commitments and obligations that we have to keep, bills to pay, errands to run, clothes to wash, classes to go to, employers who expect us to show up and families to take care of.  Getting through the day you might call it.  It’s not optional.  The challenge is not to say, “But first I have to do this, that or whatever,” but to follow Jesus and to do all the other things that need to be done in a way that is faithful to who Jesus calls us to be in our baptism.

That means that the only “but first” is, “But first, I have to set my face toward Jesus and follow him.”  That’s what we call repentance as we turn from one set of priorities and take seriously priorities that start with Jesus.  Thank again about that change in Jesus as he set his face toward Jerusalem; imagine the change in focus, the change in intensity.  He kept doing the same kinds of things he had been doing all along, but there was a difference.  Now imagine what changes in you, as you set your face toward Jesus and follow.  Things can’t be quite the same because if they are, you haven’t really repented.  For each of us, we still have to do all those things we have to do, but something becomes different because first comes Jesus, and that means, yes, taking seriously the things he said not just as idealistic Sunday morning niceties, but as an alternative that makes us constantly repent of and revisit assumptions that we might hold dear.

There are easier ways to go, but this is the path that Jesus puts before us in baptism and beyond.  It’s the path that changes us and joins us to the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus which is the life of God.  It’s a path and a promise that can’t be equaled.  This is the strange new world that Jesus offers, the strange new world Anders is made part of this morning.    



Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
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one who
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