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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost - 06/26/2016

The Fourth Commandment: Honor your father and your mother; in the Bible it even comes with a promise; Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord God is giving you. What does this mean? We are to fear and love God, so that we neither despise nor anger our parents and others in authority, but instead honor, serve, obey, love and respect them.

That’s the explanation from Luther’s Small Catechism and from that we hear the commandment mostly as being directed at young people, a command for them to respect their parents and others in positions of authority which is a legitimate and valuable interpretation, but in its original biblical context that wasn’t necessarily the intention. Then it was directed more toward adults, adult sons in particular and the command was to attend to elderly parents, to treat them with respect, to see that they were properly cared for and in the end, to bury them respectfully and honorably, all of which makes Jesus’ statements in today’s gospel rather confusing, confusing and troubling.

In the last part of the reading you have two people who are apparently ready to follow Jesus, but who just want a little time to wrap things up at home. The first wants time to bury his father, but Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” The second says let me go home and tell the family what I’m up to; I just want to say good-bye and Jesus says, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

That’s where the text ends, with both individuals apparently speechless, but you want them to say, “Wait a minute; Fourth Commandment, Jesus; honor your father and mother. Are you against the Fourth Commandment?” You want them to say, “What about Elisha? Elijah let him go back to kiss his mother and father before he followed and that worked out OK. Why can’t we do the same?” They don’t ask the questions, but we do. We’re left to ponder what it means, left to wonder that if even those seemingly legitimate requests are denied, can any of us meet Jesus’ standard, can any of us really be a disciple?

A part of me wants to duck that question and say that this is more about Jesus than it is about discipleship and how discipleship relates to issues of family responsibilities and obedience to the Fourth Commandment. Context is important and at this point in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is on the journey to Jerusalem, a journey that he knows will lead him into trouble, but a journey and an ending that he knows is part of who he is called to be.

As he heads to Jerusalem, I don’t picture all knowing Jesus but instead I picture the fully human Jesus, emptied of his divine nature, subject to the same temptations that any of us would be subject to, and also governed by the same instincts any of us are governed by, instinct number one being the instinct to survive. With that in mind, Jesus might see the requests of the two would be followers as a temptation, as a test of his own resolve, a temptation to wonder if there wasn’t another way. This could be another “Get behind me, Satan,” moment for Jesus similar to his rebuke of Peter when Peter questioned Jesus’ prediction of his suffering and death. This isn’t all knowing Jesus but what he does know is that temptation is part of his journey, and he can’t give in to it and still accomplish what he is supposed to accomplish.

I do think it’s legitimate to see this text being in part about Jesus, but I can’t ignore the discipleship aspect; I can’t ignore the fact that the level of commitment Jesus asks for is so high that even the commandment to honor father and mother is set aside. I can’t ignore that Jesus implies that the inbreaking of the kingdom of God that he represents surpasses everything else in its urgency. I can’t ignore asking the question, Does what Jesus says here leave us all lacking the necessary commitment to be disciples?

Without question there are times when what Jesus asks for can only leave us going away sad because we know we can’t do it, we can’t meet his standard. Remember the rich young man who proudly announces that he has kept all the commandments since his youth only to then be told by Jesus to sell everything he has and give the money to the poor? There are those texts that reveal our shortcomings and we can’t ignore them.

But then there are others. Think about last week’s gospel; remember the Gerasene demoniac? Jesus cast out the demons that afflicted him at which point the man begged that he might follow Jesus; he was ready to go. But Jesus said no. In contrast to his response in today’s reading where he wouldn’t let the two would be disciples go home, Jesus tells this man to go home. It doesn’t seem consistent.

Then there’s the first part of today’s lesson, the Samaritans didn’t receive Jesus because, as the text says, “his face was set toward Jerusalem.” That implies that maybe they would have received Jesus if he would have stayed around to perform some miracles and put on a show for them, but they weren’t ready to make the commitment to follow him to Jerusalem and risk what might happen there. James and John wanted to send fire down on the Samaritans for ignoring Jesus, but Jesus himself said no. He didn’t pass judgment on their unwillingness to follow at that moment, their unwillingness to become disciples. He wasn’t ready to close the door on them.

Taken in isolation, the texts that set an impossibly high standard for discipleship can lead us to conclude that discipleship is, in fact, impossible. None of us is willing renounce all of our other responsibilities and obligations including those related to family. We’re also not going to sell all we have and give the money to the poor. Other texts though, raise questions regarding the nature of discipleship and the level of commitment required and it’s at those points of tension that we wrestle a little bit and engage our own journey of faith, trying to figure out how we can follow, mindful of the fact that we can’t meet Jesus’ high standard.

As a starting point, today’s story about the Samaritans’ failure to receive Jesus and his failure to condemn them is a reminder that Jesus doesn’t pass final judgment on our lack of discipleship. It’s yet another case of undeserved grace and as always it’s important for us to hear that. Our faith is always about undeserved grace, grace made known to us and grace toward which we turn especially when we recognize our inability to achieve Jesus’ standard. We know we can’t do it, but Jesus doesn’t close the door on us. Grace is available.

Another thing worth considering concerning these texts on discipleship is that sometimes following might mean staying where you are. Some of what Jesus says can make it sound like that to be a disciple you do have to drop everything and follow him and in some of the biblical stories that is what happens or at least that’s what it sounds like. But discipleship can’t be only that or there would be no one left to do everything else that needs to be done. Jesus had to have known that too so he let it be known that there were other ways to follow.

I’ll always remember when I told my father I was thinking about going to seminary he asked, “How do you know you’re not already doing what God wants you to do?” It’s a good question, in some ways it’s a very Lutheran question as Luther’s priesthood of all believers is about the fact that the work of ordinary people, whatever their vocation, can serve God just as well or better than the work of clergy people.

The question then is to figure out how to do it, asking how Jesus is calling you to follow in your life, whatever your vocation might be. There’s tension though because you can’t ignore the challenge of “Let the dead bury their own dead,” and “No one who looks back is worthy of the Kingdom of God.” Those statements should bother you. Even if following and discipleship means staying where you are, which is the case for most people, you’re not off the hook. Staying where you are doesn’t mean life merrily goes on as it was; you still might be challenged to leave your comfort zone and venture into things that might seem impossible.

They might turn out to be impossible too, but then there’s that grace and another chance. By the grace of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit though, you might find things are more possible than you thought; you might find yourself growing as a disciple, doing things you thought you couldn’t do.

A journey of faith isn’t always easy. The standard of commitment Jesus calls for always poses a challenge. But mindful of his grace, we journey on and through his power our less than perfect efforts still serve and do make a difference.


Pastor Warren Geier


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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