Single-Mindedness for God
51When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him;53but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.54When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”55But he turned and rebuked them.56Then they went on to another village.
57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”60But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”61Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Today’s story begins with Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. Jesus sent some of his followers to the Samaritan village ahead of him. They entered the village to make ready for Jesus. This is the beginning of a mission strategy that will be described more fully in Chapter 10. In Chapter 10, Jesus sends many more pairs of disciples ahead of him to places where he will go. Their task is not just to arrange hospitality, but to preach the kingdom of God and to heal. The Samaritan village, however, refuses to receive Jesus because his face was set toward Jerusalem. Pilgrims passing through Samaria for Jerusalem aggravated the religious controversy between Samaritan and Jews, for Samaritans refused to recognize the Jerusalem temple, having their own sanctuary on Mt. Gerizim. Jesus was not welcome.
When the Samaritan village refused to welcome Jesus, James and John wanted to do what Elijah did in 2 Kings, when he encountered troops from Samaria, calling down fire from heaven to destroy them (2 Kings 1:2-14). However, Jesus rebuked them and they simply traveled on to another village.
In the next scene, we find three brief pronouncement stories. They make a set because in each case Jesus talks with a would-be disciple about the requirements of following him on his itinerant ministry. Each pronouncement story ends with the challenging word of Jesus. We are not told who the would-be disciples were and whether they were able to accept Jesus’ conditions or not. There is no interest in these inquirers as individuals. All emphasis is on the challenging words of Jesus which are very hard for us to follow.
Let us see the challenges.
No. 1: As Jesus and his disciples were going along the road, someone came and said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” This is the first challenge; lack of shelter.
No 2: Jesus said to another, “Follow me!” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” This is the second challenge.
No. 3: Another said to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” This is the last challenge. In these last two men, we can see some of hesitance.
According to this text, following Jesus means leaving home and family in order to share Jesus’ travels and mission. However, these challenges are very harsh. I have also had this experience myself.
As you know, I had the experience of leaving my home and family. When I came to Boston in 2006, it was not easy. At that time, I couldn’t find any financial supporter for my study in Boston. My father did not want me to go because he couldn’t support me. He thought that I did not need to go to Boston because I was good enough to be hired from any church. However, I really wanted to study abroad. I wanted to study with various cultural and racial groups. I was eager to experience the life in America. So, I made a decision to go, even though there was no supporter. Two months before my departure to Boston, something bad happened. My mother was crossing the road. It was a green signal for pedestrians. But a car didn’t stop and crashed into my mother. She was almost dead. I prayed everyday for her. Thankfully, she didn’t die. But she had been hospitalized for several months. I thought I couldn’t go to Boston. My mother and I have a really good bond. I thought I needed to be with her. But she encouraged me to go study abroad. She actually pushed me to go. And she got some money from the insurance the car driver had and supported me with that money. Leaving my mother and my family in that way was not easy. With my mother’s support and prayer, I was confident that God wanted me to be introduced into a new world, in which I have been on the journey to find God’s special love and grace for my life.
I left my family but it does not mean that I do not say farewell to my family. In fact, these observations from today’s text do not imply that I do not follow Jesus’ words. The story shows how much can be demanded when one recognizes that Jesus’ call to the kingdom has first priority. Jesus asks us to prioritize, so we remain rooted in God’s love. The kingdom of God has been given to us as a gift. It is a free gift and John Wesley called this gift “prevenience grace.” However, remaining rooted in God’s kingdom is not easy. For it, we need to do our best. We don’t know the people in the text followed Jesus’ commands or not. Possibly, they felt overwhelmed or exhausted. They might think it is too much!
We may also think that it is too much! These days, all of the ministers and scholars agree that this text seems to be unreasonable. I couldn’t stop struggling to find the meaning of this text for us. A sure thing we can see from this text is that Jesus wanted us to have single-mindedness, prioritizing God over everything in our lives.
Being single-minded has to do with the power to focus. If you think that you have this power, then you must thank God for this gift. The ability to focus is ultimately the biggest ally in accomplishing any task. Single-mindedness tells us to “go this way and stick to it.” Rather than the vengeance of Elijah, Jesus chose the way of love and forgiveness. He was always stick to the way.
To be honest, however, it is still true that this text confused me a lot. I know having single-mindedness is very important in our Christian lives. Nevertheless, I want security for me and my family. I want to be an honorable son to my parents, especially to my mother who has prayed and supported me always. I want to be a responsible father for my children and husband for my wife. Also, I want to be a responsible pastor of our church community. But what if Jesus now asks me to follow him and do not look back, then do I have to leave this church? Do I have to leave my family? This is the harsh challenge that we face from today’s scripture. I don’t believe that Jesus wants us to leave church and family like that. So, I understand this text in this way.
I can secure myself and my family. I can be an honorable son to my parents. I can be a responsible father and husband. I understand this is the way we Christians should be. However, there is one thing that we should remember throughout our whole lives. Our house, our family, and our lives are gifts of God to us. In order to keep these gifts in our lives, we should look to God everyday and pray for wisdom and patience. Being single-minded means always looking to God, wherever we go and whatever we do and keeping the faith that God is my God who consoles, protects, and sustains us. I believe this is a way to have single-mindedness before God.
Let me wrap up today’s sermon. All the challenges from the text teach us to be a dependant on God for our whole lives in our past, present, and our future. God wants us to look to God everyday and to seek God’s wisdom and power so we can use them in our lives. Single-mindedness for God is the power to accomplish various tasks such as our personal challenges and our church missions and ministries. I pray that you all could have and keep this single-mindedness in your life.
Let us pray.
Dear God, thank you for your message and presence with us today. And thank you for your single-mindedness toward us. Now help us to recall your words and to remember your love for ourselves and our neighbors. Amen.