Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

Luke 9.51-62
Proper 8 - Year C

Other texts:

9:51 begins a new section of Luke. From this point on, it is clear that Jesus has "set his face to go to Jerusalem" (v. 51). However, he will not arrive there until 19:28.

Luke no longer follows Mark's outline in this journey section. A majority of the events are not found in Mark -- coming either from Q (24 stories) or from Luke's own source (25 stories).

Our lessons for the next 19 weeks come from these chapters in Luke. There seems to be no agreement among scholars about a logical, sequential order of events in this section. This leads me to think that there isn't any logical, sequential order of events! Rather, it seems that the stories are mostly "episodic." That is, episodes -- frequently unrelated to each other -- happen while Jesus is on his "exodus" (the Gk word translated "departure" in 9:31) to Jerusalem. Sometimes the larger context will help in understanding a passage, but many times it doesn't help. In spite of Jesus' meanderings within these chapters, we are often reminded that Jerusalem is ahead of him (9:51, 53, 13:22, 33; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11; 19:28).

In the first seven verses of our text, the Greek word poreuomai occurs five times -- although it is translated different ways in the NRSV. It is a word that means "to move, to go, to journey." A translation of the portions of the verses where the word occurs:

In addition, the word aperchomai meaning "to go, to depart," occurs three times:

There is a lot of movement in these verses, but some going/journeying is proper, some is not. Just going, being active, moving in some direction may not always be good. Knowing where our efforts are leading is important.

Practically speaking, when I was in the process of putting together a group to look at our education program. I thought that before trying to create a structure for teaching youth and adults, we first needed to define our goal(s). Where do we hope to end up? What are the purposes we have for offering Christian education? Once we are clear about where we are heading, then we figure out the steps to get there. Should we have "Sunday" school on Sunday morning? Would an evening during a weekday be better for our purposes?

We have the phrase, "Spinning one's wheels." That indicates exerting a lot of effort but going nowhere.

Our text relates two different scenes on this journey: in the village of the Samaritans (9:51-56) and on the road between villages (9:57-62). The first event is found only in Luke. Matthew (8:18-22) has a version of the second event, but with only the first two "would-be" followers. The third is unique to Luke.


Throughout these verses there are allusions to Elijah. The first is in v. 51 where the noun for "taken up" in v. 51 (analempsis, which only occurs here in the NT) is related to the verb in the LXX (analambano) for Elijah being "taken up" (2 K 2:9, 10, 11). This is also a verb used of Jesus' ascension (Acts 1:2, 11, 22).

Twice Elijah calls down fire from heaven that consumes a captain and his fifty men (2 K 1:10, 12) as James and John want to do.

After being selected, Elisha says to Elijah, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow" (1 K 19:20). It seems as though Elijah permits this farewell. Jesus does not. Note also that the would-be follower who wants to say farewell to his family is unique to Luke.

Jesus is not Elijah. His way is not to return evil for evil, but his instructions to the disciples are to move on when rejected in one town (9:5; 10:19-11). The requirements for following Jesus are more severe than for following Elijah.

The "messengers" go "to make (things/people?) ready (hetoimazo) for him" (v. 52). The same word is used of John the Baptist (1:17, 76; 3:4) who is acting in the "spirit and power of Elijah" (1:17).


Fitzmyer (quoted by Culpepper) points out that rejection at the beginning of Jesus' travel narrative corresponds to the rejection in Nazareth at the beginning of Jesus' ministry (4:16-30). Both of these rejections come soon after the similar events of Jesus' baptism (3:21-22)) and his transfiguration (9:28-36). Green (The Gospel of Luke) suggests that both the people in Nazareth and in the Samaritan villages "rebuff Jesus because they cannot accept his understanding and embodiment of the divine purpose" (p. 405). It is clear that he is heading towards Jerusalem. We know (and so did Luke's readers) what will happen to him there.

Note that in v. 52, the word translated "messengers" is aggelos (usually rendered "angel")! An "angel" is a messenger and sometimes we humans can act as God's "angels," bringing God's message to others.

The purpose of these messengers is to "make ready for him" v. 52. How do they do this? Are they to make the people ready for Jesus' arrival? Are they to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins as JBap did (3:4ff)? Was this intended to parallel John's preparation of the people in Galilee for the appearance of Jesus? Are they to make some place or things ready for Jesus? The word is can refer to preparing a room (22:12) or preparing a meal (17:8; 22:8).

What does it mean "to make things/people ready" for Jesus? How might that question relate to evangelism? to worship services? to holy communion? to ourselves?

I find it interesting that in v. 53 "they do not receive (or welcome) him." It doesn't indicate what their reaction was towards the "messengers." Perhaps by not receiving the messengers they indicated that they were not receiving Jesus.

This word for "receive" (dechomai) was used in 9:5; 10:8 & 10 in reference to receiving the twelve and the 70 as they were sent out by Jesus. When they were not received, their response is to shake the dust off their feet and leave. Our text comes in-between these instructions about the disciples being received or not. Jesus follows a similar pattern. When rejected by this village, he "journeys" on into another village (v. 56).

How might that apply to members "rejecting" a pastor? How might that apply to a lay person's witness being rejected at work or with neighbors? When should the rejectee stay and try harder (or continue to be loving) or move on to another call/person?

There were some Mormon families in Wyoming who told their children that if they hadn't brought their friends into the Mormon Church before high school, they could no longer be friends with them -- and the children obliged. Their witness had failed. They had to move on. I'm not suggesting that this is the way we should witness, but it is a way one group approaches failure to convert.

In 9:48 dechomai is used four times: welcoming a child = welcoming Jesus = welcoming the one who sent Jesus. Perhaps this was played out when the Samaritans were unwilling to welcome the messengers = not welcoming Jesus = not welcoming the Father.

How do we respond to rejection? When is rejecting us the same as rejecting Jesus? Perhaps when it's the gospel -- the good news of God's grace that they are rejecting? When is rejecting us simply a rejection of us?

Why don't they receive Jesus? Culpepper points out (Luke, New Interpreter's Bible)

That a Samaritan village should refuse to receive Jewish pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem was not unusual. Later in the first century, a serious incident that led to the removal of Herod Antipas from office began with a massacre of Jewish pilgrims in Samaria. [footnote: See Josephus Antiquities 20.106-136] [p. 215]

Although rejection between Jews and Samaritians is to be expected, the reason given in this text is "because his face was journeying into Jerusalem" (v. 53). Jesus won't stay with them. He will not become their personal "miracle man." Jesus has another purpose. He will not simply do whatever they want him to do.

An application that I've made from this part of the text (which will tie in with the second part) is that Jesus can't follow two different calls. Jesus won't let being liked or disliked determine his actions. His call from God is to journey to Jerusalem. Neither rejection (nor acceptance) by the Samaritans will change his resolve to go to Jerusalem and face what will happen to him there. It is more important to follow the call of God than to seek to please other people.

Many of us like being liked -- being accepted. Pleasing others so that we are accepted by them is a powerful call in our lives. Or doing things to avoid being rejected or disliked by others is a powerful call in our lives. That is not Jesus' way.

Many of us, like James and John, let revenge motivate our actions. We want to fight evil with evil. We want to get even. We may think that getting even is the right and fair thing to do. As important as this call may be in our lives, it can't be more important than following Jesus. Jesus did not use fire and brimstone to get even or to try and change people. Jesus, rather than rebuking the unwelcoming Samaritans, rebukes his disciples for their desire to destroy them.

Craddock (Luke) writes:

One can almost appreciate the anger of James and John over the refusal of hospitality to Jesus; they are being protective and do not know how to handle rejection. They bring to mind overzealous evangelists of another generation who extended God's grace to the audience and then tossed balls of hellfire at those who refused the offer. Jesus' disciples remember quite well scriptural precedent for calling down heaven's fire (2 Kings 1:9-10), but they have forgotten the recent words of Jesus: when on a mission, accept the hospitality offered you. If none is extended, shake the dust off your feet and move on (9:1-6). Is it not interesting how the mind can grasp and hold those Scriptures when seem to bless our worst behavior and yet cannot retain past the sanctuary door those texts which summon to love, forgiveness, and mercy? [p. 143]

Culpepper offers this reflection:

This episode allows us to study the temptation to use violence to achieve right. Does insult entitle one to do injury? Does being right or having a holy cause justify the use of force of violence? Elijah had called down fire on the Samaritans; could not Jesus' followers do the same? Misunderstanding the identity of the one they followed, the disciples mistakenly though they could achieve his ends by violence. How often have those who claimed to be following Christ repeated the mistake of these early disciples? They had yet to learn that violence begets violence, and that Jesus had come to break the cycle of violence by dying and forgiving rather than by killing and exacting vengeance. [p. 216]

Or, to repeat a statement from Jonathan Swift in 1711: "They have just enough religion to hate, but not enough to love one another."

How might this relate to our present situation in Iraq? or our "war against terrorism"? As I write this, I realize that "terror" is not what the terrorists feel, it's what they want us to feel. I doubt that we will ever be able to bring an end to actions that make us feel fear.


The first person states: "I will follow you wherever you go." We know where Jesus is going. Jesus is on his journey to Jerusalem. We are reminded of this in the first part of the verse: "As they were journeying on the way...." Would the person be as willing to follow if he knew Jesus' destination?

Jesus indicates that personal pleasure is not part of his travels. Jesus' comments imply that the follower will be like the leader. If Jesus has no place to lay his head, his followers shouldn't expect anything better.

I'm also becoming more and more convinced that council members (including the pastor(s)) shouldn't expect congregational members to do more than the leaders. If council members aren't attending worship every week, why should they expect members to be regular attenders? If the leaders aren't generous in their stewardship, why should they expect members to be generous? If the pastor and leaders are not willing to live a disciplined life, why should they expect the members to live such lives?

A friend of mine owns a small "soda bar and grill." (She became a friend because I eat there quite often.) I have seen her do every job in that establishment. She cashiers. She cooks. She bakes. She waits on tables. She busses tables. She manages. She orders food and supplies. She does what needs to be done. She works hard -- and he expects hard work from her employees. They know that she has done and will do everything (and more) that she asks them to do.

Jesus' answer also indicates his dependency on others for bed and board. Perhaps there were more benevolent people back then, but when I travel, I want to make sure that I have enough money (or credit cards) to take care of myself and my family. Frequently we will even take our own pillows to make sure we will sleep comfortably.

Have we become too used to personal comforts that we might find it difficult to follow Jesus? What if we asked council members (as well as the whole congregation) to (1) pray frequently, (2) study scriptures diligently, (3) worship regularly (in their own or another congregation), (4) invite others often, (5) pass on the faith, (6) serve for the sake of others, and (7) give freely of time, talents, and resources. These are the seven "faith practices" that the ELCA has promoted recently.

A similar "six marks of discipleship" come from Power Surge, by Michael Foss. In addition, he stresses the need for a congregation's leaders to practice these marks of discipleship. Only as disciples are we able to make new disciples. He notes that the great commission does not tell us to go and make members.

Are we willing to follow a disciplined life for the sake of our own spiritual journey and for the good of our congregations? Or, are we too conditioned to follow our own (usually selfish) paths?

With the second person, it is Jesus who asks him to follow (akoloutheo). It is the same word used in vv. 57 & 61 when the two others say that they will follow Jesus. Jesus' statement in v. 59 is exactly the same as he uttered to Levi in 5:27, "Follow me." Levi leaves everything and follows. This man can't.

The duty to bury one's father was part of obeying the commandment, "Honor your father and mother." Joseph takes a leave from the Pharaoh so that he can bury his father back in Canaan (Gen 50:1-7). Tobit shows his faithfulness by burying the dead (Tob 1:16-20). The importance of a son burying his father and mother is illustrated by Tobias, Tobit's son (Tob 4:3; 6:15).

There have been some arguments that the father was not yet dead, that the son wanted to stay at home until he could fulfill this obligation. There are no indications of this in the text.

How can the dead bury their own dead? One answer is that it is metaphorical. "Let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead."

Green (The Gospel of Luke) offers another possibility.

The practice of primary burial (in which the corpse is placed in a sealed tomb) followed by secondary burial (following a twelve-month period of decomposition the bones were collected and reburied in an ossuary or "bone box") is well attested, with the additional twelve months between burial and reburial providing for the completion of the work of mourning. According to this reckoning, Jesus' proverbial saying would refer to the physically dead in both instances: "Let those already dead in the family tomb rebury their own dead." In either case, Jesus' disrespect for such a venerable practice rooted in OT law is matched only by the authority he manifests by asserting the priority of the claims of discipleship in the kingdom of God. [pp. 408-9]

The third person, like the first says that he will follow Jesus. Like the second person, he asks for permission (epitrepo -- "let" in vv. 59 & 61) to do something first. In some ways these two would-be followers want to place conditions on their following. "I will follow you, but first...."

This third person is asking no more than what Elisha asked of Elijah (1 K 19:20). Jesus demands more of his followers than Elijah did.

Culpepper suggests that these demands are so harsh "that one is tempted to place these sayings in the category of Semitic hyperboles that dramatize a point but are not meant to be taken literally; 'If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away' (Matt 5:29 NRSV)."

I would agree. It is the abusive cult groups that don't let adherents say good-bye to parents before being kept in seclusion from the outside world. In some cases even turning children against their parents.

However, I think that these texts indicate that neither family nor religious nor social nor business obligations or even patriotism on a Fourth of July weekend no matter how good they are or mandatory can stand in the way of following Jesus. In how many testimonies does the convert talk about all the evil things that were left behind in order to follow Jesus. Jesus also demands that we give up the very best things in our lives to follow him. Craddock (Luke, Interpretation Commentaries) says it well:

The radicality of Jesus' words lies in his claim to priority over the best, not the worst, of human relationships. Jesus never said to choose him over the devil but to choose him over the family. And the remarkable thing is that those who have done so have been freed from possession and worship of family and have found the distance necessary to love them. [p. 144]

I mentioned in the first part about responding to different calls -- Jesus: the call of God to go to Jerusalem vs. the call of the Samaritans (perhaps) to stay and take care of them. James and John: the call for revenge against the Samaritans vs. Jesus' call to leave the unreceptive people and move on to another town. There is the call of self-pleasures vs. the call to follow Jesus. There is the call of family obligations vs. the call to follow Jesus. There is the call of socially accepted actions vs. the call to follow Jesus. There is the call of being good citizens which may conflict with the call to follow Jesus. If burying one's parents was considered obeying the commandment to honor them, then we also have the call of the Law vs. the call to follow Jesus.

Frankly, none of us are going to make the cut to follow Jesus. Our desires for soft pillows and comfortable beds, for fulfilling family and social obligations, our patriotism will frequently have higher priorities than following Jesus -- especially following Jesus all the way to Jerusalem and the cross. We might be willing to give up some evils in our lives to follow Jesus, but to give up all these good things -- to put them as a lower priority than Jesus? That is radical discipleship, but Paul writes about doing this in Phil 3:4-11. He considers all his past, good, religious deeds as "rubbish".

Perhaps the image of putting one's hand to the plow and not looking back (or driving forward in a car while looking out the back window) refers to looking back both at all the very good things in our lives (and in a congregation's life), like family and friends, comforts and satisfactions, "successful" programs; but also all the sins in our lives, which have been forgiven by Christ. We can neither wallow in our past sins nor boast of our past successes if we are to be fit for the kingdom of God.

The opposite of looking back is to look ahead. I have found it quite difficult to have congregations "look ahead." They seem more content to look at just where they are (e.g., the bills that have arrived this month) or where they used to be (e.g., "the good ol' days"), rather than where they might be -- a vision of where God would have them go and then heading towards that goal.

I once served a congregation that celebrated their centennial while I was there. During my years there, another Lutheran mission was started. In about five years, their worship attendance was larger than ours. They had built a brand new building -- which they had to add on to three years later. A major difference I noted between the two congregations was that ours looked back to what they used to be. They looked forward to what they were going to be.

Soon after coming to my present congregation, they celebrated an anniversary I became aware, especially as a newer member of the church, that while I can celebrate their past, I can never be part of that past. I cannot join the past. I can only join and be part of the present and future of the congregation. That is true for any new member; they can listen to the stories the older members tell about the past, but they are not their personal stories. Those events no longer exist. New members can only join what is and what will be.

The word for "back" (opiso) is used in terms of following after Jesus (9:23; 14:27). If one is to follow Jesus -- that requires looking ahead because that's where Jesus is.

Frequently, I think, that the greatest threat to the gospel is "the good" not "the evil." When we recognize "the evil" in our lives, we usually want to get rid of it. However, when we become content with "the good" -- the good in our lives and in our congregations -- we may fail to follow Jesus and seek what is "the best."

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901