Would there be enough evidence to convict you as a Christian? – 13th Sunday in ordinary time – Lk 9: 51-62
The journey to Jerusalem will not be free of trials either for Jesus or the Christian. We are told that Jesus “set His face to go to Jerusalem” and since the Samaritans and Jews could never know a day without hatred for each other, Jesus who in this Gospel has come for all also faces rejection from all. Yet to the wrathful thoughts of revenge that pass by the lips of the ‘sons of thunder’ against the Samaritans, James and John find themselves rebuked by Jesus for their behaviour.
Jesus sets upon himself to teach the twelve what the cost of discipleship entails. He does this with the help of three hyperbolic proverbs (Chreiae or brief sayings in Greek). The function of a proverb is to help people make sense out of life, to show how the world coheres, e.g., spare the rod and spoil the child. In this pericope Jesus uses HYPERBOLE or EXAGGERATION to jolt the listeners out of their staid ways of ordering their universe and to view existence from an entirely new angle, that of discipleship in response to the kingdom of God as preached by Jesus. (JBC)
Many have tried to understand these three proverbs literally and treated them as though they must be lived exactly as said by Jesus. To do that would be foolishness, to say the least, for the intention of Jesus is clear; that nothing should come in the way of a disciple once he or she has said her yes to the kingdom.
There are three such teaching on discipleship in today’s pericope. These are in response to two disciples who wish to follow Jesus and ask Him to admit them but they also express a caveat to their desire to follow Jesus. The third person was invited by Jesus to follow Him (verse 59) and this man too desired to settle his affairs before making such a decision. All three proverbs uttered by Jesus in response to such conditional following and commitment to the kingdom come from proverbs based on the ‘home’ or ‘family’.
To give you an example that these proverbs are to be taken for what they mean and not literally we can look at the third proverb. Jesus says, “no one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.” You can’t approach this proverb with the modern tractor in mind but ought to imagine a very light Palestinian plough which was guided by one hand while the other hand drove the unruly oxen. This primitive kind of plough needs dexterity and concentrated attention. If the ploughman looks around, the new furrow he cuts in the ground becomes crooked. It’s something akin to texting and driving! So also the follower of the kingdom must give the kingdom his total attention.
From this we can see how the verses jar us into asking, “How are our lives different as followers of Jesus than what they might have been otherwise?” I remember a bumper sticker asking, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Discipleship means living in ways we might not otherwise live. For Jesus, discipleship was HIS WAY or the HIGH WAY.