General Treatment of the Text of Luke 9:51-62
I. Travel to Jerusalem Narrative
A. Relation between Synoptic Gospels
Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem can be found only in Luke. He has an extensive detailed narrative that no other rival Gospels can match. Matthew has only two verses (19:1-2) that come close to what Luke have (9:51). Mark has one verse that is little look alike. When Mark is given the priority to be the first Gospel, it is obvious that Luke does not follow the Mark but adds his own material including possibly found in Q and L as well.
B. Preview of the Passion of Christ
Luke opens up his narrative with very distinctive language of taken up or ascended to point toward the inevitable death of Jesus on the cross. Mark does not give us anything about this event in his Gospel. I wonder why he did not mention it! In his Gospel, Jesus is presented as the obedient, wonder-worker, servant of God. However, it still remains inquisitive to me that Matthew and Mark both say nothing about the event that can be seen as the pre-passion buildup moment. Jesus’ setting his face toward Jerusalem (8:52-56), the attitude of Samaritans and their refusal to receive Jesus has significant theological weight. Matthew has spent ¼ of his writing on the Passion Week; Mark had 1/3 of his narrative dedicated to the Passion Week. But they do not have one of the events that clearly indicate what awaits Jesus in Jerusalem.
We know how much Matthew likes to talk about Jesus’ healing ministry in his Gospel. So, he has Jesus exorcising and healing people, and a multitude following him in Galilean land. Luke has Jesus sending messengers to Samaritan village that is consistent of messengers going to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. This is the only place in Luke that Samaritans are sketched in a negative tone.
C. Prerequisite Demands and Cost of Following Christ
In relation to Matthew, Luke’s account of three would-be-followers is slightly different. Matthew (8:19:22) mentions a scribe (γραμματεὺς) as a prospective disciple. Luke does not identify the man but simply tells ‘someone’ (τις). Again Matthew likes to suggest the second would-be-follower as another μαθητῶν (8:21), whereas Luke merely mentions him as another man (9:59). Rest of the conversation between Jesus and these would-be-followers are very similar in Matthew (8:20-22) except Luke has three characters conversing with Jesus about following him (9:61). Thus, it leaves us with minor textual discrepancies in Matthew’s and Luke’s account.
II. Word Study – συμπληρόω
Συμπληρόω occurs only three times through out the Bible. Two of them occur in Luke (8:23; 9:51) and one occurs in Acts (2:1). The Septuagint does not contain this word at all. However, the uses of συμπληρόω can be found in the early Christian literatures by Philo and Josephus. Luke chose συμπληρόω to mean, “be swamped” (8:23) and «come to an end» or “be fulfilled” (9:51). The former meaning “be swamped” is used as συνεπληροῦντο (they were being filled or swamped with water). In the latter uses, συμπληροῦσθαι (were approaching or drew near) (9:51) gives the general idea of coming to the end of a particular period of time or fulfillment. In other words, God’s plan is going to be revealed and be actualized soon.
III. Treatment of Context
A. Jesus’ Messianic Manifestation
Prior to rejection from Samaritans, Luke has feeding of five thousands, series of exorcism, the great confession of Peter, Jesus’ prediction of his death and resurrection, and his transfiguration narratives. All these narratives serve one purpose that confirms Jesus is who he claimed to be. He is the very Son of God. Those were the messianic acts that validate Jesus’ claims. At the meantime, Jesus is also trying to teach the disciples what is awaiting for them in Jerusalem. The reason for Samaritan’s refusal to receive Jesus and his disciples is because he set his face toward Jerusalem. The correlation between the language of taken up and set his face toward Jerusalem can help readers comprehend the Lucan Christology. They tell us that Jesus is going to be taken up or he is ascending to heaven. In order to actualize this great thing to happen, he has to go to Jerusalem. In the grand scheme of God’s salvific work, Jesus who just showed his disciples and people around Galilee that he is the deliverer now has to receive a horrendous death.
B. Jesus’ Humiliating Rejection
Here comes the Lord of the heavens and the earth wanting to go Samaritan village. However, Samaritans did not show any interest to host Jesus and his disciples. Their political prejudice against Jews clearly overrule their good modest practice of showing great hospitality to the guest. Jesus, in different occasions, was received warmly. This time, however, was the different setting that overshadowed the previous reports of them becoming very positive toward Jesus. They did not like Jesus’ idea of traveling to Jerusalem. It is understood that Jesus is certainly going to worship in the Jerusalem Temple. This one fact changed their hearts, because Samaritans believed that the true God of Israel must be worship in their land, Mount Gerizim.
C. Enhanced Preview – Rejection and Humiliation
The turning down of Jesus’ messengers request from Samaritans is humiliating. No ancient people would turn down any guest’s request for food and lodge as long as they have. This provoked two brothers – John and James. Samaritans’ antagonistic attitude toward Jesus can be compared of the one in Nazareth where his own people rejected him. In terms of humiliation, the settings are different but the truth is, in both occasions, they humiliated Jesus. While reading this narrative, our interpretation of Greek verb ἐδέξαντο can give us very different picture of what really happened there. This root form of this verb simply means, «to receive» or «to welcome,» or «to extend hospitality.» If this is the case, the text should be read, they received him not, instead of they rejected or refused to receive him. Luke could have used ἀποδοκιμάζω (to reject) to communicate the narrative, that was the ever the case. The passive form of δέχομαι is translated into active form. This gives the whole new interpretation that makes Samaritans actively rejecting Jesus.
On the other hand, if we go with majority of the scholars who turned the passive form of δέχομαι to active form in their translation, the narrative will point to Samaritans actively rejecting Jesus because they did not like Jesus going to Jerusalem. Either way we translate this sentence, what it does not change is the fact that Jesus was denied to minister them. He was not received in Samaria. This becomes the reality for all who associate themselves with Jesus Christ shall face rejection and humiliation, not only in the past but it will remain same in the days to come.
IV. Following Jesus Cost High Price
Knowing what is going to happen to him, Jesus was so adamant to go to Jerusalem and face the cruel fate. His impeccable character of resoluteness and uncompromising commitment are the lessons for his disciples. At this point, the disciples had no idea what is going to happen. Still this is going to be the reminder for them what it means to follow Jesus. Following Christ comes with a high price. The prerequisite demands of following Christ can make people nervous. He demands unswerving commitment, love for God, and passion for his mission. Nothing comes before these qualifications.
The very first step to follow him is to reject self. This idea decentralizes yourself and Christ becomes the center of your life. He reigns over all. He is in the driving seat now. Jesus is interested in wholehearted commitment – an absolute surrender.
In order to surrender self to God, our ego must be put to death. The portrait of carrying ones own cross is the constant reminder that we might end up with same fate as Jesus had. Rejection and humiliation becomes a part of our lives. Next, no duties or responsibilities can substitute God’s commandment. Obedience to his commandment shows the level of our commitment to God. Merely physical following Christ cannot be counted as disciple. They can be followers just as more than five thousand followed Jesus during those days when he fed them in the deserts of Israel. But when it mattered the most in the night when he was betrayed and flogged and crucified later, there was hardly anyone who was with him. Therefore, following Christ require commitment that comes with high price.
- Institution of the Lord’s Supper and the Upper Room Discourse (cafn.us)
- The Gospel of Luke: Different than Other Two Synoptic Gospels (cafn.us)