The Jews and the Samaritans didn’t like each other. In fact they despised each other and the feud between them was long standing, bitter and violent. It had its so deep roots in racial, political and religious issues. They had rival temples. The Jews looked to Jerusalem and the Samaritans to Mount Gerizim.
So when Jewish pilgrims tried to pass through Samaritan country, on their way to Jerusalem for one of the big festivals the Samaritans were quite likely to attack them
so great was their hatred for each other.
So it isn’t surprising that when Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem and sends messengers to prepare his way in a Samaritan town, that town refuses to welcome him. The disciples, outraged by this rejection of Jesus, want to call down fire on the inhabitants of the town as Elijah had done to his enemies.
But Jesus rebukes them. We don’t know exactly what he said but it may have been along the lines of “that’s not the way we do things now. Forget about Elijah and cries for vengeance. I want you to love your enemies and pray for them”.
We don’t have to look too hard today to see many examples of the kind of feud which existed between the Jews and Samaritans. We know only too well what happens when peoples of different races, religion or politics can’t live together and hate each other for reasons which go back generations.
We see the tragic results of such hatred, the seeking for revenge, for vengeance and we pray that wars may cease and that peace and justice may be established throughout the world. Like the three potential followers of Jesus we also heard about in our Gospel reading, we may want to follow Jesus because he offers a different way with a promise of peace. Like them we’re fired up and excited about the idea of following Jesus, we want to be part of this new movement he’s leading.
Like Jesus we have a sense of urgency about the desperate need to find new ways
to manage our political and international lives. If we do offer to sign up to this new way, we may be taken aback to get the same sort of responses from Jesus as these men do but I think that’s what we would hear.
Jesus warns the first man about the cost of following him. There are no guarantees – following him means constantly being on the move with no certainties of home and shelter. What sort of cost and risk would Jesus warn us about?
At the heart of all the wars between and within nations, at the heart of all religious feuding and division are men and women like us who have feelings and desires that are familiar to us. And we need to address the things in our hearts and minds that create divisions between us and the people around us and can lead, in the end, to war.
It’s not easy living alongside other people. We can be prejudiced against a particular group; jealous of people whose lives seem much easier; we can hold grievances and grudges; and say things like “I’ll never forgive him for that” or “one day I’ll get my own back” or “I won’t speak to her again”. We can close our minds to views other than our own.
What hope is there for peace in the Holy Land or Iraq if we can’t find ways of living peacefully together in families, in neighbourhoods, in the work place or even as church denominations or congregations. Jesus rebukes us as he did his disciples and we hear his voice again:I want you to love your enemies and pray for them, to seek forgiveness and reconciliation, to seek healing for divisions and hurts.
It will cost us. If we take the call of Jesus seriously it will cost us. We will have to be prepared to let go of any desire to punish, any feelings of anger or jealousy, any desire for revenge or a refusal to forgive.
The message of Jesus is not a nice theory for other people to live by – it demands our personal response and it will cost us. We need to think about whether we’re prepared to meet that cost.
If we’re serious about following Jesus we’ll hear from him the same thing the other two men heard:
One was told he mustn’t delay even if his father has just died. Following Jesus comes before something that was considered to be a sacred religious duty of a son for his father. It sounds extreme but perhaps Jesus uses extreme language to say to this man, and to us “nothing, but nothing, must stop you if you intend to follow me not even religious duties should get in the way of your personal relationship with God”.
Our own, personal, inner, spiritual journey matters if we are to grow to be the people God means us to be. So we need to find within us new ways of dealing with conflict and divisions in our lives. We need to put our own discipleship at the top of our priorities. And we need a high level of commitment.
Jesus tells one man that he can’t even go back to his home to say goodbye to his family and friends. It sounds harsh and unreasonable – why can’t he go and say goodbye and then catch up with Jesus later in the day! The message for us is that in responding to the call to follow Jesus, we need to allow the past to stay where it belongs, in the past. If we’re carrying old baggage which weighs us down it will go on doing so unless we put it down and walk away. That putting down of the past
can be a long and painful process taking many years.
Meeting all the costs of discipleship may be a long and painful process. We don’t become the perfect disciples overnight. What matters is that we’re fully committed to the process, that we do keep travelling looking ahead to the future and believing that with every step we’re getting that bit closer to our goal.
It may feel sometimes as if we’re left to struggle on our own but in this communion service we are reminded that God is with us. Jesus promised to be with all who follow him and God promises us the strength and guidance of his Holy Spirit And we journey with other pilgrims who have been captivated by the vision of God’s kingdom.
Looked at in that way the journey becomes an exciting adventure of exploration into the mysterious unknown where we encounter the Living God who wants to transform us, our churches, our communities and our nations.
Following Jesus is costly. But it’s also the way to freedom from the things that create division and conflict within ourselves and between us and other people.
If we can find ways of living peacefully together in families, in neighbourhoods, in the work place and even as church denominations or congregations, maybe there’s hope for peace in the Holy Land and Iraq after all.