“Fit for the Kingdom”
(From Luke 9: 51-62)
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When 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?”But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And 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.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “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.”
Whenever my grandfather was asked how he was doing, he would respond “I’m as fit as a fiddle!” This week, I decided to investigate the origin of this statement, as well as its meaning. I expected this information to be quite simple and straightforward. Like many of our life endeavors, as it turns out, it was not. So, here is what my research revealed. A fiddle and a violin refer to the same four stringed instrument. In the classical music circle, this instrument is known as the violin; and in the Jazz/Country music genres it is referred to as a fiddle. Although the term fit has come to be associated with one’s being in a state of physical wellness, its original meaning was understood as appropriate or well suited for a particular purpose. A fiddle is “fit” if it is well-tuned and appropriate for the song being played. Looking back at my grandfather, who by the way was a very talented self-taught fiddler, both definitions hold significant meaning. He maintained good health well into his 80s, and he was always up for any task that could use another pair of hands. He was truly a man of whom it could be said that he was “as fit as a fiddle”!
In our gospel lesson for this morning taken from Luke Chapter 9, Jesus discussed the issue of being fit for the kingdom of God with his Disciples and some followers. This lesson comes to us in 2 parts. The first section of the text discusses Jesus’ firm resolve to go to Jerusalem, the place where Jesus knew that suffering and death awaited him. The scriptures inform us that his determination to head on to Jerusalem was so strong that the villagers of the Samaritan town he and the Disciples planned to stop in for a while would not receive them. They were forced to move on toward another village.
The second section of today’s lesson deals with Jesus’ encounters along the journey to the next village. The meaning of this second text may not be readily apparent as when we first read it. It may even seem that Jesus was being a bit harsh to those he encountered traveling along that road. But, when we read and comprehend the second text’s storyline within the greater scheme of the events within our total gospel lesson for today, both Jesus’ meaning and the motivation behind his discussions with those he encountered become much clearer to us. So, let us delve deeper into our gospel lesson for today and uncover the precious gems of kingdom knowledge it has to offer.
We will recall that Jesus and his Disciples were walking on to another town because they were not welcomed in the Samaritan village they had entered. Learning that Jesus was headed toward Jerusalem, the Samaritans refused to welcome him for a brief stay among them. Jesus was bound and determined to head on toward Jerusalem, and to face the peril and death that would await him once he arrived there. So, off they headed for the next town along their journey to Jerusalem. As they were traveling, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied to this person, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have their nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” As they traveled further down the road, Jesus said to another person, “Follow me.” This person replied to Jesus, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” “Jesus replied to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Jesus then encountered another person along the road. This person said to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” To this man Jesus made the bold statement, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
At first glance, we seem to have some confusing events to unfold. Jesus told one person that asked to follow him that he (Jesus), had no place to lay his head-to call home. Yet, soon after, Jesus calls two others to follow him. These say they will follow, but first they have other duties they need to perform, other obligations to complete before they are able to follow Jesus. Hearing these excuses, Jesus tells one man to “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” To the other Jesus says that if he must first go home to say farewell to the members of his household, then he is not fit for the kingdom of God.” “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God,” Jesus told him. How can these things be? How do we make some sense of the words Jesus spoke to these people, whose responses to him seem so rational and reasonable?
First, we must recognize that Jesus was a great reader of people, and of the true motives behind their words and actions. We know that Jesus, dear friends, was on a mission; a difficult and dangerous mission to be God’s instrument of sacrificial love for the salvation of the world. True Discipleship carries risk, and it requires a Disciple’s deep and abiding commitment to follow Jesus wherever the road may lead—even when it is into the perils of Jerusalem. These folks that Jesus encountered along the road did not present themselves with a deep and abiding desire to follow Jesus in spite of all the risks that following him might entail. Instead, Jesus could perceive the inner fear and doubt that drove some people to make excuses to him, and another person to hesitate to follow him if the way forward was not comfortable, smooth and clear. Although the statements and excuses that were made seemed reasonable and sincere, they betrayed the inner truth Jesus could see—these folks were not prepared to be accountable and committed to Jesus more than to their own worldly needs, concerns and comforts. They were not willing to deny themselves in order to take up whatever cross was needful in order to follow Jesus. Following Jesus was not their main focus and priority; and so they made quick excuses about other commitments they needed to honor ahead of making a firm commitment to follow him. Jesus lamented the sad truth that these folks were so deeply tied to their own worldly lives and activities. He could perceive that they would not be faithful and accountable Disciples, no matter how sincere their excuses sounded. They were not prepared for a life that included self-denial and undertaking whatever tasks would be needed to follow Jesus in building God’s kingdom. Thus, they were not “fit” for the kingdom.
The scriptures tell us that the harvest is plenty but the laborers are few; for many are called and few are willing to sacrifice of themselves for the sake of Jesus and his kingdom. The world is enticing, and its values promote personal gain. I am convicted today of my own rational, reasonable, and even timely excuses I can sometimes dream up for putting off taking up my cross and bearing burdens for my faith that are not of my own making or choosing. But that is what it means to truly follow Jesus. We trust what we cannot see, and seek the promise of things that are yet to come. In faith, we believe what seems unbelievable; for with God nothing is impossible. We are called by Jesus to follow him for a purpose, one that is appropriate for the very time and place in which we are living. We journey, not alone, but together with one another as we follow Christ Jesus on a mission to build God’s kingdom here on earth. Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is time for us to lay aside excuses, and to prepare our body, mind, soul and spirit to commit to follow Jesus wherever that journey may lead us. Dying to our own stubborn and selfish ways of living, we rise with Christ into a marvelous new life that is rich with kingdom-building opportunities: opportunities to feed the hungry, to heal the sick and infirmed, comfort the care-worn, and to be the makers and keepers of peace with justice for all of God’s people—not just those who look, act and believe like us. Our world is sorely in need of our love and care. The harvest is plenty, if only we are willing become the laborers on a mission to follow Christ Jesus. If we sincerely commit ourselves to journeying with Jesus in ministry and mission to our world, then we will truly be fit for the kingdom of God. Amen.