Text Study for Luke 9:51-62 (Part Four)

Researchers call it the “Last Place Aversion.” Why do people those near the bottom of any social status pyramid treat those beneath them badly? Why do people in low-income groups vote against their self-interest and support systems of inequality? Philosophers and historians have known about this human tendency for centuries. But the explanations offered have not been very convincing.

Until recently. In 2014 researchers[i] suggested that we humans really hate being in “last place.” We will even act against our self-interest if that keeps us out of the bottom of the heap. Nothing makes us happier than having a group or class to look down on. As we move up in status, last place anxiety decreases. As we move down in status, it increases.

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In one set of experiments, people were given random dollar amounts. Then the experimenters showed them where they landed on the dollar hierarchy. Each subject then chose one of two strategies. One strategy gives the player more money as almost a sure thing. The other strategy is higher risk but gives the player the chance to move up in the hierarchy.

All the players chose the almost sure thing except for the bottom two. The last-place player wants to move up. The second-to-the-last place player wants to keep from moving down. Both players are willing to tolerate higher risk than average. The one hates being in last place. The other hates the thought of being in last place.

Last place aversion.

Another experiment is a money-transfer game. The players get random amounts of money. Each player has one dollar less than the next highest and one dollar more than the next lowest. Everyone knows their place on the money ladder. Players receive two dollars more. Each player has to give their extra two dollars either to the person directly above them or directly below them on the money ladder.

If I give the two dollars to the person above me, that person will move higher on the ladder (except for the top person). If I give two dollars to the person below me, I fall one place on the ladder. On average, players offer up or down at about the same rate regardless of position.

That’s true except for one person on the ladder. Can you guess which one? That’s right. The second-to-the-last person almost never gives two dollars to the last place person.

Last place aversion.

Of course, you might say, those are games played by undergraduates in psychology programs. That wouldn’t happen in the real world, would it? Think about people in favor of or against raising the minimum wage. The Pew Research Center did surveys to see which lower income group was more likely to oppose increasing the minimum wage. Which group do you imagine was more likely to oppose that increase? You guessed it. Those people being paid just above minimum wage.

Last place aversion.

Well, Pastor, you may say, that’s mildly interesting. But what’s it got to do with anything here today? I’m so glad you asked!

Jesus turns decisively toward Jerusalem in Luke 9:51. On the way, Jesus and his entourage pass through Samaria. Samaria was the territory between Jesus’ homeland of Galilee in the north and Judea, the location of Jerusalem in the south. Jews regarded the Samaritans as half-breed heretics and traitors. They intermarried with conquerors over the centuries. And they worshiped at a temple on Mt. Gerizim rather than in Jerusalem.

The Samaritans were regarded by many Jews as the lowest of the low. The urgency of Jesus’ mission is underscored by the fact that he passes through Samaria.

It was ancient tradition that local folks, regardless of their background, would offer hospitality to travelers. In the first village they come across, Jesus’ followers are rejected and refused.

James and John regard the rebuff as the highest possible insult. I can imagine something like this going through their minds. “We may be hicks from the Galilean boonies and backwaters. But at least we’re not those damned Samaritans!” I’m not swearing here. At least some Jews were sure that Samaritans were cursed by God.

Now we get to one of the awful parts of the text. “Lord,” James and John ask, “do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” We don’t have to put up with such treatment from those low-lifes. If we do, those bottom feeders will be one up on us. And we can’t let that happen.

Last place aversion.

That psychological reality is written into the fabric of the New Testament. You may not know it, but it is written into the fabric of American history as well.

In 1675 Nathaniel Bacon led a rebellion against wealthy landowners in the colony of Virginia. Late in the rebellion, as things weren’t going well, Bacon offered the promise of freedom to white and black indentured servants and Native Americans if they would fight on his side. More than seventy men of all colors took him up on the promise.

In the end, Bacon’s forces lost, and Bacon died from typhus fever. But the wealthy white men learned a powerful lesson. If all the folks at the bottom ever joined forces, they could overthrow the ladder of privilege that kept them all in their place.

The wealthy folks separated out the poor whites from the Blacks and Native Americans. They offered the poor whites legal, economic, and social privileges. The price of those privileges was cooperation in enslaving the Blacks and the Native Americans.

The historian, James Rice, described the situation like this. The alliance of rich and poor Whites “forced Indians and Africans to shoulder the burden of resolving the tensions and divisions within white colonial society.”[ii] Clyde Ford says that “liberty and equality are possible for the privileged few, because they are denied to a great many, based on the color of one’s skin. That fundamental equation,” Ford concludes, “is as true today as it was in the late seventeenth century.”[iii]

Last place aversion.

This is very odd for us who follow Jesus. Just a few verses before our text, the disciples argue about which one of them was the greatest. They may all have felt superior to the accursed Samaritans, but there was still the matter of their internal pecking order.

Jesus puts a child on the seat beside him. “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me,” Jesus tells the disputing disciples in Luke 9:48, “and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.”

For the least among you is the greatest. We’re Last Place Lovers. That’s the discipleship standard. And it’s one of the things that makes us Jesus followers so weird. But how in the world can it be true?

If there’s anything we can say about the God we meet in Jesus, it’s this. You are first in God’s heart. So am I. So is every bit of this beloved Creation. There’s no point in trying to protect my place in the Kingdom of God. Jesus already has that covered.

That’s the good news for today. Last Place Aversion is a waste of time. We’re Last Place Lovers, because we’re all first place with God. So, James and John, the only heavenly fire you’ll get is the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. That fire calls people of every time and place into God’s beloved family. And in that family, everyone is in first place.

What does this mean for us? I’ll make a few brief suggestions. When I’m worried about my spot on the ladder, I’m getting this Jesus-following thing wrong. The Spirit helps me let go of that worry every day.

Whenever we get the chance to dismantle and demolish human hierarchies, we Jesus followers should be part of that work. These are the things that Paul calls the works of the flesh in Galatians 5. I’m thinking about racism, misogyny, heterosexism, classism, ageism, and ableism for starters. We live in a time when some folks want to put all the old hierarchies back in place. So, we’ve got our work cut out for us.

Whenever I get the chance to lift up anyone in a last place, I need to jump at the chance. That’s what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit. I pray that you and I can be bear that fruit fully and daily. Amen.

[i] “LAST-PLACE AVERSION”: EVIDENCE AND REDISTRIBUTIVE IMPLICATIONS. Ilyana Kuziemko Ryan W. Buell Taly Reich Michael I. Norton. Working Paper 17234. http://www.nber.org/papers/w17234. NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138 July 2011.

[ii] Quoted in Clyde W. Ford, Of Blood and Sweat, page 117.

[iii] Ibid.

Text Study for Luke 9:51-62 (Part Three)

The Twelve carried with them the assumptions, perceptions, and reactions of men raised and socialized in an honor/shame culture. The evidence is close at hand to our text. Malina and Rohrbaugh note, concerning Luke 9:46-50, that “A squabble over honor status would be typical within any ancient Mediterranean grouping” (page 344). The wrangling over who’s the top banana disciple is certainly a prime example of a squabble over honor status.

It’s worth reviewing the highlights of honor-shame societies from Malina and Rohrbaugh’s work. They contrast such societies to the more “guilt-oriented” Western cultures, although I have doubts about that contrast. Nonetheless, “Honor can be understood as the status one claims in the community together with the all-important recognition of that claim by others” (page 310). Such honor is either ascribed or acquired. In Luke 9, the disciples are wrestling with relative gradations of ascribed honor, since they all have been labelled as part of the Twelve.

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In our text for Sunday, honor challenges and insults abound. Malina and Rohrbaugh suggest that Samaritans perceive an honor offense because Jesus is merely passing through. His face is set toward Jerusalem. “Of course the Samaritans perceive this as a slight,” Malina and Rohrbaugh argue, “while James and John view such rejection of hospitality as insulting; hence their desire to get satisfaction by ‘commanding fire from heaven’ as Elijah did…” (page 345).

It should be clear that the system is working as designed. The Twelve are particularly primed to react to such an insult, given the conversation they’ve been having. They are tightly focused on their status and the honor such status provides them. That honor is tied to the status of their master. Jesus has been deeply disrespected, and such an insult cannot pass unanswered. The response of the disciples, in this system, is not only plausible but required.

Therefore, the surprising response comes, not from James and John, but from Jesus. Life in the Kin(g)dom of God will be anything but business as usual.

I noted earlier that I’m not so sure about the sociological differences between modern, Western societies and the honor/shame culture of the first-century Mediterranean. Indeed, it appears to me that an honor/shame culture has been driving the cultural and political life of American Evangelicalism for two centuries. I think there’s no question that the culture of the antebellum South was an honor/shame culture, with the wealthy White male at the pinnacle of the social pyramid. The defense of White womanhood, the celebration of chivalry, the culture of dueling, and the need for Black people to make up the base of the pyramid are all signs of that culture.

This matters to me because that’s the culture which came out of the Civil War and embraced the mythology of the Lost Cause. That mythology has undergirded White Evangelical culture since the end of the Civil War and has taken firm control of significant parts of the larger American social dynamic, especially the conservative Evangelical Christian part of that social dynamic.

For a full and clear treatment of this culture and its power in American culture and politics, I would encourage you to read (and re-read) Kristin Kobes DuMez’s book, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. “Generations of evangelicals learned to be afraid of communists, feminists, liberals, secular humanists, ‘the homosexuals,’ the United Nations, the government, Muslims, and immigrants—and they were primed to respond to those fears by looking to a strong man to rescue them from danger, a man who embodied a God-given, testosterone-driven masculinity” (page 13). Of course, that “strong man” was Donald Trump.

DuMez notes that many early-twentieth century Christians thought they had a masculinity problem. They were concerned that Victorian Christianity had made Christian men too soft and even feminized. This concern was echoed in the larger culture through the rhetoric of men such as President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt had suffered shame as a young man for being a weakling, a fancy-pants fop, and a high-voiced girl. He reinvented himself as a cowboy, an paragon of male rugged individualism, and a combatant in the battles of life. One only has to recall Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech to capture the full flavor of his ideology.

This “crisis of Christian manhood” followed American evangelicalism throughout the twentieth century and continues in the twenty-first. I was taken, for example, by many things that John Eldredge had to say in Wild at Heart. The call to a more authentic masculinity in the face of post-industrial existence resonated with me and many of the men in my life. In the end, however, this perspective always ended in violence, subordination of women, and some honor-based classist and racist hierarchy. Anxieties about the honor of men always risk the call for a fiery end to one’s enemies. For Eldredge, the real model of a Christian man was not Jesus but rather William Wallace (as portrayed by Mel Gibson).

If anything, this rhetoric has gotten far worse and far more violent. It’s no accident that the attention of right-wing domestic terrorists has turned toward the transgender community. The anxiety is always about protecting White Male privilege, power, position, and property. Anything that might complicate that status is “the enemy.” In the 1990’s, the attention was directed toward the gay community more generally. The outcome of that attention was events like the torture and assassination of Matthew Shepherd. The White Male Christian rage expressed then and now is a direct result of the worship of privilege, power, position, and property claimed as the sole possessions of White Christian men.

Let’s be clear, then, that Jesus rejects this understanding of real “honor and shame.” As noted in a previous post, the desire of James and John to punish the Samaritans with a fiery death is not an honorable desire. It is, rather, demonic and receives Jesus’ rebuke. The desire for White male Christian power in our time and space is similarly demonic and requires a similar rebuke. This is not “bringing politics into the pulpit.” Rather, I think we need to respond to claims being made in the culture that coopt and pervert the Christian gospel for the sake of White Christian Male Nationalism.

The disciples cannot perceive the meaning of Jesus’ betrayal and death. We read that in the verses before our text. Nor can many people in our own time. When a nationally-known politician jokes that Jesus didn’t have enough AR-15 assault rifles to “keep his government from killing him,” we know that Christian thinking has gone off the tracks and is completely derailed. I can’t read our text without having this conversation in my head. I’m not quite sure yet how I want to have it in the message I will give. But I know that I can’t avoid the topic.

The “kick ass and take names” approach to following Jesus will get us a rebuke from Jesus and nothing more. The view that following Jesus is one lifestyle option among many on our busy calendar (see Luke 9:57-62) will get us an invitation from Jesus to think this whole thing over again. Neither of these responses is what it means to be a Jesus follower. As a disciple I am called to bear the full cost of Jesus-following in my life and to refuse the temptation to offload some or all of that cost onto others.

I can’t find a lot of “good news” in this particular gospel text. I would like to think that Paul can bail me out in the second reading from Galatians 5, but I’m not sure that’s much help either. I don’t know about you, but I have to sit with this one for a while yet.

References and Resources

Bruce Malina; Richard L. Rohrbaugh. Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. Kindle Edition.

Kobes Du Mez, Kristin. Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. Liveright. Kindle Edition.

Text Study for Luke 9:51-62 (Part Two)

When I worked with churches in conflict, I sometimes asked a pointed question. “Would you rather,” I would say with some drama, “be right or be in relationship?” For a while, I thought the question was a mic drop sort of query. Then I realized that I was dealing with people who were more honest than I liked. The “right answer” for Christians (as I was assuming) is that it’s more important to be in relationship than to be right. Unity in the Body of Christ is a primary value in the New Testament witness. Some of my conversation partners, however, didn’t see it that way.

“Well, Pastor,” some replied, “of course I’d rather be right. What’s the point, after all,” they continued, “of having a relationship with someone who’s wrong and simply won’t admit it?” I learned that if someone was at that point in a church conflict, the chances that the sides would find common ground and reconciliation were vanishingly small. The desire to be “right” took on existential importance and urgency, sometimes leading to verbal, institutional, and even physical violence.

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The first paragraph in our text for Sunday has some terrifying dialogue in it. “When the fulfillment of the days had come for his being taken up,” we read in Luke 9:51-52, “and he fixed his face to go into Jerusalem, he also sent messengers before his face” (my translation). Here we begin the “Lukan travelogue,” the narrative of the way of discipleship that leads from Galilee to the cross in the Holy City. This is not merely a “road” as the NRSV would have it in verse 57. This is “the way” that Jesus has firmly resolved to take.

The lectionary selection and headings in many translations tie together the declaration of purpose in Luke 9:51-52a with the Samaritan refusal in Luke 9:52b-56. However, I think it’s more helpful to see this little section beginning with Luke 9:46. More than that, the declaration of purpose is framed by two discipleship fails, first on the part of John and then on the part of James and John together.

In Luke 9:49-50, we have the Lukan version of the “Unknown Exorcist.” Jesus had commissioned the Twelve in Luke 9:1-6 to go out proclaiming the kingdom and healing. That healing certainly included the exorcism of demons, just as it did for Jesus. It seems that John thought this was a “Jesus” schtick, and they needed to protect their performance rights. “And we hindered him,” John reports to Jesus, “because he is not following us” (Luke 9:49b, my translation and emphasis).

Note what John says here. The unknown exorcist was using Jesus’ name, but he wasn’t following “us.” He wasn’t on the right team, the right side, the in-crowd, the cool kids. He was an outsider who had to be brought to heel. It was more important to be right than to extend the mission of healing in Jesus’ name.

John’s report is a direct response to Jesus’ comments on the interminable “who is the greatest” debate among the disciples. Jesus knows what the argument is — a distraction from all that icky talk about betrayal and a delicious debate about the disciple pecking order. Jesus, therefore, uses the example of welcoming a child in Jesus’ name as a measure of real discipleship. It’s another window into the Lukan “great reversal” theme.

“And as John answered,” we read in Luke 9:49, “he said…” All John got out of the welcoming children example was the phrase “in my name.” With that little prompt he was once again off to the races, seeking to establish both rank and power. Jesus, of course, is having none of it. “Don’t hinder him,” Jesus replies, “for the one who is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:50, my translation).

This is the lead-in to our lectionary reading. While Luke 9:51 is usually regarded as the beginning of the Lukan travelogue, I don’t think we can read verses 52-56 without taking verses 46-50 into account in our interpretation. The one who is greatest is the least. The one who is not against us is for us. Being right is not all it’s cracked up to be.

What will we do to ensure that we are “right”? Tom Nichols wrote a recent op-ed online for the The Atlantic entitled “What Are Trump Supporters So Afraid Of?” Nichols worries that as additional information about events surrounding the January 6 coup attempt comes out, “there will be more irrational anger and threats from people who cannot bear the truth.” That line was immediately ratified by the testimony of Georgia public election officials who, in the wake of their defense of 2020 ballot counts in the state, have been subjected to death threats, harassment, verbal assaults, home invasions, and loss of jobs and peace of mind.

Nichols suggests that the people who engage in such behavior are “less angry than they are terrified.” They are not only terrified of losing political, economic, cultural, and legal power, Nichols continues, although all of that is the case. “I think,” Nichols argues, “the Trump superfans are terrified of being wrong. I suspect they know that for many years they’ve made a terrible mistake,” Nichols continues, “that Trump and his coterie took them to the cleaners and the cognitive dissonance is now rising to ear-splitting, chest-constricting levels. And so,” he concludes, “they will literally threaten to kill people…if that’s what it takes to silence the last feeble voice of reason inside themselves.”

The rest of the column is worth the read, but you get the gist. And perhaps you get the point that strikes me here. In Luke 9, we get an escalation of behaviors on the part of disciples who seem to be protecting their right to be “right.” We’re not going to let some freelancer horn in on our disciple gig. We’ll put a stop to that. Samaritans don’t know enough to extend some hospitality to us on the way (of discipleship, remember)? We’ve got a solution for that straight out of Elijah’s playbook in 1 Kings. Some fire from the sky should put the fear of God into anyone who might contemplate a similar sort of resistance.

Pay attention to the words in Luke 9:54. “But when the disciples, James and John, saw [this], they said, ‘Lord, do you wish that we might call fire down from the heaven and destroy them?'” The Lukan author makes it crystal clear that disciples are offering this suggestion. It happens to be James and John in this case, but it would seem that they represent the consensus of the group. Clearly, the vocation of discipleship doesn’t automatically make anyone less of an asshole. That seems to take a bit of doing.

The Lukan author also makes it crystal clear that this suggestion by the disciples is demonic. “But turning around, he [Jesus] rebuked them” (Luke 9:55, my translation and emphasis). Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves when they threaten the disciples. Jesus rebukes the fever in Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus rebukes demons, and they leave people. Most recently, in terms of our text, that happens in Luke 9:42. Peter rebukes Jesus and gets called “Satan” (I know that’s in Mark, but it’s still the case). This is not a gentle correction of a slight faux pas.

Jesus doesn’t excuse the Samaritans for their response to him. Neither does he blast them to smithereens because they are “wrong.” Based on Jesus’ training with the Twelve, he shakes the dust off his feet and moves on to another village where the reception might be better. Nobody is going to die here today, James and John, no matter how “right” you think you are. That’s not how people who actually “are” right operate.

Tom Nichols puts it this way. “No one who truly believes they are right threatens to hurt anyone for expressing a contrary view,” he argues. “The snarling threat of violence never comes from people who calmly believe they are in the right. It is always,” he continues, “the instant resort of the bully who feels the hot flush of shame rising in the cheeks and the cold rock of fear dropping in the pit of the stomach.” If Nichols is right, then the fiery proposal is not an expression of conviction but rather the insecure response of those who still harbor doubts.

For the Twelve at this point in the Lukan account, I’m afraid that shoe fits all to well. And perhaps it fits too well for many of us.

I find it hard to see how so-called Christians could read our text and then conclude that violence in the name of being “right” is ever an option for Jesus followers. We may indeed find ourselves in a place where we are called upon to die for the sake of the mission (see Luke 9:57-62 for some insight into this notion). We who follow Jesus cannot find ourselves in places where killing in the name of Jesus is ever the “right” thing to do. More than that, doing violence to protect our “rightness” is demonic not disciplic (I know that’s not a word, but it should be).

Text Study for Luke 9:51-62 (Part One)

It’s full on yard and garden season on the Flying Pigs Farm (our name for the urban farm in our backyard). I have cucumbers headed toward the canning jars and tomatoes destined for salads, salsa, and pasta sauce. I canned the small crop of beets we raised, and we’re about ready for the second crop of radishes. Onions are cruising along (delicious), and the okra and squash have started to take off. Perhaps I can get in a few comments along the way, since the afternoons this week and next are too warm for much yard work.

“But Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts the hand upon the plow and looks toward what lies behind is suitable for the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62, my translation). It’s best to start at the end of the text. If we can understand the punchline, we may be able to grasp the text and the chapter. Verse 62 isn’t merely the conclusion of the lectionary reading. It is the summation and charge of this whole chapter. Chapter nine is focused on the nature and cost of discipleship, of following the way of Jesus to the cross in Jerusalem and beyond.

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The NRSV gives us this rendering: “‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’” That’s a quite serviceable translation. However, I fear that many listeners will misunderstand the meaning of “fit” in the sentence. The Greek word is not about moral fitness, about worth or desert. This isn’t about “qualifying” for heaven. But I fear that’s precisely what many listeners have been formed to hear. So, it may be worth addressing this in a message.

The sentence is really about having what it takes to be on the front lines of the mission. Our text comes between the sending of the Twelve and the Seventy. So, Jesus is coaching up his followers for the work that is ahead of them. This sort of discipleship may be like Nebraska (at least according to the Nebraska Tourism board) — honestly, it’s not for everyone. Frankly, I think that’s a moronic approach to promoting tourism. But it’s a realistic caution when we’re talking front-line discipleship.

Honestly, perhaps it’s not for everyone. Is it for me?

If the punchline is a word of caution to the over-eager and the under-prepared, that makes the preceding verses a little easier to process. On their face, verses fifty-seven through sixty-one sound cruel. But, perhaps these verses are words of caution to people who haven’t thought through the cost of front-line following. These verses may be the way that Jesus (or at least the Lukan author) lets these eager beavers down easy. They haven’t considered what their devotion might cost them. Perhaps they are not quite up to the challenge (at least not yet).

The words in these verses are not, therefore, judgments against those who are not fit. They are, rather, words of caution for those who haven’t quite thought this thing through. I will follow you anywhere, one says. That’s fine if you can stand to sleep out in the open, Jesus says. But if not, you might want to have a re-think on that one. Yes, honoring our parents is a commandment to be obeyed. But following Jesus on the front-lines might require abandoning that obligation. Are you up for that? Family connections are important, but the mission may require loosening those connections. If that’s too much, then perhaps you ought to reconsider your role in the mission.

I think there’s a good chance that Luke 9 has a chiastic structure. If that’s the case, then we can get some interpretive help by looking at the first paragraph of the chapter. Notice the instructions Jesus gives as he sends the twelve on their first independent missions. No staff, no bread, no bag, no money — don’t even take a change of clothes! Stay where you’re welcomed. Leave where you’re not. Stay focused on the mission of proclaiming the good news and curing diseases. That’s what the leading edge of the Kin(g)dom looks like to the Lukan author and community.

After the Twelve do the proof of concept work, Jesus follows up in the Lukan account with the mission of the seventy (or seventy-two) in chapter 10. The author makes an explicit connection to Jesus’ punchline in 9:62. “After these things,” the author declares. Notice the instructions to the seventy in Luke 10:2-11. Again, these are the frontline followers. They are sent like lambs among wolves. No purse, no bag, no sandals — and no frivolous conversations along the way. Bring peace. Stay in the same house. Eat what you get. Heal, proclaim, and test the welcome. This is serious business.

What does this mean for us as listeners and readers? I wonder what our text meant to the first Lukan listeners and readers. Perhaps this is a recruitment pep talk to bring new workers into the mission and to make sure they are well-prepared for the challenges ahead. That would fit with the overall missionary emphasis of Luke-Acts.

It could be, on the other hand, that by the third generation of the church, folks are getting a bit soft or a bit lackadaisical about the mission. “Of course I follow Jesus,” they might say. “It’s not really that big a deal, after all. Be civil. Be kind. Be loving. Stay out of trouble, and love your neighbor. It’s not as complicated or costly as some people want to make it out to be.” I think the Lukan author is dealing with a community that just wants to stay out of trouble after the trauma of the Jewish War and its aftermath. And I think the Lukan author is more than a little impatient with Christians who want following Jesus to be easy, cheap, and an attractive lifestyle option.

Yes, I’m being more than a bit anachronistic here. But I think that’s the way I tend to think about following Jesus these days. It’s not that hard. I may get a little pushback here and there. But really, I’m still in the mainstream of culture. It doesn’t cost me much of anything to call myself a Christian, and I’m happy with that situation. But with that perspective, I’m pretty sure that I’m not a suitable servant on the frontlines of the mission of Jesus.

I’m not sure what that means for me or for a message this Sunday (I’m doing some supply preaching). I don’t hear the good news in this conversation yet (and maybe there won’t be much…). But, at least I think I have a bit more clarity about what’s in the text. The question is, what’s in me?

What do you think?