Friday, June 2nd, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Barclay's Daily Study Bible Daily Study Bible
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Luke 9". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ dsb/ luke-9.html. 1956-1959.
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Luke 9". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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EMISSARIES OF THE KING ( Luke 9:1-9 )
9:1-9 Jesus called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God, and to cure those who were ill. He said to them, "Take nothing for the road, neither a staff nor a wallet, nor bread nor money, nor two tunics. Whatever house you go into, stay there, and leave from there. As for whoever do not receive you--when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as evidence against them." So they went out, and they went through the villages, preaching and healing everywhere.
Herod, the tetrarch, heard about the things which were going on. He did not know what to make of them, because it was said by some, "John is risen from the dead"; and by some, "Elijah has appeared"; and by others, "One of the prophets of the ancient days has risen again." But Herod said, "John I myself beheaded. Who is this about whom I hear such reports?" And he tried to see him.
In the ancient days there was in effect only one way of spreading a message abroad and that was by word of mouth. Newspapers did not exist; books had to be hand-written, and a book the size of Luke--Acts would have cost over 40 British pounds per copy to produce! Radio and television had not even been dreamed of. That is why Jesus sent out the Twelve on this mission. He was under the limitations of time and space; his helpers had to be mouths to speak for him.
They were to travel light. That was simply because the man who travels light travels far and fast. The more a man is cluttered up with material things the more he is shackled to one place. God needs a settled ministry; but he also needs those who will abandon earthly things to adventure for him.
If they were not received they were to shake off the dust from their feet when they left the town. When Rabbis entered Palestine after some journey in a gentile land, they shook off the last particle of heathen dust from their feet. A village or town which would not receive them was to be treated as a strict Jew would treat a heathen country. It had refused its opportunity and had condemned itself.
That this ministry was mightily effective is plain from Herod's reaction. Things were happening. Perhaps Elijah, the forerunner, had at last come. Perhaps even the great promised prophet had arrived ( Deuteronomy 18:15). But "Conscience doth make cowards of us all," and there was a lingering fear in Herod's mind that John the Baptiser, whom he thought he had eliminated, had come back to haunt him.
One thing which stands out about the ministry which Jesus laid upon the Twelve is this--sever and over again in this short passage it joins preaching and healing. It joins concern for men's bodies and men's souls. It was something which was not to deal only in words, however comforting; but also in deeds. It was a message which was not confined to news of eternity; it proposed to change conditions on earth. It was the reverse of a religion of "pie in the sky." It insisted that health to men's bodies was as integral a part of God's purpose as health to their souls.
Nothing has done the church more harm than the repeated statement that the things of this world do not matter. In the middle thirties of this century unemployment invaded many respectable and decent homes. The father's skill was rusting in idleness; the mother was trying to make a shilling do what a pound ought to do; children could not understand what was going on except that they were hungry. Men grew bitter or broken. To go and tell such people that material things make no difference was unforgivable, especially if the teller was in reasonable comfort himself. General Booth was once blamed for offering food and meals to poor people instead of the simple gospel. The old warrior flashed back, "It is impossible to comfort men's hearts with the love of God when their feet are perishing with cold."
Of course, it is possible to overstress material things. But it is equally possible to neglect them. The church will forget only at her peril that Jesus first sent out his men to preach the kingdom and to heal, to save men in body and in soul.
FOOD FOR THE HUNGRY ( Luke 9:10-17 )
9:10-17 When the apostles returned they told Jesus all that they had done. So he took them and withdrew privately to a place called Bethsaida. When the crowds found out where he was they followed him; and he welcomed them, and talked to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing. The day began to draw to a close. The Twelve came to him. "Send the crowd away," they said, "that they may go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find some place to stay and get food because here we are in a desert place." He said to them, "Do you give them food to eat." They said, "All we have is five loaves and two fishes--unless we go and buy food for all this people." For there were about five thousand men. He said to his disciples. "Make them sit down in companies of fifty." They did so, and they got them all seated. He took the five loaves and the two fishes and looked up into heaven and blessed them and broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the crowd. And all of them ate and were satisfied; and what they had left over was taken up and there were twelve baskets of the fragments.
This is the only miracle of Jesus related in all the four gospels (compare Matthew 14:13; Mark 6:30; John 6:1). It begins with a lovely thing. The Twelve had come back from their tour. Never was a Lime when Jesus needed more to be alone with them, so he took them to the neighbourhood of Bethsaida, a village on the far side of the Jordan to the north of the Sea of Galilee. When the people discovered where he had gone they followed him in hordes--and he welcomed them.
There is all the divine compassion here. Most people would have resented the invasion of their hard-won privacy. How would we feel if we had sought out some lonely place to be with our most intimate friends and suddenly a clamorous mob of people turned up with their insistent demands? Sometimes we are too busy to be disturbed, but to Jesus human need took precedence over everything.
The evening came; home was far away; and the people were tired and hungry. Jesus, astonishingly, ordered his disciples to give them a meal. There are two ways in which a man can quite honestly look at this miracle. First, he can see in it simply a miracle in which Jesus created food for this vast multitude. Second, some people think that this is what happened. The people were hungry--and they were utterly selfish. They all had something with them, but they would not even produce it for themselves in case they had to share it with others. The Twelve laid before the multitude their little store and thereupon others were moved to produce theirs; and in the end there was more than enough for everyone. So it may be regarded as a miracle which turned selfish, suspicious folk into generous people, a miracle of Christ's changing determined self interest into a willingness to share.
Before Jesus distributed the food he blessed it; he said grace. There was a Jewish saying that "he who enjoys anything without thanksgiving is as though he robbed God." The blessing said in every home in Palestine before every meal ran, "Blessed art thou, Jehovah, our God, King of the world, who causest bread to come forth from the earth." Jesus would not eat without giving thanks to the giver of an good gifts.
This is a story which tells us many things.
(i) Jesus was concerned that men were hungry. It would be most interesting to work out how much time Jesus spent, not talking, but easing men's pain and satisfying their hunger. He still needs the service of men's hands. The mother who has spent a lifetime cooking meals for a hungry family; the nurse, the doctor, the friend, relation or parent, who has sacrificed life and time to ease another's pain; the social reformer who has burned himself out to seek better conditions for men and women--they have all preached far more effective sermons than the eloquent orator.
(ii) Jesus' help was generous. There was enough, and more than enough. In love there is no nice calculation of the less and more. God is like that. When we sow a packet of seeds we usually have to thin the plants out and throw away far more than we can keep. God has created a world where there is more than enough for all if men will share it.
(iii) As always there is permanent truth in an action in time. In Jesus all men's needs are supplied. There is a hunger of the soul; there is in every man, sometimes at least, a longing to find something in which he may invest his life. Our hearts are restless until they rest in him. "My God will supply every need of yours," said Paul ( Php_4:19 ) --even in the desert places of this life.
THE GREAT DISCOVERY ( Luke 9:18-22 )
9:18-22 It happened that when Jesus was praying alone his disciples were with him. He asked them, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" They answered, "Some say that you are John the Baptiser; others that you are Elijah; others that one of the prophets of the ancient days has risen again." He said to them, "But you--who do you say that I am?" Peter answered, "The anointed one of God." Jesus warned and enjoined them to tell this to no one. "The Son of Man," he said, "must suffer many things, and must be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and must be killed, and must be raised again on the third day."
This is one of the most crucial moments in the life of Jesus. He asked this question when he was already turning his face to go to Jerusalem ( Luke 9:51). He well knew what awaited him there, and the answer to his question was of supreme importance. He knew that he was going to a Cross to die; he wanted to know before he went, if there was anyone who had really discovered who he was. The right answer would make all the difference. If instead there was dull incomprehension, all his work would have gone for nothing. If there was any realization, however incomplete, it meant that he had lit such a torch in the hearts of men as time would never put out. How Jesus' heart must have lifted when Peter's sudden discovery rushed to his lips--"You are the anointed one of God!" When Jesus heard that, he knew he had not failed.
Not only had the Twelve to discover the fact; they had also to discover what the fact meant. They had grown up against a background of thought which expected from God a conquering king who would lead them to world dominion. Peter's eyes would blaze with excitement when he said this. But Jesus had to teach them that God's anointed one had come to die upon a Cross. He had to take their ideas of God and of God's purposes and turn them upside down; and from this time that is what he set himself to do. They had discovered who he was; now they had to learn what that discovery meant.
There are two great general truths in this passage.
(i) Jesus began by asking what men were saying about him; and then, suddenly, he flashes the question at the Twelve, "Who do you say that I am?" It is never enough to know what other people have said about Jesus. A man might be able to pass any examination on what has been said and thought about Jesus; he might have read every book about Christology written in every language upon earth and still not be a Christian. Jesus must always be our own personal discovery. Our religion can never be a carried tale. To every man Jesus comes asking, not, "Can you tell me what others have said and written about me?" but, "Who do you say that I am?" Paul did not say, "I know what I have believed"; he said, "I know whom I have believed" ( 2 Timothy 1:12). Christianity does not mean reciting a creed; it means knowing a person.
(ii) Jesus said, "I must go to Jerusalem and die." It is of the greatest interest to look at the times in Luke's gospel when Jesus said must. "I must be in my Father's house," ( Luke 2:49). "I must preach the kingdom," ( Luke 4:43). "I must go on my way today and tomorrow," ( Luke 13:33). Over and over again he told his disciples he must go to his Cross ( Luke 9:22; Luke 17:25; Luke 24:7). Jesus knew he had a destiny to fulfil. God's will was his will. He had no other object but to do upon earth what God had sent him to do. The Christian, like his Lord, is a man under orders.
THE CONDITIONS OF SERVICE ( Luke 9:23-27 )
9:23-27 Jesus said to them all, "If any man wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and day by day let him take up his cross and follow me. Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it. Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world and loses himself or has himself confiscated? Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed when he shall come in his own glory, and in the glory of his Father and of the holy angels. I tell you truly that there are some of these who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God."
Here Jesus lays down the conditions of service for those who would follow him.
(i) A man must deny himself. What does that mean? A great scholar comes at the meaning in this way. Peter once denied his Lord. That is to say, he said of Jesus, "I do not know the man." To deny ourselves is to say, "I do not know myself." It is to ignore the very existence of oneself. It is to treat the self as if it did not exist. Usually we treat ourselves as if our self was far and away the most important thing in the world. If we are to follow Jesus, we must forget that self exists.
(ii) A man must take up his cross. Jesus well knew what crucifixion meant. When he was a lad of about eleven years of age, Judas the Galilaean had led a rebellion against Rome. He had raided the royal armoury at Sepphoris, which was only four miles from Nazareth. The Roman vengeance was swift and sudden. Sepphoris was burned to the ground; its inhabitants were sold into slavery; and two thousand of the rebels were crucified on crosses which were set in lines along the roadside that they might be a dreadful warning to others tempted to rebel. To take up our cross means to be prepared to face things like that for loyalty to Jesus; it means to be ready to endure the worst that man can do to us for the sake of being true to him.
(iii) A man must spend his life, not hoard it. The whole gamut of the world's standards must be changed. The questions are not, "How much can I get?" but, "How much can I give?" Not, "What is the safe thing to do?" but, "What is the right thing to do?" Not, "What is the minimum permissible in the way of work?" but, "What is the maximum possible?" The Christian must realize that he is given life, not to keep for himself but to spend for others; not to husband its flame but to burn it out for Christ and for men.
(iv) Loyalty to Jesus will have its reward, and disloyalty its punishment. If we are true to him in time, he will be true to us in eternity. If we seek to follow him in this world, in the next he will point to us as one of his people. But if by our lives we disown him, even though with our lips we confess him, the day must come when he cannot do other than disown us.
(v) In the last verse of this passage Jesus says that some standing there will see the kingdom of God before they die. Some people maintain that Jesus was looking forward to his return in glory, that he was declaring that this would happen within the lifetime of some of those present; and that therefore he was completely mistaken. That is not so.
What Jesus was saying is this, "Before this generation has passed away you will see signs that the kingdom of God is on the way." Beyond a doubt that came to pass. Something came into the world which, like leaven in dough, began to change it. It would be well if, sometimes, we turned from our pessimism and thought rather of the light that has been slowly breaking on the world.
As A. H. Clough wrote,
"Say not the struggle naught availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain.
If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke conceal'd,
Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field.
For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.
And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light.
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!
But westward, look, the land is bright!"
Be of good cheer--the kingdom is on the way--and we do well to thank God for every sign of its dawning.
THE MOUNTAIN TOP OF GLORY ( Luke 9:28-36 )
9:28-36 About eight days after these words, Jesus took Peter and John and James and went up into a mountain to pray. While he was praying the appearance of his face became different and his clothing became white as the lightning's flash. And--look you--two men were talking with him, who were Moses and Elijah. They appeared in glory, and they talked about the departure which he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his friends were heavy with sleep. When they were fully awake they saw his glory, and the two men standing with him. And when they were going to leave him, Peter said, "Master, it is good for us to be here. So let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah," for he did not know what he was saying. As he was saying this a cloud came and overshadowed them and they feared as they entered into the cloud. A voice came from the cloud saying, "This is my beloved Son, my chosen one! Hear him!" And when the voice had passed, Jesus was found alone. They kept silent in those days and did not tell anyone anything about what they had seen.
Here we have another of the great hinges in Jesus' life upon earth. We must remember that he was just about to set out to Jerusalem and to the cross. We have already looked at one great moment when he asked his disciples who they believed him to be, in order that he might discover if anyone had realized who he was. But there was one thing Jesus would never do--he would never take any step without the approval of God. In this scene that is what we see him seeking and receiving.
What happened on the Mount of Transfiguration we can never know, but we do know that something tremendous did happen. Jesus had gone there to seek the approval of God for the decisive step he was about to take. There Moses and Elijah appeared to him. Moses was the great law-giver of the people of Israel; Elijah was the greatest of the prophets. It was as if the princes of Israel's life and thought and religion told Jesus to go on.
Jesus could set out to Jerusalem now, certain that at least one little group of men knew who he was, certain that what he was doing was the consummation of all the life and thought and work of his nation, and certain that God approved of the step that he was taking.
There is a vivid sentence here. It says of the three apostles, "When they were fully awake they saw his glory."
(i) In life we miss so much because our minds are asleep. There are certain things which are liable to keep our minds asleep.
(a) There is prejudice. We may be so set in our ideas that our minds are shut. A new idea knocks at the door but we are like sleepers who will not awake.
(b) There is mental lethargy. There are so many who refuse the strenuous struggle of thought. "The unexamined life," said Plato, "is the life not worth living. "How many of us have really thought things out and thought them through? It was said of someone that he had skirted the howling deserts of infidelity and a wiser man said that he would have been better to have fought his way through them. Sometimes we are so lethargic that we will not even face our questions and our doubts.
(c) There is the love of ease. There is a kind of defence mechanism in us that makes us automatically shut the door against any disturbing thought.
A man can drug himself mentally until his mind is sound asleep.
(ii) But life is full of things designed to waken us.
(a) There is sorrow. Once Elgar said of a young singer, who was technically perfect, but quite without feeling and expression, "She will be great when something breaks her heart." Often sorrow can rudely awaken a man, but in that moment, through the tears, he will see the glory.
(b) There is love. Somewhere Browning tells of two people who fell in love. She looked at him; he looked at her--"and suddenly life awoke." Real love is an awakening to horizons we never dreamed were there.
(c) There is the sense of need. For long enough a man may live the routine of life half asleep; then all of a sudden there comes some completely insoluble problem, some quite unanswerable question, some overmastering temptation, some summons to an effort which he feels is beyond his strength. In that day there is nothing left to do but to "cry, clinging heaven by the hems." And that sense of need awakens him to God.
We would do well to pray, "Lord, keep me always awake to you."
COMING DOWN FROM THE MOUNT ( Luke 9:37-45 )
9:37-45 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd of people met him. And--look you--a man shouted from the crowd, "Teacher, I beg you to look with pity upon my son, because he is my only child. And--look you--a spirit seizes him and he suddenly shouts out; he convulses him until he foams at the mouth; he shatters him and will hardly leave him. I begged your disciples to cast out the spirit but they could not do it." Jesus answered, "O faithless and twisted generation! How long will I be with you? How long will I bear you? Bring your son here." While he was coming the demon dashed him down and convulsed him. Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father; and everyone was astonished at the majesty of God.
While they were all wondering at the things which he kept doing, he said to his disciples, "Let these words sink into your ears--the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men." They did not know what this word meant; and its meaning was concealed from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask him about this word.
No sooner had Jesus descended from the mountain top than the demands and disappointments of life were upon him. A man had come to the disciples seeking their help, for his only son was an epileptic. Of course his epilepsy was attributed to the malign activity of a demon. The word used in Luke 9:42 is very vivid. As he was coming to Jesus, the demon dashed him down. It is the word used of a boxer dealing a knock-out blow to his opponent or of a wrestler throwing someone. It must have been a pitiful sight to see the lad convulsed; and the disciples were quite helpless to cure him. But when Jesus came he dealt with the situation with calm mastery and gave the boy back to his father cured.
Two things stand out.
(i) The moment on the mount was absolutely necessary, but it could not be prolonged beyond its own time. Peter, not really knowing what he was saying, would have liked to linger on the mountain top. He wished to build three tabernacles so that they might stay there in all the glory; but they had to descend again. Often there come to us moments that we would like to prolong indefinitely. But after the time on the mountain top we must come back to the battle and the routine of life; that time is meant to give us strength for life's everyday.
After the great struggle at Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal, Elijah, in reaction, ran away. Out into the desert he went and there, as he lay under a juniper tree asleep, an angel twice prepared a meal for him. Then comes the sentence, "And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights" ( 1 Kings 19:1-8). To the mountain top of the presence of God we must go, not to remain there but to go in the strength of that time for many days. It was said of Captain Scott, the great explorer, that he was "a strange mixture of the dreamy and the practical, and never more practical than immediately after he had been dreamy." We cannot live forever in the moment on the mountain but we cannot live at all without it.
(ii) In no incident is the sheer competence of Jesus so clearly shown. When he came down from the mountain the situation was out of hand. The whole impression is that of people running about not knowing what to do. The disciples were helplessly baffled; the boy's father was bitterly disappointed and upset. Into this scene of disorder came Jesus. He gripped the situation in a flash and in his mastery the disorder became a calm. So often we feel that life is out of control; that we have lost our grip on things. Only the Master of life can deal with life with the calm competence that brings everything under control.
(iii) Once again the incident finished with Jesus pointing at the cross. Here was triumph; here Jesus had mastered the demons and astonished the people. And in that very moment when they were ready to acclaim him, Jesus told them he was on the way to die. It would have been so easy to take the way of popular success; it was Jesus' greatness that he rejected it and chose the cross. He would not himself shirk that cross to which he called others.
TRUE GREATNESS ( Luke 9:46-48 )
9:46-48 There arose an argument amongst them as to which of them should be the greatest. But when Jesus knew the thoughts of their hearts he took a child and set him beside him. "Whoever," he said to them, "receives this child in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives him that sent me. He who is least among you, he it is who is the greatest."
So long as the Twelve thought of Jesus' kingdom as an earthly kingdom it was inevitable that they should be in competition for the highest places in it. Long ago the Venerable Bede suggested that this particular quaff el arose because Jesus had taken Peter, John and James up into the mountain top with him and the others were jealous.
Jesus knew what was going on in their hearts. He took a child and placed him beside himself; that would be the seat of highest honour. He went on to say that whoever received a little child, received him; and whoever received him, received God. What did he mean? The Twelve were the chosen lieutenants of Jesus; but this child occupied no place of honour and held no official position. Jesus was saying, "If you are prepared to spend your lives serving, helping, loving people who, in the eyes of the world, do not matter at all, you are serving me and serving God. If you are prepared to spend your life doing these apparently unimportant things and never trying to be what the world calls great, you will be great in the eyes of God."
There are so many wrong motives for service.
(i) There is the desire for prestige. A. J. Cronin tells of a district nurse he knew when he was in practice as a doctor. For twenty years, single-handed, she had served a ten-mile district. "I marvelled," he says, "at her patience, her fortitude and her cheerfulness. She was never too tired at night to rise for an urgent call. Her salary was most inadequate, and late one night, after a particularly strenuous day, I ventured to protest to her, 'Nurse, why don't you make them pay you more? God knows you are worth it.' 'If God knows I'm worth it,' she answered, 'that's all that matters to me.'" She was working, not for men, but for God. And when we work for God, prestige will be the last thing that enters into our mind, for we will know that even our best is not good enough for him.
(ii) There is the desire for place. If a man is given a task or a position or an office in the church, he should regard it not as an honour but as a responsibility. There are those who serve within the church, not thinking really of those they serve, but thinking of themselves. A certain English Prime Minister was offered congratulations on attaining to that office. "I do not want your congratulations," he said, "but I do want your prayers." To be chosen for office is to be set apart for service, not elevated to honour.
(iii) There is the desire for prominence. Many a person will serve or give so long as his service and his generosity are known and he is thanked and praised. It is Jesus' own instruction that we should not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing. If we give only to gain something out of the giving for ourselves, we have undone much of its good.
TWO LESSONS IN TOLERANCE ( Luke 9:49-56 )
9:49-56 John said to Jesus, "Master, we saw a man casting out demons in your name; and we stopped him because he does not follow with us." Jesus said to him, "Don't try to stop him, for he who is not against us is for us."
When the days that he should be received up were on their way to being completed he fixed his face firmly to go to Jerusalem. He sent messengers on ahead. When they had gone on they went into a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; and they refused to receive them because his face was set in the direction of Jerusalem. When his disciples, James and John, learned of this they said, "Lord, would you like us to order fire to come down from heaven and destroy them?" He turned to them and rebuked them; and they went on to another village.
Here we have two lessons in tolerance.
There were many exorcists in Palestine, all claiming to be able to cast out demons; and no doubt John regarded this man as a competitor and wished to eliminate him. But Jesus would not permit him.
The direct way from Galilee to Jerusalem led through Samaria; but most Jews avoided it. There was a centuries' old quarrel between the Jews and the Samaritans ( John 4:9). The Samaritans in fact did everything they could to hinder and even to injure any bands of pilgrims who attempted to pass through their territory. For Jesus to take that way to Jerusalem was unusual; and to attempt to find hospitality in a Samaritan village was still more unusual. When he did this he was extending a hand of friendship to a people who were enemies. In this case not only was hospitality refused but the offer of friendship was spurned. No doubt, therefore, James and John believed they were doing a praiseworthy thing when they offered to call in divine aid to blot out the village. But Jesus would not permit them.
There is no passage in which Jesus so directly teaches the duty of tolerance as in this. In many ways tolerance is a lost virtue, and often, where it does exist, it exists from the wrong cause. Of all the greatest religious leaders none was such a pattern of tolerance as John Wesley. "I have no more right," he said, "to object to a man for holding a different opinion from mine than I have to differ with a man because he wears a wig and I wear my own hair; but if he takes his wig off and shakes the powder in my face, I shall consider it my duty to get quit of him as soon as possible. . . . The thing which I resolved to use every possible method of preventing was a narrowness of spirit, a party zeal, a being straitened in our own bowels--that miserable bigotry which makes many so unready to believe that there is any work of God but among themselves. . .. We think and let think." When his nephew, Samuel, the son of his brother Charles, entered the Roman Catholic Church, he wrote to him, "Whether in this Church or that I care not. You may be saved in either or damned in either; but I fear you are not born again." The Methodist invitation to the sacrament is simply, "Let all who love the Lord come here."
The conviction that our beliefs and our methods alone are correct has been the cause of more tragedy and distress in the church than almost any other thing. Oliver Cromwell wrote once to the intransigent Scots, "I beseech you by the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken." T. R. Glover somewhere quotes a saying, "Remember that whatever your hand finds to do, someone thinks differently!"
There are many ways to God. He has his own secret stairway into every heart. He fulfils himself in many ways; and no man or church has a monopoly of his truth.
But--and this is intensely important--our tolerance must be based not on indifference but on love. We ought to be tolerant not because we could not care less; but because we look at the other person with eyes of love. When Abraham Lincoln was criticized for being too courteous to his enemies and reminded that it was his duty to destroy them, he gave the great answer, "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?" Even if a man be utterly mistaken, we must never regard him as an enemy to be destroyed but as a strayed friend to be recovered by love.
THE HONESTY OF JESUS ( Luke 9:57-62 )
9:57-62 As they were journeying along the road, a man said to Jesus, "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus said to him, "The foxes have dens; the birds of the air have places to roost; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
He said to another man, "Follow Me! Lord," he said, "let me go first and bury my father." He said to him, "Let the dead bury their dead; but do you go and tell abroad the news of the kingdom of God."
Another man said to him, "Lord, I will follow you; but let me first say good-bye to the folk at home." Jesus said to him, "No man who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is the right kind of man for the kingdom of God."
Here we have the words of Jesus to three would-be followers.
(i) To the first man, his advice was, "Before you follow me, count the cost." No one can ever say that he was induced to follow Jesus under false pretenses. Jesus paid men the compliment of pitching his demands so high that they cannot be higher. It may well be that we have done great hurt to the church by letting people think that church membership need not make so very much difference. We ought to tell them that it should make all the difference in the world. We might have fewer people; but those we had would be really pledged to Christ.
(ii) Jesus' words to the second man sound harsh, but they need not be so. In all probability the man's father was not dead, and not even nearly dead. His saying most likely meant, "I will follow you after my father has died." An English official in the East tells of a very brilliant young Arab who was offered a scholarship to Oxford or Cambridge. His answer was, "I will take it after I have buried my father." At the time his father was not much more than forty years of age.
The point Jesus was making is that in everything there is a crucial moment; if that moment is missed the thing most likely will never be done at all. The man in the story had stirrings in his heart to get out of his spiritually dead surroundings; if he missed that moment he would never get out.
The psychologists tell us that every time we have a fine feeling, and do not act on it, the less likely we are to act on it at all. The emotion becomes a substitute for the action. Take one example--sometimes we feel that we would like to write a letter, perhaps of sympathy, perhaps of thanks, perhaps of congratulations. If we put it off until to-morrow, it will in all likelihood never be written. Jesus urges us to act at once when our hearts are stirred.
(iii) His words to the third man state a truth which no one can deny. No ploughman ever ploughed a straight furrow looking back over his shoulder. There are some whose hearts are in the past. They walk forever looking backwards and thinking wistfully of the good old days. Watkinson, the great preacher, tells how once at the seaside, when he was with his little grandson, he met an old minister. The old man was very disgruntled and, to add to all his troubles, he had a slight touch of sunstroke. The little boy had been listening but had not picked it up quite correctly; and when they left the grumbling complaints of the old man, he turned to Watkinson and said, "Granddad, I hope you never suffer from a sunset!"
The Christian marches on, not to the sunset, but to the dawn. The watchword of the kingdom is not, "Backwards!" but, "Forwards!" To this man Jesus did not say either, "Follow!" or, "Return!" he said, "I accept no lukewarm service," and left the man to make his own decision.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)