Reflections on Luke 9: 51-62
The narrative lectionary for Ash Wednesday 2021 provides two Biblical stories that frame rejection in a paradox: the first story tells us of the town that rejects Jesus, and it is followed by the scripture where Jesus seems to reject his would-be followers.
In verse 53 where it says “but they did not receive him” The Greek translation implies two levels of rejection. On the one hand, they refused to show Jesus hospitality. On the other, they also refused to heed his teachings. And then in verse 62 where it says “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God,” Jesus reject those who don’t seem to drop everything to follow him immediately. In challenging those who “look back” after they have taken up the mantle of discipleship, Jesus rejects their offers to be followers, saying they are unfit for the Kingdom of God.
It is timely to think of this paradox of rejection in these pandemic (and hopefully soon, post-pandemic) times, when we seem to once again be reinventing discipleship in new and unheard of ways. As we head into the 40 days of Lent, we can frame Ash Wednesday as a moment when we can focus on the questions that this paradox of rejection raises:
What are the ways that we have rejected Jesus? How have we rejected those who need hospitality (whether homeless, orphan, widow, prisoner), and how have we rejected Jesus’ teachings?
What is it that keeps us from following Jesus? Are we deterred by the idea that the Son of Man has no where to rest (and what does that mean for our ministry)? Are we more focused on “burying” our old ways of doing church than we are of imagining the new church that is emerging in our midst? And of course, what are we looking back at, even as we put our hand to the plow? Are we longing for the church that was, and focused on the pre-pandemic church?
These are lots of questions to dig into for the short meditation that is often included in an Ash Wednesday service, but it is a plethora of fodder for responsive moments of reflection during services. Asking the rhetorical question “what are you burying?” or “what are you looking back on?” is a great reflection to help members refocus their Lenten days.
Inviting contemplation about ways that we reject and ways that we feel rejected is a great focus for a somber service that ends with ashes, and it sets up a good core base for a season of taking up our crosses in new and different ways. And as we go about this task, I always like the reminder that dust is mostly made up of stardust…. So we can think of the familiar words as “we are made of stardust, and to stardust we will return.” Imagining a cosmic discipleship that is unlike anything we have imagined before is a fine way to keep ourselves from looking back with longing.
Rev. Cathy M. Kolwey is a writer, artist, pastor, and chaplain who lives and works in the Twin Cities Metro of Minnesota. She has worked at the intersection of theology and the arts since 2001, and currently blogs at http://www.cmkolwey.com
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