Luk 9:51 And it came to pass, when the days of his assumption were accomplishing, that he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.
“The days of His assumption” (αναληψεως). “Assumption” means, His Ascension, His being taken up into heaven, when “He was to pass out of this world unto the Father” (John 13:1). Similar is the term (Acts 1:2–11; Mark 16:19). The Evangelist refers to His Ascension rather than to His Passion, though the latter event was nearer; because, in their journey, our Lord had before His eyes, His glory, rather than His suffering, “qui proposito sibi gaudio sustinuit crucem” (“who, having joy set before him, endured the cross” Hebrews 12:2).
“Were accomplishing,” the days of his assumption were approaching their accomplishment, εν τω συμπληροῦσθαί, an interval of over six months was yet to elapse.
“He steadfastly set His face.” This form of words is often employed in Scripture to denote a firmness of purpose in carrying out one’s resolves (Ezek4:3; Ezek 14:8; Jer21:10). By His countenance, gait, language, &c., which caused surprise to His Apostles (Mark 10:32), our Lord showed His determined, unwavering purpose in going straightway to Jerusalem, without looking back or deflecting from the direct road, in order to preach or instruct, as was His wont. It showed His firm resolution to embrace death voluntarily for our sakes, which He knew He was to suffer in Jerusalem. This determination of his contrasts with the request made by would be disciples in verses 59-62. This (his turn towards Jerusalem) occurred about the Feast of Tabernacles (Scenopegia). Our Lord did not suffer on this occasion, nor was He assumed till after the Feast of the Passover, six months later on. In the meantime, He went about Judea, preaching, as He had hitherto done in Galilee. The Evangelist conveys here, that He is now about recording our Lord’s labours in Judea, as He had hitherto been describing His works and labours in Galilee.
Luk 9:52 And he sent messengers before his face: and going, they entered into a city of the Samaritans, to prepare for him.
“Sent messengers before His face.” Very likely, He was accompanied by a large number of followers, and He thought it right to provide beforehand for their accommodation, in the way of food and lodging. These messengers are generally supposed to be “James and John,” on account of what is recorded of them (verse 54). “To prepare for Him,” and those who were with Him, whom no one house could probably lodge or accommodate.
“Into a city of the Samaritans.” The straight way between Galilee and Judea lay through Samaria (John 4:4). It is disputed whether the “city” here referred to, was the chief city, or some other of minor importance, among the Samaritans.
Luk 9:53 And they received him not, because his face was of one going to Jerusalem.
“And they received Him not, because His face was,” &c. The reason why the Samaritans refused to receive or accommodate our Lord and His followers was, because they perceived, from all the circumstances of His journey, time, manner, &c., that He was going to worship in Jerusalem at the approaching festival. The messengers sent before Him also may have informed them of it. The Samaritans did not always refuse to extend hospitality to the Jews—as appears from the example of the good Samaritan and the wounded Jew, and also from that of our Lord and the Samaritan woman at the well—but only whenever the latter were going to the Temple of Jerusalem; then, the Samaritans, between whom and the Jews, there existed a deadly enmity, which was particularly awakened by the controversy regarding the proper place for worship, Jerusalem or Garazim—at once refused all intercourse with them in religious matters. For, the Samaritans held, that the Temple erected by them in Mount Garazim was the place, where alone, men could lawfully worship (John 4:20; Matthew 10:6).
The Samaritans saw from our Lord’s whole exterior, His mode of acting and proceeding, that He was going to Jerusalem for the purpose of adoration in the Temple. At this, they felt indignant, as they themselves kept at Garazim the same feasts, which the Jews observed at Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:32; 2 Kings 17:41). There was some difference as to time in both celebrations, in order to prevent collision between these parties, should they meet on their way, at the same time, to the rival Temples of Jerusalem and Garazim. The Samaritans were particularly offended by our Lord going to Jerusalem, passing by their temple; because, He was then regarded as a celebrated Doctor and Prophet; on which account, the Samaritans resented still more the slight, they fancied He put on their temple and worship.
Luk 9:54 And when his disciples, James and John, had seen this, they said: Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?
“James and John” were, probably, the messengers sent forward on this occasion, and on their return, resenting the indignity offered their Divine Master, they addressed our Lord, as follows; or it may be, that the people came forward to meet them and prevent them from entering their city, on which occasion, these two disciples, who may have from this been called by our Lord, “Boanerges,” or “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17), said, “Lord, wilt thou … and consume them,” to which is added in the ordinary Greek, “even as Elias did.” It is evident the Apostles had in mind the act of Elias destroying his enemies, the soldiers of the king of Samaria, by fire from heaven (2 Kings 1:10)—the countrymen of those, who treated our Lord so contumeliously.
Luk 9:55 And turning, he rebuked them, saying: you know not of what spirit you are.
“Turning.” Probably, they walked behind Him, and He turned back to address them. “He rebuked them” in the following words, “You know not of what spirit you are” (compare with the rebuke of Peter, Matt 16:23). You imagine you are influenced by zeal for God’s glory and a feeling of just resentment in imitation of Elias of old. But you seem not to be aware, that the spirit you are influenced by is a human spirit of impatience and vengeance; or, you know not to what spirit you are called. The spirit you manifest is that of the Old Law under which Elias acted—the spirit of retaliation, demanding or permitting “an eye for an eye,” &c.; but, My spirit, which you are to imitate—the spirit of My New Law which I inculcate by word and example, is a spirit of meekness; of patient forbearance and forgiveness. Of this you seem to be forgetful, in the present instance. When the Apostles after Pentecost received the Holy Ghost, they then occasionally exercised a spirit of severity in vindication of God’s honour. They could do so then safely, because they would not be actuated, as they were before receiving the Spirit, by human passions. Although the same spirit dictated the Old Law and the New; still, the effects manifested were different, owing to the difference of circumstances, in both instances. The effects of the spirit of the Old were generally severity and rigour. These were its characteristics, though, occasionally, clemency was shown. The effects of the New were mildness, clemency, though, sometimes, severity and Christian justice were displayed (as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, Elymas the Magician; also 2 Cor. 10); but clemency and forgiveness and patient endurance of injuries were its distinguishing characteristics. Our Lord referring to the spirit He wished to inculcate on His followers in cases of personal offences and injuries, adds,
Luk 9:56 The Son of man came not to destroy souls, but to save. And they went into another town.
“The Son of Man came,” at His first coming into this world, “not to destroy souls,” that is, men, a part being used for the entire man, “but to save.” The Apostles wished to destroy the bodies of the offending Samaritans; but they should rather imitate Him who came to save their souls by exhibiting meekness, forbearance, forgiveness of injuries, both on His own part and on that of His followers, and thus entice them to penance and reparation for their misdeeds.
The subject matter of verses 57-60 also appears in Matt 8:19-22 and it is to the comments on that passage that he sends his readers. I’ve reproduced them below (in lime) with some slight modifications.
Luk 9:57 And it came to pass, as they walked in the way, that a certain man said to him: I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.
According to Matthew 8:18, 23, Jesus is heading for a boat when this encounter with would-be disciples takes place. He identifies the first man as a scribe. When our Redeemer was on His way to the lake, which He was soon to cross, this scribe or doctor of the law, of his own accord, offered to become one of His constant followers. St. Hilary reads the words interrogatively, “Master, shall I follow Thee?” &c.
Luk 9:58 Jesus said to him: The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests: but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.
Our Redeemer, without either accepting or refusing his offer, and seeing the interested views by which he was very probably actuated (as interpreters of Scripture and the holy Fathers, generally, infer from the words addressed to him by our Redeemer), tells him if he expected in Christ’s kingdom, worldly glory, or wealth, he was greatly mistaken. Similar was His reply to the sons of Zebedee following their mother’s request (Matt 20:22), and the young man mentioned (Matt 19:21).
“The foxes,” animals which, far from being protected, are hunted down by man.
“The birds of the air,” which seem to be utterly careless about any provision for themselves, subsisting solely on the chance pittance which Providence throws in their way. Some of the Holy Fathers interpret these words mystically, as denoting the man’s cunning and dissimulation, represented by the word, “foxes;” his pride and boasting, by “the birds of the air;” others suppose the scribe to be sincere in his offer, and they take the words of our Redeemer not to imply insincerity, but to indicate the difficulties and privations to be largely shared in by His constant followers.
“The Son of man,” a child descended from the first man, Adam (Barradius) Ezechiel, who was a type of Christ, was called so, also, by the Angels, who addressed him. These words indicate the great humiliation and self-denial of our Redeemer in the mystery of His Incarnation. Although “Son of God,” He vouchsafed, for our sakes, to become also the Son of (sinful) man, to assume all the common infirmities of human nature (its corruption and sinfulness excepted); and, all who wish to be partakers of His plentiful redemption, must, like Him, endure crosses and privations. This is implied in the words of our Redeemer to the scribe in question.
Luk 9:59 But he said to another: Follow me. And he said: Lord, suffer me first to go and to bury my father.
But he said to another. This individual is identified as a disciple in Matthew. All the disciples of our Lord did not attach themselves to Him constantly. Thus, we see, Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple of our Lord; but, occult, from fear of the Jews. The same is probably true of the man in question. And now, he is invited to become a constant follower of our Lord. This man, whose chief drawback, as far as we can gather from this passage, was, that he seemed to have rather too much sensibility in regard to natural ties and human affections, was pressed by our Redeemer to forego the pious duty of burying his father, the urgent call to follow Christ being one of still more imperative necessity. Some commentators considering our Redeemer’s refusal to grant so short a space of time for discharging a natural and religious duty, a corporal work of mercy, to be rather harsh and apparently opposed to that spirit of kindness He always displayed, think, the father of the young man was not dead at all, but only in extreme old age. So that the young man meant to ask to be left with his aged father till he closed his eyes and performed the last offices dictated by filial piety. However, from the following words, it seems more probable, the father was actually dead; and our Redeemer must have seen, from the peculiar circumstances of the case and person, good reasons, unknown to us, for urging his immediate compliance, without any delay whatsoever.
Luk 9:60 And Jesus said to him: Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.
“Suffer (let) the dead,” i.e., those who are dead in infidelity and sin, “to bury their dead,” i.e., whose souls are, by death, separated from their bodies. Hence, the word, “dead,” bears a different signification in both cases. In the first place, it means, spiritually dead—“suffer the dead”—who are only concerned about the present world, and never think of following Christ; in the second, “to bury their dead,” those corporally dead. St. Luke (9:60), says, our Lord added, “but, go thou and preach the kingdom of of God.” From these words of St. Luke, we see that if two incompatible duties occur, we must attend to the more necessary and important. The duty of “preaching the kingdom of God” and ministering to the necessities of the soul and concerns of spiritual life and death, being a spiritual work, should be attended to before the performance of a corporal work of mercy, such as ministering to the necessities of the body and the concerns of this life.
Luk 9:61 And another said: I will follow thee, Lord; but let me first take my leave of them that are at my house.
St. Luke alone mentions this third case; St. Matthew mentions the two former, as above. Whether all the occurrences recorded here by St. Luke in verses 57–61, took place at the same time, of which the third is omitted by St. Matthew, is uncertain. It is conjectured by some commentators, that the third case mentioned by St. Luke alone in this verse did not occur at the same time, with the two preceding ones; but, that St. Luke, seeing they were very similar in their import, narrated them consecutively, as if they occurred in immediate succession.
“Take leave of them, that are in my house”—my domestics. In this interpretation, the words, “them that are in my house,” are taken to be in the masculine gender, while others understand them to be in the neuter gender (as in Luke 14:33), τοις εις τον οικον μου, and to signify, to dispose of all his possessions and divide them among his friends as he might deem fit.
Luk 9:62 Jesus said to him: No man putting his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God.
“No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for,” &c. The first part should terminate thus, “No man putting his hand … and looking back, is a good ploughman, or fit to plough.” But our Redeemer concludes the sentence which commenced with a metaphor, by expressing the thing signified by the metaphor, “fit for the kingdom of God,” which is the application of the metaphorical allusion. As the man, who holds the ploughshare, must always look before him, in order to make straight furrows; so must the disciple of Christ devote himself with a direct, pure intention exclusively to the duties of his calling. The words, “putting his hand to the plough,” are probably allusive to Eliseus leaving the plough at the call of Elias and following him (3 Kings 19:19).
“Fit for the kingdom of God,” may mean, fit for labouring in the ministry of the Gospel—for ploughing the field of the Lord. Similar is the idea (2 Timothy 2:4), “nemo militans Deo,” &c.; or, it may be expressive of a general truth regarding all who are determined to follow Christ and embrace the tenets of the Gospel. Such persons must be detached from earthly cares; and must not allow worldly concerns or worldly interests to divide their hearts or turn them aside from the service of God, to whose glory everything in this world should be subservient.
It is clear our Lord saw, that this man had an inordinate hankering after the things of this world, a heart divided between following Christ and solicitude for earthly concerns; as He otherwise would not have censured what would seem to contain nothing deordinate, save, in the supposition made.
In the Matthean parallel Bishop MacEvilly also writes this in reference to the Lucan account: St. Luke states (9:61), that our Redeemer rejected, with a sharp rebuke, another, who before following Him, wished for some time to settle his temporal affairs; or, rather, to take leave of his friends and domestics, telling him impliedly, that by “putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, he became unfit for the kingdom of God.” From this, we can easily see, with what undivided care, a minister of the Gospel must devote himself to the exclusive discharge of his spiritual duties, without embarrassing himself with temporal matters, save in as far as they subserve the spiritual and eternal interests, which frequently does occur. “No man, being a soldier to God, entangleth himself with worldly business.” (2 Tim. 2) No doubt, this is universally true, and should be ever attended to by the ministers of religion; and to every good minister of religion, it is a cross, and a great source of annoyance, to be placed in circumstances, where temporal, political, and other worldly matters become a matter of duty, in defence of the rights of the Church, of his own people, of Christian education, &c. But, however annoying and irksome, they still become a duty, especially in a country like ours. Woe to those men, who, out of love of ease or Pharisaical affectation of superior sanctity, and detachment from the world, or from the corrupt motive of catering to the prejudices of the great, and of thus becoming accepted partakers of their bounty, by inglorious indolence and love of ease, betray the rights of the Church, the best interests of religion, and the permanent, enduring interests of civil society.
From the preceding verses (20–22), we can clearly see the dispositions which should animate all those who wish to enter on the Gospel ministry—1st. Disinterestedness; 2ndly. A generous promptitude in obeying the higher Divine call, to be retarded by no obstacles, no considerations of other duties, however urgent or plausible.