Lectionary Commentaries for June 26, 2016
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Commentary on Luke 9:51-62
Mikeal C. Parsons
Commentary on 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Stephen B. Reid
We find ourselves in a season of change and transition.
The theophany of 1 Kings 19 commissions the prophet to participate in the changing of the guard that included the overthrow of the House of Omri of Israel (2 Kings 9-10) and Ben Haddad of Aram (2 Kings 8:7-15) who will be replaced by Hazael. Jehu ben Nimshi will replace Ahab, the son of Omri. The political shift of personnel is paralleled on the prophetic side. There is also a transition of prophetic power.
The transition from the previous story (1 Kings 19:1-18) is short. He (Elijah) went from there. The transition to Elisha begins. Elijah “finds” Elisha which means “God is salvation.” Elijah finds Elisha plowing with a set of oxen. The twelve oxen yoke represents a sense of balance as well. The yoke of oxen probably indicates that Elisha comes from a wealthy family. The twelve yoke of oxen means there were twenty-four oxen. Elisha gives up a stable and secure life for the volatile world as a person of God.
Transition is one element in the story the use of symbol, talisman is another. The DC comics’ superheroine Wonder Woman wielded her lasso of truth. When Wonder Woman encompasses a person with the lasso of truth they cannot tell a lie. It was an instrument of power and a trademark for her character. For Elijah it was not a lasso but rather a mantel. The prophetic mantel in this story has important properties. Call narratives often turn on a speech (Exodus 3; 1 Samuel 3; Isaiah 6 etc.). But Elijah does not speak to Elisha at all. He throws his mantel over Elisha. Throwing the mantle often seems odd for several reasons. First it is not a prophetic sort of thing. While there was regalia for royalty worn by Tamar for David (2 Samuel 13:18), kings Ahab and Jehosophat (1 Kings 22:10), the priest had regalia. (See Exodus 28; Numbers 20:25-28) Later texts describe the distinctive clothing of Mordecai (Esther 6:8-9) and the priest Joshua ben Jehozadak (Zechariah 3). Nonetheless there is no evidence to support a conjectured distinctive wardrobe for prophets. The mantel functions as one of the distinguished markers of prophetic power. The Mari texts ascribes a prophet reflects the mantel alas an expression of personal commitment. The mantle reflects a distinctive artifact. It could be that the cave incident where David cut the robe of Saul while he slept amidst a war. The king’s mantel could function as a substitute for his person. The robe/mantel recurs in 2 Kings 2. However, the gesture of throwing the mantel remains uncertain.
We first see reference to the mantel of Elijah in 1 Kings 19:13 where Elijah uses the mantel to cover his face before the presence of God. The mantel separates the waters of the Jordan (2 Kings 2:8, 13-14). The reference to the parting of the waters of Jordan plays on a tradition of crossing water as a metaphor of historical transition. The first instance of crossing a body of water to mark a new social order is Exodus 14. The Exodus text uses the language “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea.” (Exodus 14:21, 26) The waters of the Jordan River separate so that the “ark of the covenant of the LORD stood on dry land in the midst of the Jordan” (Joshua 3:17b; 4:15-24) the crossing of the Sea of Reeds was the outstretched hand of Moses. The crossing of the Jordan River used Ark of the Covenant as a talisman that parted the waters. The Kings version of the crossing trope uses the mantel as the talisman. The mantel will later be a symbol of the transfer of prophetic power from Elijah to Elisha. (2 Kings 2:15)
Elisha makes an enigmatic request for a time to leave his family. Elisha says “Let me kiss my father and mother” refers to the tradition of a farewell kiss. Elijah’s grants the request. There is a conjunction ki which can function as a marker of causation or adversative particle. The causation interpretation reads the passage, “Go because what I have done to you.” If you read this as an adversative particle it would read, “Go but (remember) what I have done to you.” Either way the passage underlines the irrevocability of the call. This is an interesting text to compare with the call of the disciples of Jesus (Matthew 8:21f; Luke 9:61).
The third element in this passage is service. Elisha breaks up the wood yokes and makes a fire. He slaughters the oxen and cooks them over the fire. Well he boils the meat. But this is more than a farewell barbecue. The artifacts of his previous life now redound to the feeding of his family and friends. The symbols of the past life are consumed. Elisha serves his family and friends. This is quite different from the traditions about Saul. While both Elisha and Saul cut up oxen, they are different types of symbolic actions. Saul also cut up a team of oxen but in a quite different story. Saul cuts up a team of oxen in order to shame the other tribes into participating in the holy war. (1 Samuel 11)
The last sentence of chapter 19 sets up the narrative tension. Elisha now eats, rises, and goes after Elijah and he ministers for Elijah. Elisha may be replacing the servant Elijah left earlier (1 Kings 19:3) at Beersheba. The Hebrew verb rendered “served him” describes priestly service (e.g. Exodus 28:35; Numbers 3:6; 1 Kings 8:11), royal service (1 Chronicles 27:1; Esther 1:10; Genesis 39:4; 2 Samuel 13:7), angelic service (Psalm 103), and Joshua’s service to Moses (Exodus 24:13; 33:11; Numbers 11:28). Moses had his Joshua and Elijah has his Elisha.
The transition of prophetic power is marked by the change of the mantel of prophecy. The symbol of the mantel and crossing signals transition carry the passage. Amidst all this transition the role of service remains.
Alternate First Reading
Commentary on 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Stephen B. Reid
Prophecy is all about relationships and the expressions of loyalty.
Verse one set the context for the statement of relationships and obligations as the impending transitions. The language of whirlwind (se’ara) can be associated with theophany (Job 38:1; 40:6) but also divine punishment (Jeremiah 23:19, Zechariah 9:14; Psalm 83:16). Here we see both God’s powerful and amorphous presence. The use of the storm makes sense in the ancient world where Phoenician, Syrian, and Mesopotamian storm gods such as Baal or Hadad dominate the theological imagination.
Four characters appear in the first verses of 2 Kings 2: God, Elijah, Elisha, and the prophetic guild. Only the last three have speaking parts. Elijah instructs Elisha “stay here.” Elisha rejects Elijah’s admonition. Elisha pledges that he will not forsake his mentor. The prophetic guild makes the speech to explain the instructions of Elijah to Elisha with the phrase “don’t you know?” (2 Kings 2:3a). Then Elisha rebuts the prophetic guild as well. Elisha let them know that he in fact knew what was about to happen. Elisha instructed the prophetic guild to keep silent (2 Kings 2:3b). The cycle of speeches occurs three times with the itinerary Bethel, Jericho, and finally the Jordan. The conversation between Naomi and Ruth might provide an interesting parallel (See Ruth 1:7-18).
The passage locates Elijah and Elisha at Gilgal, which connects to the Joshua tradition (See chapters 2-5) as the initial encampment. They travel on to Bethel and Jericho. These parallels may reflect the authors attempt to portray Elijah and Elisha as the new Moses and Joshua (Numbers 27:12-23; Deuteronomy 31-34).
The mantel that figured so prominently in 1 Kings 19 makes another appearance. Elijah strikes the Jordan River and the waters are divided and they walked on dryland. The same trope occurs in Exodus 14:21; Joshua 3:17, 4:18. Each of the previous uses mark a group building crossing of water either the Sea of Reeds (Exodus 14) or the Jordan (Joshua 3:17, 4:18). They mark a transition in community identity.
The mentor prophet Elijah asks his protégé what he would like to receive. The protégé seems to surprise Elijah when he responds that he wants twice Elijah’s spirit. The senior prophet Elijah questions the wisdom of Elisha’s request. In some ways this anticipates the request of John and James to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus (Mark 10:37; Matthew 20:23). The theme of loyalty comes up in verse ten. If Elisha stays close enough to Elijah to be able to see him at the point of his taking up, then Elisha would receive the double portion of spirit.
Is the “double portion” literally “double mouth”? The eldest son receives a double portion (Deuteronomy 21:17). The term occurs in Zechariah 13:8 where it refers to two thirds instead of double. The use of double portion in familial context might indicate that the prophetic guild took on some of the language of the paterfamilias of the extended family that acquired to describe itself. Another strategy frames the double portion as twice the prophet that Elijah was. Such a strategy reminds the reader of the Elijah brave prophet on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18) and the dejected prophet hiding in the wilderness in the south who laments, “I alone have been zealous for the LORD.”
Elisha pledged not to abandon Elijah but in the end Elisha could not prevent a separation. Amidst their journey God breaks in the form of the chariot of fire and horses of fire. Elisha’s response is both recognition and grieving. The language of the family intrudes into the relationship between prophet and protégé. The protégé Elisha laments “my father, my father.” This use of “father” language to refer to a group’s leader (2 Kings 2:12, 13-14; 1 Samuel 10:12 and maybe 2 Kings 6:21), indicates an appropriation of familial obligation in the prophetic guild.
Weather deities such as Baal and Hadad are depicted in the iconography of the Mediterranean world as riding in chariots or winged sun disks. God is characterized as riding through the heavens on a chariot elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. (See Psalm 68:5, 34; Psalm 18:11; 2 Samuel 22:11; Deuteronomy 33:26; Isaiah 19:1, and most notably Ezekiel 1:8-11). The chariots of fire are now named as the chariots of Israel. God has made it impossible for Elisha to keep his pledge to not be separated from Elijah. Now a solitary Elisha returns to the bank of the Jordan River. He stands on the bank where he and Elijah had stood before.
In the original Star Wars movie when Obi Wan Kenobi was supposedly “struck down” all that remained was his cloak. The remaining heroes fled and left the cloak behind but not so Elisha. This mantel was a sign of prophetic authority and a tool for prophetic acts of power. Elisha picks up the mantel of Elijah (2 Kings 2:13) and took it. He then struck the Jordan River and is split. This is a literary conclusion of the event that began earlier in chapter 2. When Elisha strikes the water with the mantel he invokes the name of Elijah in an odd way. He begins with a question “where is the God of Elijah?” With this invocation he strikes the waters of the Jordan and it splits as it had when Elijah did the same (2 Kings 2:9) and Elisha passed over. What was implicit with the first crossing of the Jordan by the pair Elijah and Elisha, namely the reference to Exodus and Joshua, now is explicitly connected to the tradition of Elijah.
The transition of prophetic power began in 1 Kings 19 with the call of Elisha. The mantel started Elisha’s ministry. Elijah used the mantel to part the waters in an oblique allusion to the crossing of the Reed Sea (Exodus 14) and the crossing of the Jordan (Joshua 3 and 4) Now the protégé performs the act of power that his mentor accomplished. Now the transition is complete?
Commentary on Psalm 16
Jin H. Han
Life comes with the blessing of choices, although some philosophers have endeavored to make us think of them as a curse.
Our psalm selection reports the blissful choice that the psalmist made to recognize God as the Lord, without whom there is nothing good or lasting. It echoes the first lesson from 1 Kings 19, in which Elisha chooses to follow Elijah in the walk of God’s prophet. The epistle lesson from Galatians 5 celebrates the freedom Christ made possible so that we may bear the manifold fruit of the Spirit in life. The gospel lesson from Luke 9 completes the picture of a servant of the Lord, who takes the path of service single-heartedly and with trust.
The psalmist, who will turn to none but God, presents his petition for protection (literally “keep me,” Psalm 16:1). In the Hebrew Bible, the word “keep” (shamar) almost always comes with God as the subject when the object in the verb is a human being (e.g., Psalm 121:4; 145:20). Counting on that which God is well-known for doing, the psalmist asks God to shield him.
The psalmist’s prayer is followed by a declaration of trust with a language that recalls the rite of covenant making or renewal (Psalm 16:2). The first part of the statement (“You are my Lord”) sets the parameters of the pact. As a term of the covenant, the psalmist says that he cannot conceptualize what is good apart from God. He has nowhere else to turn in times of need. God’s deliverance he petitioned for in v. 1 is no longer something merely desired. It is an absolute necessity.
Whereas the NRSV presents the psalmist making the vow of fidelity concurrently with his petition, the Hebrew text offers an alternative way to imagine the scene, in that v. 2 can be translated: “I said (or, I have said) to the LORD.” In other words, the psalmist has trusted in God in the past and in a consistent manner.
His adoration of God has an implication in the way he deals with others, whom he introduces as “holy ones” (v. 3). The “holy ones” may elsewhere refer to angels or other divine beings, but in v. 3, they are “in the land,” which makes it clear that he refers to the community of the faithful people. He accords paramount value on “the holy ones in the land,” whom he calls “noble” (v. 3). Their lofty status, however, is not predicated on their pedigree or power. Their worthiness lies solely in their dedication to God, and their commitment constitutes the basis of the psalmist’s utmost joy. He would place them in a sharp contrast to those who are eager to “choose another god” (v. 4) — those who are caricatured in the KJV as hastening in their folly of unfaithfulness.
They not only bring pain upon themselves but also cause harm to others, as implied in the image of their “drink offerings of blood” (v. 4a). The ghastly image hints at the facade of worship that conceals their violent acts they are engaged in behind a pretense of piety. The psalmist unequivocally refuses to join their false worship. In contrast to them, the psalmist would expound the blessing he recognizes in sticking with God. He adds that he would not “take their names upon my lips” (v. 4b). While the sentence can refer to a number of contexts, the psalmist clearly declines to keep them company. The NRSV’s translation in vv. 4-5 is clever, juxtaposing those who “choose” another god and the psalmist who has “chosen” the LORD. Although the latter case involves a different Hebrew word, the NRSV renders a picture of God as the choice portion of inheritance.
The idea of inheritance is paired with the portrayal of God who maintains the psalmist’s “lot,” which may refer to his physical property or to his destiny (v. 5). While the basic tenor is clear, curiously the two halves of the verse display a different sentence structure. The first half reports the psalmist’s declaration in the third person (“The LORD is my chosen portion”). By contrast, in the second half of the verse, the psalmist switches to the second person: “YOU hold my lot.” The shift simulates a scene in which, upon making a public statement concerning God’s sovereign care, the psalmist turns to address God directly with his confession of faith.
We continue to receive his personalized reflection on God in v. 6. He regards the LORD as his inheritance that was handed down to him; in turn he will hand down his faith to later generations. He describes what he has received as something that is “fallen” to him, acknowledging that it came to him as a gift of grace that he can neither claim credit for nor take for granted. The word “heritage” presuppose changing generations, and the word “fallen” may, albeit obliquely, refer to dying, but death will not end the legacy of his faithfulness.
“The boundary lines” (v. 6) may also be a metaphor for God’s way that guides his path in life — the kind of counsel that he talks about in v. 7, and the teaching of the Lord that keeps him up in the night (see also Psalm 119:55, 148). Alternatively, the psalmist of Psalm 16 may refer to the dark moments in life. Even then he is not left without confidence. In a steadfast manner he is led by the LORD instead of being like one “who puts a hand to the plow and looks back” (Luke 9:62a). Jesus says such a person is not fit for the reign of God (v. 62b).
The psalmist will stay with the LORD instead of being moved (literally “will not totter”; Psalm 16:8b). He is confident that this is the formula for security as well as for happiness (v. 9). This verse contains a catalogue of organs that often symbolize the center or entirety of one’s being, constructing a picture of exuberance that permeates his body and soul.
The psalmist trusts that God will deliver him from death (v. 10). He anticipates that God will show him “the path of life” (v. 11). No wonder Peter on the day of Pentecost finds this psalm pertinent when he is compelled to present to the crowd his testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:27). God ensures the life of the faithful consistently from the Old to the New.
Commentary on Galatians 5:1, 13-25
The first verse of our text for this week includes a reiteration of the great theme of Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).
Then, verses 13-25 will set out the nature, meaning, and parameters of that freedom.
Freedom to love one another
Paul has already insisted that freedom in Christ is freedom from the requirements of the Jewish law. In the verses not included in the present pericope, Galatians 5:2-12, Paul has again insisted on one of his central points throughout the letter that Christian freedom is freedom from the requirement of male circumcision, as well as from the required keeping of the whole Jewish law. In fact, in 5:6 Paul announces what will be the theme of our pericope in the subsequent verses 13-25: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.”
Now he sets parameters to this freedom: it is not freedom for self-indulgence (Greek “the flesh”), but rather “through love become slaves to one another” (Galatians 5:13). Freedom from the requirements of the law does not constitute an “anything goes” freedom; it still has constraints. The constraints are the responsibility and commitment to the welfare of others in the community. While Paul had invoked the social reality of slavery to help describe in 3:28 the new life in the new community in Christ, saying that in the Christian community “there is no longer slave or free,” he does not hesitate to use the same language positively — recycled, reimagined, repurposed, reused — here to describe the relationship and mutual commitment of the members of the community to one another. In the same way, Paul describes himself as a slave of Christ in Galatians 1:10 (see NRSV footnote).
The works of the law after all
Remarkably, amidst all the anti-law polemic of Galatians, the work of faith which is “the only thing that counts” is precisely the work of the law. Not, of course, law-works such as circumcision, food laws, and the like, but the ethical core and central command of the law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14, quoting Leviticus 19:18).
This love of self and neighbor, this being slaves to one another in love, stands opposed to the works of self-indulgence/the flesh, to the items in Paul’s partial list (“and things like these”) in vv. 19-21 of works which harm and disrespect oneself and others in the community.
The works of the Spirit
It is therefore not for nothing that love heads the list of the fruit — not fruits — of the Spirit in the famous list found in vv. 22-23. On Paul’s use of the singular “fruit,” M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock write that
while the “flesh” results in a plurality of works, … God’s Holy Spirit … generates a singular fruit. Love is not one “virtue” or “ideal” among others, but the care for others expressed in concrete acts of unselfishness, the mainspring of all the other activities …1
Thus Paul’s thesis stands: the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
Thoughts and questions toward preaching
As I write this, in early March 2016, the U.S. presidential primary and caucus season is in full swing. And as one views the candidates’ debates there is no shortage of many of the “vices” on Paul’s list of the works of the flesh: enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy. And this will likely continue well into summer and fall and right up to November 1.
It is also not for nothing that Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan write that this sort of life is “living by the ‘wisdom of this world,’ the normalcy of the domination systems of [Paul’s] time,” wherein “societies [are] ruled by a few who use … their power, wealth, and ‘wisdom’ to shape the social system in their own self-interest.”2
While it may be true that this is “politics as usual” and not much different from any other election year behavior, it is also true that each of us suffers from the same spiritual maladies of heart and mind: flesh battles Spirit, Spirit is inhibited by flesh. And one can see the validity of the NRSV’s translation “self-indulgence” rather than “flesh” both on the political stage as well as within our own hearts and communities of faith.
How much difference do our Christian faith and the Spirit of Christ make to our communal life within the Christian community? How do they affect our lives “out in the world”? Do we avail ourselves sufficiently of God’s gift in Christ of the fruit of the Spirit, steadfastly resisting the works of the flesh both within and without?
The NRSV’s translation “self-indulgence” is particularly helpful in clarifying the meaning of Paul’s quoted passage from Leviticus 19. How well do we love ourselves and exercise the fruit of the Spirit in our internal relationship with and to ourselves — substituting self-love for self-indulgence? How well do we refuse to be coopted by and seek alternative patterns of living to the domination system and its encouragement of self-interest? And does that self-love serve as the basis for neighbor-love which builds up the Christian community and enables us to “bear one another’s burdens”? (Galatians 6:2).
May the Spirit of Christ’s love be continually given and received in our lives.
1 M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 592.
2 Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon (HarperOne: 2009), 206, 135.
The Lukan travel narrative (chapters 9-19) begins with a notice of Jesus’ resolve to go to Jerusalem and his inhospitable reception by a Samaritan village.
Luke sets the stage: “Now it happened that as the time was drawing near for him to be taken up, he firmly resolved to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). The notice that “the time was drawing near” (literally, “as the days were being fulfilled”) elsewhere in Luke/Acts suggests a fulfillment of prophecy (compare with the phrase in Acts 2:1 indicating that Pentecost is fulfilling Jesus’ prediction in Luke 24:49) and sets the journey within the divine plan. But what is drawing near? Luke indicates that it is the time for Jesus “to be taken up” (analempseos). Certainly this term parallels the discussion of Jesus’ departure (exodos), which Jesus, Moses, and Elijah had discussed at the transfiguration (9:31). The departure encompasses the events, including his passion, leading up to his final departure from the disciples. Jesus is “firmly resolved to go to Jersualem” where these events will be fulfilled. The Greek is literally “he set his face” (autos to prosopon esterisen) and reflects a Hebraism1 that suggests a “fixedness of purpose.”2
The journey to Jerusalem has a less than auspicious beginning. Luke narrates: “He sent messengers ahead of him, and they went and entered a Samaritan village to prepare for him. But the people there did not welcome him, because he was set on going to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:52-53). Given the animosity between Jews and Samaritans (see 10:25-37), it is not surprising that the Samaritans refuse to show hospitality to the traveling prophet, Jesus, and his followers. The disciples, James and John, offer an immediate remedy that they believe has scriptural warrant: “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and wipe them out?” (Luke 9:53). They are perhaps echoing Elijah’s summoning heavenly fire to consume some soldiers (2 Kings 1:9-12), as surmised by some scribes who added “as Elijah did” at the end of v. 54. Jesus’ response is no less decisive: “But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went to another village”3 (Luke 9:55-56). Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples’ proposed violence resonates with other Second Temple Jewish texts, which likewise offer critiques of those passages that depict prophets and even Abraham as calling for the destruction of “sinners.”4 The judgment on the disciples’ prejudice against these Samaritans will come into sharper focus very soon when Jesus tells the parable of a “good” Samaritan who is held up as the model of hospitality and philanthropy (compare with Luke 10:25-37; also 17:11-19).
What follows is a series of three chreiae. A chreia is “a brief saying or action making a point, attributed to some specified person.”5 These are “apocritic chreiae”6 which are embedded chreiae spoken in response to another’s statement. The first two chreiae are familiar to the authorial audience, which recognizes them from other versions (Matthew 8:18-22/ Q 9:57-60): “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 dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man does not have a place where he can lay his head.’ Then he said to another, ‘Follow me.’ But he replied, ‘[Lord,] first allow me to go bury my father.’ Then he said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but you, when you have left, proclaim the kingdom of God’ (Luke 9:57-60). In Luke’s version, by eliminating the reference to Jesus as “Teacher” (Matthew 8:18), the statements that elicit the chreia begin with a form of akoloutheo (“I will follow”; “follow me”), which introduces the theme of discipleship. To follow Jesus, the “Son of Man” who — unlike “foxes” and “birds of the sky” — has no place to lay his head, is to embark on a journey that may involve alienation; indeed it already has in the preceding rejection by a Samaritan village (Luke 9:51-56)! Further, the call to follow Jesus on the journey of “proclaiming the kingdom of God” is a call to radical commitment, whether the dead who are left to bury the dead are understood literally as referring to those who deal with corpses (e.g., grave diggers) or metaphorically as referring to those who are spiritually dead and who refuse to take up this challenge. In this regard, the call to follow Jesus is a call to participate in a “prophetic drama” that, like Jeremiah’s or Ezekiel’s refusal to mourn the dead, underscores the crisis at hand (compare with Jeremiah 16:5-9; Ezekiel 24:16-24).
The third statement, a responsive chreia, is unique to Luke. Notice first that this third would-be disciple combines elements from the first two: “I will follow you (compare with v. 57) Lord, but first allow me (compare with v. 59) to say goodbye to those in my household” (Luke 9:61). Missing in this excuse is any sense of urgency (“I will follow you anywhere!”; “let me first bury my father”); rather the request is simply to return home to say good-bye to family (as Elijah did; compare with 1 Kings 19:19-21). Jesus’ response functions to provide a rationale for why the would-be disciple must leave the dead and cannot return to his family: “But Jesus said to him, ‘Nobody who has put his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” (9:62). Luke has elaborated the chreiae, “let the dead bury the dead” and “(you) preach the kingdom” into the form of an enthymeme7, by adding one of the missing premises. The logic of the Lukan Jesus can be reconstructed as follows:
First premise: No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God
(Missing) Second premise: You wish to be fit for the kingdom of God
Conclusion: Therefore, leave the dead to bury the dead, and go, proclaim the kingdom of God.
Furthermore, the new chreia is a gnomic saying in form8 that is, it attributes to Jesus a saying that would have been rather well-known in the ancient Mediterranean world. For example, in Hesiod’s Works and Days, a plowman is described as one “who attends to his work and drives a straight furrow and no longer gapes after his comrades, but keeps his mind on his work.”9 In other words, to look back from the plow (whether to family living or dead) was to risk cutting a crooked or shallow furrow and thus ruining the work altogether! There is no place for looking back or even trying to look in two directions at once (being “two-faced”); rather, would-be disciples must be single-minded in purpose, setting their faces like Jesus on the task at hand.
Material adapted from Luke. Paideia Commentary Series. Eds. Mikeal C. Parsons, Charles H. Talbert, and Bruce. Longenecker. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic (a division of Baker Publishing Group), 2015. Used by permission.
1 compare with Ezekiel 21:2; Evans 1987, 80-84.
2 Plummer 1896, 263.
3 for a similar rebuke of a disciple’s violence [both proposed and actual], see Acts of Philip 26-27.
4 compare with e.g. Testament of Abraham 10.
5 Theon, Progymnasmata 96.
6 compare with Theon, Progymnasmata 98.
7 a syllogism with a missing premise; compare with Theon, Progymnasmata 99.
8 Theon, Progymnasmata 99.
9 1.443; compare with Pliny, Naturalis Historia 18.19.49.