Verse 51 is the watershed of Luke's narrative. Up to this point Jesus has been establishing his public ministry, demonstrating who he is and thus who God is by acting to heal, to preach, to cast out demons, to associate with the lowly and the broken. Now he sets his face to go to Jerusalem. The cross is waiting, and Jesus goes to make sure the plan of God is enacted in its fullness. Now that the character and identity of God has been revealed on earth through Jesus' ministry, people are accountable for their judgment of Jesus -- and they will reject him. In the end even the Twelve forsook him and fled. So the cross, where God takes our rebellion and sin and brokenness and rejection into himself and forgives us, is the necessary outworking of God's love. God will stop at nothing to have a relationship with you.
One of the things that is hard for us to understand is that Jesus is the most authentic person possible. He is utterly true to himself and his character at all times. Most of us live lives in which we deceive ourselves and others about the truth of our character, but Jesus never does this. Jesus' authenticity is the reason why people reject him. The Samaritan village rejects Jesus because it is clear he is going to Jerusalem. (There was a significant argument going back 900 years, evident in Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well in John 4, about which was the appropriate place to worship -- Jerusalem or Samaria.) Jesus' face is set toward Jerusalem, and the Samaritans will not accept him.
The three individuals in the end of Luke 9 provide cryptic yet cautionary examples to us. Their discipleship apparently ends before it begins. In the first case, the potential follower is eager and ready to commit, and Jesus says (as he says elsewhere), "Count the cost." What does it mean to jump into this life with Jesus? We don't know, but the text implies that the person doesn't choose to follow a rabbi who has nowhere to lay his head.
The next one is called by Jesus but the constraints of this person's family of origin -- specifically the father -- outweigh Jesus' call. While it sounds in English as though the father was probably dead and awaiting the funeral -- a matter of just a few hours or at most days -- culturally, it's very possible that the father was aging but nowhere near dead, and this could represent years of putting off the choice to follow Jesus. Jesus responds with what sounds like a lack of compassion, but his incisive comment cuts to the heart of the person's idolatry of family over following Jesus.
The third is similar, but just wants to say farewell to family. Jesus names this person's "looking back" and says that kind of obsession with the past will be debilitating to his followers. In farming, plowing a straight furrow requires picking a spot on the far side of the field and steadily working toward it. If one is constantly looking over their shoulder, the furrow will zig-zag all over the place. We are called to keep our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2) and work for his kingship and his glory. Some of us are so obsessed with the sins of the past -- our own or others' -- that we make little progress toward future goals. Self-awareness is different from past-focus.
In each of these cases, it is the lordship of Jesus that is at stake. Each individual seeks to compromise their commitment to Jesus' lordship in some significant way. Jesus says what he does not because of a lack of compassion, but because he knows that his lordship, his rule, his plan in each of these people's lives is the very best possible thing for them. He will not compromise his own character to make the following easier.
It is so easy for us to be inauthentic. We shape our stories, telling only the comfortable parts to each individual we encounter. In the last couple years I've had the terrifying and difficult task of reframing the story of who I am, being honest about uncomfortable truths and relationships that I had kept quiet for the sake of keeping the peace. On telling a more authentic version of my own story, I allow my hearers to self-select. Many have chosen to end their association with me, to "unfriend" me. In other relationships, however, friends have chosen to reengage in a deeper way, and the friendships I now enjoy are amazing gifts to me. Turns out that for many people I was up on an inauthentic pedestal, and they choose to reject my friendship now rather than deal with the truth about me. To be fair, many felt betrayed that I had kept parts of myself hidden and been silent about my own wounds and needs for many years, so they felt like they didn't know me. Others chose to make me the villain of a new narrative that they can point to and shake their heads.
When we are inauthentic about ourselves, we end up painting ourselves into a corner, living constrained, dishonest, imprisoned lives because we allow others to relate to us as though what we've portrayed is real. Being authentic doesn't mean that we have to shove our personality down the throat of everyone we meet. It does, however, mean that we don't allow others to sally across our boundaries or tell us what we think without standing up for ourselves. It means that in relationships that matter to us, we will be authentic about ourselves and our stories, that we will share our character with integrity. I am learning to know myself at a deeper level these days and to let both my strengths and my weaknesses (and my needs -- a tough one for me) be a part of the conversation in the relationships that matter to me. As with Jesus, people will self-select in their response, and I am learning to let go of the weight of others' opinions.
Looking ahead, what happens to those who will follow this absolutely authentic Jesus, who will deal with him as Lord, who will follow him though it is difficult? We'll see in chapter 10 that they get to share in the two-by-two partnership of the kingdom, sent out in the joy of serving Jesus by his authority and proclaiming his kingship even as he marches onward toward the cross.