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17 November. Luke chapter 8-9
These chapters are “bitty” – they consist of about twenty short anecdotes or recollections of the words and works of Jesus in different places. I can however see a common theme in five of them:
In explaining the parable of the sower, Jesus says “The seed is the word of God. The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved” (8:11-12).
In sending out his twelve closest disciples, Jesus tells them among other instructions, “Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them’” (9:5).
Likewise, when the inhabitants of a Samaritan village refused to accept him, Jesus criticised his disciples for praying against those people, but merely moved on to the next village (9:53-56).
In speaking of those who feel unable to “carry the cross” (I.e. to experience rejection or hardship of any kind because they follow him), he says “What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?” (9:25).
Finally, when people made excuses for not following him (such as being recently bereaved, or having family ties that they were reluctant to break) he said “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (9:62).
What all these have in common is that not everyone who saw Jesus perform miracles and heard his incomparable teaching about the meaning of life actually believed in or followed him. Some turned away, some were indifferent and some actively opposed him.
So it is not surprising that the same is true today. Seeking new disciples (witnessing, evangelism, nurture, outreach, mission – whatever you call it) will always be disappointing if we expect instant results. The majority of people will always either fail to understand the Gospel message, or be too busy with other things to really engage with it, or may even feel threatened by it and reject it (and thereby reject Jesus himself).
Jesus’ reaction to that seems to along the lines of “keep calm and carry on” – if one village rejects you, try another. If one person doesn’t engage with what you are trying to tell them, speak to someone else. The fault is theirs, not yours, and it is for God to decide, ultimately, whether they have chosen to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.