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God’s Word for You

Luke 9:57-58 foxes and birds

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, June 7, 2018

To Follow Jesus
(Matthew 8:19-22)

57 While they were on the way, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Although Matthew records this incident earlier with events during the Galilean ministry, Matthew’s chronological clues are not definite (there are none at all besides “and” in Matthew 8:19). Luke, who is usually less concerned about specific chronology, groups this account with other incidents that happened while Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51 ff.). So although we don’t know just when this happened, it would seem likely that it occurred sometime during the Lord’s third year of ministry, during the long trip to Jerusalem including the Berean ministry (which we will explain later).

We should also note that Luke’s time reference might only apply to the first of these men, and that the other two encounters (one man was called by Jesus, another offered to follow the Lord) may have happened later still.

Matthew tells us that this first man was a grammateus (γραμματεὺς), a “scribe” or “teacher of the law.” This was an Old Testament Bible scholar, a man who taught the Scriptures and who was involved in the faithful and painstaking copying of the Scriptures. So it’s remarkable that he wanted to follow Jesus. Here was a man of faith, a man who had studied the Scriptures in great detail and had concluded that Jesus was a man to follow. More than that: he had concluded that Jesus was the man to follow; Jesus was the Messiah, the promised Savior.

58 Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Jesus doesn’t question the man’s faith or intentions. Jesus never hesitated to call a hypocrite a hypocrite, especially if the hypocrite was a teacher of the law (Matthew 15:1,7, 23:13, 23:15, 23:23, 23:25, 23:27, 23:29). This man, however, was different. He doesn’t seem to have come with any ulterior motive like wealth or prestige or power of any kind. Here was a scholar who wanted to learn, to follow, and to be Jesus’ disciple. But Jesus read his heart and saw that this man who loved him had not considered something. Jesus was not so much like Joseph, rising to fame and power in Egypt (Genesis 41:41-43), as he was like Joseph’s grandfather Isaac, the child of the promise, who had to wander and live like a homeless man wherever the Lord sent him (Genesis 26:1-6).

Birds and animals have their little homes. The den of a fox is nothing more than a hole in the ground. The nest of a bird is nothing more than a woven pile of twigs and duff. But they have more than the Son of Man.

An alternate view and a less likely one is that Jesus uses “foxes” and “birds” here in a more colloquial sense. “That fox” in Luke 13:32 is a reference to King Herod. “Birds of the air” in Matthew 6:26 is a reference to birds which do no work, but which are cared for by God. Used in conjunction with “foxes,” “birds” might refer to the poor and hapless among the Jews. So together this could also be a reference to the very rich and the very poor among the Jews—everybody has a home except the Lord. However, since the passage can be understood as it is as a reference to animals, this “colloquial stretch” doesn’t seem to be necessary.

The teacher of the law would have to consider this aspect of following Jesus before he truly offered to follow. Notice that Jesus doesn’t reject him or refuse him or even rebuke him. He just adds a fact to be considered.

Someone thinking about the teaching or preaching ministry needs to be informed in the same way. Pastors and teachers go where we are called. While some denominations and even some Lutherans interview prospective ministers, and their workers put out resumes and video clips with what they think might be their best preaching, confessional Lutheran churches do not. Our pastors and teachers are called from a list provided by district officials (usually a district president), and the ones who are called do not have any say in who calls them or where they will serve. They either stay where they are, or they accept a call somewhere else. We can’t say, “I’d rather be a preacher in Hawaii.” We go where the Holy Spirit calls; where the Lord places us, and the people there are the people we serve. We have the comfort of knowing that we serve where the Lord wants us to serve.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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