1 Kings 19:16b, 19–21
Galatians 5:1, 13–18
It so happens that this year we resume our reading of Luke’s gospel on Sundays at a turning point in the Jesus story. Though we have just finished celebrating the climax of Jesus’ life with his betrayal, death then resurrection and ascension in Jerusalem and its environs, we are now picking up the story at that point where Luke says “Jesus resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” In Greek Luke writes that Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem.” It is clear that Jerusalem is more than just a geographical location. Jerusalem is a goal for Jesus. Jerusalem is where Jesus must go. Luke began his account in the temple in Jerusalem, his story of Jesus ends with the disciples returning to the temple each day after his ascension to praise God. In Acts the new community makes the temple the place where preaching the good news of the resurrection begins. And it is in the context of the temple that Paul finds out that he will leave from there and begin his journey to Rome.
Luke makes this journey to Jerusalem a key element in Jesus story. His days in Galilee are fulfilled. The next task is to head to Jerusalem to fulfill what the Messiah must do: suffer and die and in this way be taken up in glory. Luke collects many events, sayings and parables of Jesus and weaves them into this journey. This journey story is not just about Jesus setting out for Jerusalem, it is also about how the disciples journey with him. So it is today that we begin to learn something about being on our journey with Jesus.
You cannot get from Galilee to Jerusalem except by going through or around Samaria. The word Samaria or Samaritan is loaded. Jews and Samaritans do not mix literally. for the Jews the Samaritans are outcasts racially and religiously. When James and John approach seeking hospitality, they are rejected because the Samaritans hear they are going to Jerusalem. Samaritans had their own center for worship. Or is there perhaps another reason why they are rejected? Jerusalem for this journey means to suffer and die. Who wants to undertake a journey that will lead to suffering and death? Is this the road that leads to glory? For a true disciple it will mean embracing suffering and death as part of the transformation process that will release the new person that Jesus says comes with the Kingdom. Note how John and James react to being rejected! They want God to burn up the village. Is this the way of Jesus who has been preaching mercy and called disciples to be compassionate like the heavenly Father? Is violence the response to rejection or not getting things my way, our way? Is a simple rejection in hospitality met with a scorched earth policy? Jesus passes no judgement and in fact is rather practical: move on to a place where you will be received. The disciple is not about invoking violence when one’s way is not met, when one faces hostility in many forms. These two disciples are not displaying basic love of God and love of neighbor.
Jesus now offers instruction to three would-be disciples. The first approaches Jesus. He is ready for anything and says he will follow Jesus everywhere. We could say he is brashly self-confident. But Jesus challenges the boast with powerlessness. If you want to follow me, then you will have to be willing to do without the creature comforts that society may offer. A true disciple may find that he or she does not fit in with the very society in which he or she is actually living. There will be a certain sense of homelessness, of not fitting it, of somehow being on the edge. There will be the tension of belonging and yet not belonging. In the end, says Jesus, the Son of Man will be handed over for not quit fitting in. Are you willing to follow me for that? Your nest, your home: where is it really?
Jesus calls the next would-be disciple to follow him. BUT not yet. I have family obligations and they come first. The example is extreme perhaps. The would be disciple must wait till his father dies until he can follow Jesus! Jesus’ invitation to follow is an opening to a whole new way of life called the Kingdom of God. It asks for total commitment here and now. The opportunity that Jesus is offering is God’s offer for something that is totally new and totally engaging. It will change the way you viewed your previous life and commitments. It is a new perspective. One must grasp it now or it will slip through your hands.
The situation of the third would be disciple is similar. He wants to go get the blessing of his family. We could sympathize with this follower. It would seem appropriate to make sure that your family contacts are in order and they are with you before setting off on something new. If you don’t do that then you might be standing at the plow but looking back to see if they approve. Jesus’ point is clear. If following him is what attracts and holds you, then being faithful to that following will bring its own affirmation and a new family.
What should be clear is that Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem knowing what that would mean. Remember, he backs up his determination to set out knowing that a prophet does not die outside Jerusalem. Those who follow him need to have that same determination. And the strength and determination for setting out on the journey with the Lord and the goal of the journey must be, as Jesus says, the Kingdom of God. Our life must be lived from the perspective of the Kingdom of God. And that Kingdom embraces within its perspective such issues as care for the environment, the loss of biodiversity, racial relations, treatment of migrants at the border, sexual abuse, dialogue between religions, social media—to name some issues in our contemporary society that desperately need a Kingdom viewpoint. As long as we live our lives from another perspective, the challenges of Jesus we hear today will rightfully and necessarily be echoing in our ears and hearts. Jesus makes the point that living in the Kingdom will look different from living the way the world would offer and expect.
Paul makes the point rather clearly today. If you live like the world might suggest, then you will go on biting and devouring one another. In the end you will be consumed by violence. The fire won’t come from above; it will come from within and destroy. The Kingdom’s Spirit, on the other hand, brings love and a freedom that allows for growth in the ways of the compassionate God.
Prior Joel, OSB