Jesus announces to his disciples that soon he will go to Jerusalem, be mocked, arrested, tortured, killed, and after three days return. Soon after that announcement three of his disciples accompany him to a mountain top where astonishingly he appears to be radiantly bright, brighter than the Sun, conversing with Moses and Elijah about his upcoming “exodus” – the same death and resurrection previously mentioned.
Then, as chapter 9 of Luke continues, we are told, “When the time was being fulfilled for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” That is, the time had come for the event of his “exodus” as he had described it. And so he “sets his face” – his face is set as flint, as if carved in stone – so determined is his spirit, no matter the obstacles set before him, his commitment to God’s will, which he proclaimed in the wilderness and has confirmed by his ministry of healing and teaching in Galilee, is firm. He is going to Jerusalem to face his detractors, his enemies, and both the political and religious powers that reside in that sacred city.
He sends messengers ahead as he takes the most direct route from Galilee to Jerusalem through Samaria. This route would otherwise be avoided by all his countrymen and women as Samaria was home to people of common ancestry as Israel, but yet were hated enemies all the way back to the Eighth Century BCE over events that occurred during the Assyrian captivity. Still, he who calls us to love and pray for our enemies chooses to go this way, where his disciples receive the expected hostile reception in a Samaritan village.
John and James, the “sons of thunder” wish to command “fire to come down from heaven to consume them.” Jesus rebukes them. There is no time to continue petty feuds. Besides, I’m about to teach you that some if not most of our Samaritan so-called enemies are better people and more grateful for what I am doing than some of the most honored and esteemed of our own people. Of course, referring to his parable of The Good Samaritan, and the one-in-ten Lepers who unlike the others, stops, turns and thanks Jesus for restoring him to fullness and wholeness of life. Leave the village alone. Shake the dust off your sandals and keep going. We are going to Jerusalem. Now. No time for such nonsense! It ought to be noted, that Jesus, who some people believed to be Elijah returned, in this instance is utterly unlike Elijah who slaughtered the priests and prophets of Baal on top of Mount Carmel. Jesus is all about rescuing and sparing life, not taking it.
Then curiously, after calling people to follow him unconditionally throughout Galilee, Jesus then proceeds to discourage or actually rebuke three wannabe followers. There is now a cost to journey with Jesus. Those who wish to join the movement need to be aware of the costs.
To the first he suggests it will be a life of homelessness. The next wants to bury his parents before joining up. Despite this being a solemn obligation in Israel from which no one is exempt, Jesus rebukes him saying, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go, and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Implying that those who are not already following Jesus are as good as dead and may as well stay home to perform their duty. The third wants time to go home and say good-bye “to those at home,” something Elijah allowed his protégé Elisha to do. Again, showing himself not to be Elijah, Jesus replies, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
In the vernacular of the sixties and seventies, either you are on the bus or off the bus. Either you are walking with Jesus, or you are not. The stakes are high. There is an urgency to live out the Good News here and now.
We often need to be reminded that Jesus comes to announce good news to the poor, to the stranger, to the sick and the homeless – to all those at their wits end and with few or no resources. Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche communities, asks “What is that good news? It is quite simple. You are loved by God, and you are loved by me, I want to live with you, and that you are important.” [Jean Vanier, We Need Each Other, Paraclete Press, p 70] This news, this love, is what both compels and propels the journey with Jesus.
Every day we hear sabers being rattled. Iran better watch out. Journalists better watch out. Anyone approaching our border better watch out. We hear of families being separated, children sleeping on cement floors with no soap, no toothbrushes, no toothpaste. We see people risking their lives and even losing them to escape unbearable conditions in their home countries. In the name of Christ there are voices telling us that the LGBTQ community is “the biggest threat” to religious morality in America. We are urged to see all these others as just that – other, dangerous, enemies, as non-persons not fit to live among us for whatever the “reasons” that are marshalled to justify such ill treatment in the name of “the law,” or the “law of God,” which law itself is bent, ripped apart and often abandoned in favor of so-called “security.”
After a lifetime of living with people who have been abandoned by society and even their families, Jean Vanier writes, “Those who are the most rejected must be respected. … It is the fact that the Church is constituted by [their] presence … They are indispensable to the Church, because in their cry for recognition, in their cry for relationships, they are awakening the hearts of those who are seemingly rich in knowledge, wealth, or security. We the Church are being touched to become people of compassion. Deep forces have been called forth from within my heart so that I can welcome you, the broken one. As I welcome you, I discover that I am broken too. I also discover that [they] are my teachers, because those who have been crushed for whatever reason are a sign of the presence of God, and where there is the presence of God, the disciples of Jesus must be present.” [Ibid, p 72]
When Jesus begins the journey to Jerusalem to be crushed his mission is set – his face is set. He knows that in Jerusalem there are those who oppose his mission, but that it is urgent to confront them. His disciples wish to destroy those who are in the way. Jesus says no. There are those who will follow “if only.” To them he says no, the time is now. If you are going to follow me you must come now and be with me all the way through the Cross to Resurrection.
We read these often-enigmatic little stories and think they somehow need careful interpretation. It does not take much “interpretation” to see that Jesus’s message and mission are clear. We are all broken. We are all “others.” We are all to become people of compassion. Good Samaritans. A welcoming community offering the Hospitality of God to all. We are to go out and fish for people in need of all the love and compassion and acceptance we can muster because. Because every single person deserves love, and community, and acceptance, and to know that you are important – you are important to God and to me and to all of us. Just the way you are and for who you are. There is no time for anything else but this: you are loved and you are important.