Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Luke 9:51-62
February 25, 2007
The passage we read today from Luke’s Gospel represents a major turning point in the life and ministry of Jesus. All the Gospel writers acknowledge this, or at least they allude to it. There was a change that was taking place. Up until now, Jesus’ ministry which took him all around that area of the northern valley of the Jordon river. Now he became focused more and more on one goal.
As Luke puts it, “When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” There was a definite decision time in Jesus’ mind about this. There came a certain point, and he knew it was time to go there. And it was a major turn in his road.
Because of course this wasn’t just part of Jesus’ itinerary. Jerusalem wasn’t just the final stop on his “preaching tour.” Jesus knew what it meant to go there. He knew what was going to happen to him. He told his disciples about it often. And yes, they often tried to dismiss it. When he started talking about future events, they said, “Surely this will never happen to you!” But I think they knew it would. And I think their dismissing him was more a matter of them trying to talk him out of taking that road.
Sometimes we think the disciples were “clueless.” And sometimes I think they were! Sometimes their lack of understanding is glaring! At times in the Gospels they’re almost the “comic relief!” But in this case, I think they knew all this stuff Jesus was saying about his future was true, they just didn’t want it to happen. Can we blame them?
Can we even imagine what it was like for them? I don’t think we can. Because we know the end of the story of Jesus. They didn’t! They didn’t know what was going to happen. And here was their leader, this one they had thrown their lives in with for almost three years now, talking in an almost suicidal way? How hard was that for them to hear? Imagine how much harder it was for them – not knowing the end of the story!
Remember what happened John’s Gospel. Jesus told his disciples he was going to Jerusalem, which in John’s Gospel took place around the time of the death of his friend Lazarus. In that account, we Peter makes this bold statement in response. “Then let us go too, that we may die with him!” Was Peter being brave? Was he being sarcastic? Or was he trying to make Jesus see reality, and to dissuade him from going? It’s hard to tell. But, when it came right down to it, not only did Peter not die with Jesus, as you know. But he denied that he even knew him! What a gut wrenching story that was!
I think his disciples knew what was happening. They had been there all along, watching as Jesus’ popularity grew. They saw the crowds that came to hear him increase in size. They saw the people’s reactions to Jesus’ message. But they also were aware of the growing opposition to their master. They knew of the frustration of the priests and scribes. They were always around. Watching him, trying to trip him up. And although their master handled their snares with grace and wisdom, still they knew Jesus was making some powerful enemies!
To go to Jerusalem was to go right into the heart of that opposition. It was to face his detractors head on. It was, in a sense, to take the battle onto enemy turf. And his disciples remember his words about being handed over to his enemies and being put to death. You don’t forget such words from your master when you hear them!
So this is a story about Jesus and his determination to do what he came to do. It’s also his example to his disciples, and to us, not to be afraid when we know what we must do in our faith, even though it might be hard. It was much easier, for Jesus’ disciples – and for us – to take the easy way in our faith, the way that says, “No Jesus, surely those things won’t happen to you.”
Later in this story, in that upper room, when all these things were coming together, Jesus would tell his disciples that they too were going to face their own persecution. But they were not to be afraid to stand firm. They were not to be anxious over what they would do or what they would say. Because he would be with them. The Holy Spirit would be their link to God I though times, just as it’s our link.
This is the time of year to think about such things. As we reach the season of Lent, we too turn our face towards Jerusalem and the things that happened when Jesus arrived there. And throughout Lent, as we think of the things that took place on his road to Jerusalem, I hope we too can think about our determination to follow Jesus on that road. I hope we can think of taking the step of deeper devotion to the master that the disciples were called to take.
Some were not able. There is this interesting story immediately following Jesus turning his face toward Jerusalem. It was about a village that did not receive him. And Luke tells us they didn’t receive him because he had his face set toward Jerusalem. Was it because it was a Samaritan village, and the Samaritans would not help Jews making pilgrimages to Jerusalem? Because you know they had a disagreement about the proper place to worship God? One writer suggests that. Or was it because of Jesus’ determination to take that road of sacrifice that they were unwilling to take?
It’s hard to say, but their reticence angered Jesus’ disciples and they asked Jesus if they could “bid fire come down from heaven and consume them.” That seems an odd request following the seriousness of what Jesus had determined to do. It seems the disciples needed to examine their own road to Jerusalem.
The very next part of the story involves what have been called the “would be disciples.” And in this story, Jesus seems to discourage them in following him. And I’ve always thought that odd. “Shouldn’t you be challenging these people to greater devotion, Jesus? Shouldn’t you be calling them to follow?” But the more I read this, the more I realize that he’s not discouraging them. But he is laying out for them the great challenge of discipleship. It’s not just following physically and learning about him. It’s about devotion to him on the road where their may not be a “home base.” It’s about devotion that doesn’t wait for a convenient time to follow. It’s about following without looking back.
Lent is a time when we consider our own discipleship. How do we follow Jesus? Will we follow him along this road to Jerusalem? Will we follow when it’s hard to follow? Will we follow when the demands of our faith go beyond our “comfort level?”
I believe that is one of the most important things there is about growing in our faith. And it’s one of the hardest. Growing in faith often means going beyond our own comfortable beliefs. It means looking beyond the things we have gotten “used to.” And this time of Lent is a time to find those “sticking points” – those places where we are “stuck” in our faith, and it’s hard to go further.
That’s not easy, my friends. Sometimes that means being open to having God change our way of thinking. Because you know, if all we do in our faith is consider what we’re comfortable with believing, and then reinforcing that, there won’t be a lot of growth. That’s not doing the hard work of faith that this story is about. The real work of faith is to say to God, “Here’s what I believe you’ve told me and I’m working on living it more effectively every day. But please, go through this life with me, God. Show me where you still want me to change. Help me to feel the gentle ‘nudging’ of your spirit. Every day, lead me, so that I can live more fully for you.”
That’s what it means to be on the road to Jerusalem with Jesus. And that is the key! Being on that road with him. This is not about just “meeting him there later.” This is not about keeping our distance and learning what he’s doing from time to time, or letting him into our lives only when we feel like we have a need.
Through this Lenten season, let us be determined to go about the task of being “fully committed followers of Christ.” (One Church once used the leters “FCFC” to remember that.) Jesus “set is face to go to Jerusalem.” May we “set our faces” to follow him. It won’t always be an easy road. It will demand everything of us. Will we take that road?
Eternal God, help us to know of your presence with us every day. Help us to follow where you lead, rather than just going along when it is comfortable to do so. Teach us to be more reliant on you all the time. Help us to be open to your spirit. Help us to be willing to be changed by your call on our lives. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.