In Sunday’s Gospel passage Jesus sets out on his final journey to Jerusalem. We are told that Jesus was “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem”. The Greek is literally “he set his face” (autos to prosopon esterisen) and reflects a Hebraism that suggests a “fixedness of purpose.”
With this passage we arrive at a major turning point in Luke’s Gospel. We are entering into the longest section in his carefully ordered narrative (Luke 1:3). And as Jesus sets his face like flint for the journey to Jerusalem, his teaching takes a turn. There is an urgency to his call and a focus on what it means to be a disciple. Jesus is resolute and single-minded in purpose.
As he and the disciples are on their way, someone asks if they can come along. Eager to follow Jesus, this person says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Now, you would think this is something Jesus would love to hear. You’d think he might respond, “Well, thank you. I would love to have you follow.” Instead, Jesus’ response seems harsh as he asks, “Are you ready to rough it? Look at the animals. They have all kinds of places to lay their heads, but we do not. We’re not staying in the best inns, you know. This is not going to be an easy journey.”
Jesus seems to be getting grumpy and crabby. We understand what these people are saying to Jesus. There are reasons why it is difficult to drop everything, to just leave everything behind and follow. We may want to say, “Jesus, when I leave to go on a journey, I really do like to get certain things done and in order before I leave. There are arrangements that must be made: I have an important soccer tournament to finish; I need to make one more trip to my beach house; the lights have to be put on a timer so they turn on every night and people will think I am home; the refrigerator needs to be emptied of anything that will spoil; and, I just cannot leave without saying goodbye to my parents, my spouse, and the children, and go off without leaving them my itinerary so they know where I am!”
Jesus’ response to some very legitimate concerns and requests reminds us that there will always be justifiable excuses causing us to postpone living a life of discipleship. Other important matters will always compete for our attention. However, when our loyalties to family, community, sports, pleasure, or anything else claim first place, we who are disciples compromise Jesus’ lordship in our lives.
The radicality of Jesus’ words lies in his claim to priority over the best, not the worst, of human relationships. Frequently, the greatest threat to living the Gospel is “the good”, not “the evil.”
Jesus’ words to us today are tough and rather hard to swallow. Yet, his toughness comes from the depth of his love and compassion. Jesus intentionally sets his face toward Jerusalem and he is now focused on his upcoming death. He is intentionally facing the ugly, violent, unfair, cruel things that this world can do to love. Jesus knows such self-sacrificial love is not easy and sometimes it even takes us to situations where we have no place to rest our head. Jesus knows that setting his face toward Jerusalem means his head will hang from a cross. And yet, he sets his face to Jerusalem to embrace the cross for the sake of the world. Today, we see in him a single-mindedness of purpose fueled by God’s profound, all-encompassing love for humanity.
A life of discipleship cannot be a part-time, once-in a while, off and on commitment. It is a life-changing shift in direction, a shift in priorities in which our own human needs and wants become subservient to Christ’s call to share and live God’s transforming love in this world.
Jesus is not in a bad mood. He’s focused.
In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Bonhoeffer knew discipleship is not easy. He knew that there comes a time in each person’s faith journey when it is clearly and unequivocally necessary to declare the depth of one’s commitment to Christ and, in Sunday’s Gospel we hear Jesus teaching about this aspect of discipleship.
Jesus recognizes and holds before us the tension in which we live. On the one hand we say to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” On the other hand we say to him, “But first let me go and ….”
It is easy and simple to follow Jesus – in principle. But it’s so much harder and messier to follow Jesus in life than in principle.
Whether or not we are called to leave behind kith and kin, we are all called to a radical commitment to the Gospel.
Adult Formation Ministry