Journey to Jerusalem

The readings for Sunday, June 26, 2016, Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, are
1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; and Luke 9:51-62.

“When the days for Jesus being taken up were fulfilled … .” Thus Luke begins the longest section of his Gospel, “the Journey to Jerusalem.” For Luke, the journey is an integral part of the passion, death, and resurrection/ascension of Jesus. Since Jesus was fully aware of what awaited him in Jerusalem, a natural reaction would have been to go in the opposite direction — like Jonah the prophet. God revealed his plan to Jonah to convert the Assyrians in the east. Jonah instead took a cruise westward toward Spain. Not so with Jesus. Therefore Luke adds, “He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Luke expresses Jesus’ absolute determination to accomplish the mission for which his Father had sent him into the world. Jerusalem was the city of origin of Christianity. The destination was Rome. Thus Luke will begin his Acts of Apostles depicting the disciples in Jerusalem and ends the Acts with Paul in Rome.

Galilee was in northern Palestine. The most direct, not the usual, route to Jerusalem was through Samaria. The province of Samaria was not Jew-friendly. Jews and Samaritans did not mix well. There were centuries old antagonisms and bitter memories stronger even than geographical boundaries between Galilee and Samaria. The Samaritan woman in John 4:9 summarizes the situation well, “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.”

And so it was in Jesus’ day, as Luke writes, “Jesus sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of Samaritans to make ready for him.” How well did the advance people fare? Luke writes, “but they would not receive him because his face was set toward Jerusalem.” Jews worshipped, at least with sacrifices, only in Jerusalem. Samaritans were not welcome to worship in  Jerusalem. In the 2nd century B.C. the Samaritans had built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim in Samaria. A Jewish high priest-king led an army to Samaria in 128 B.C. and razed this temple to the ground. Samaritans still worshipped where their temple had stood but without a temple. Thus when they hear of Jews going up to the temple in Jerusalem, bitter memories kick in and characteristic hospitality toward travelers was denied.

Reaction! James and John, teenage sons of Zebedee, were among the first disciples Jesus collected. They were happy to leave their father because their job was to mend the fishing nets of their father’s fishing enterprise. It is also possible that they were related, cousins to Jesus. Their proposal: “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to burn them up?” Jesus knows how to handle these young hotheads. “He turned to them and rebuked them.” The Christian way therefore is not retribution for insult, but “to him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also,” Luke 6:29. That is very difficult. Even St. Paul did not always practice this, but he had never read Luke’s Sermon on the Plain or Matthew’s Sermon on the Mountain. Paul was dead before they were written.

Thus far the two parts of this Sunday’s Gospel. A third part could be called “a vocation thing.” Luke reminds us that they were on the journey, “As they were going along the road….” Until Jesus and Co. arrive in Jericho, every event, every saying of Jesus, will be overshadowed by the journey to the cross theme. They encounter a volunteer. He says to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus neither invites nor rejects him. He informs him that the journey, (the life of a follower of Jesus), is not easy.

A second man enters the scene. This time Jesus invites him, “Follow me.” He has an excuse, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Meaning: to care for his father until he dies, then perform the last sacred duty. A surprising response from Jesus, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead, but as for you, go, proclaim the kingdom of God.” Luke is catechizing about responding to God’s call. He has no need to tell us of the man’s reaction to Jesus’ harsh words. Another volunteer: “I’ll follow you. Lord, but let me first say goodbye to those at home.” Another unusual response, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Jesus said on another occasion on another subject, “Not all can accept this. Let those who can accept this, accept it,” Matthew 19:11-12.