Spirituality of the Readings
Jesus is on the march and will not be turned back. He is fierce in Sunday’s Gospel, and sometimes the readings startle us. He “rebukes” the disciples. He shouts “let the dead bury the dead” when a man along the way wants to bury his father first. He is moving fast, and his mood is intense.
We have heard about Jesus’ public ministry, in the liturgical time before Lent/Easter. He had come back from the desert filled with the Holy Spirit, and he headed straight to Nazareth, his home town, ready to preach his mission. His own townspeople were more than blunt about rejecting him: they tried to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:14ff).
This was the first portion of Luke’s Gospel, which scholars call the “Galilean Ministry” (Luke 3:1-9:50), the subject of our Sunday scripture readings (except for the insertion of Lent and Easter). Now a new section of Luke begins, called the “Journey to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51-19:28). Get ready for it.*
Now it is the people in Samaritan towns who turn him away as he passes by. He had sent messengers ahead to “warm up the audience,” so to speak, but Jews and Samaritans were hostile to each other and so villagers would not let him in.
Luke says the real reason is that they knew he was “going up to Jerusalem.”
Think about that phrase, “going up to Jerusalem.” The “going up” part is literal, since Jerusalem is built on a hill or rise. But Luke wanted the metaphorical sense too. Jesus had “set his face” to go up to the height of the cross. The Greek word Luke uses for “go up” is the same one used in the Second Book of Kings for the prophet Elijah’s ascent into heaven. “A flaming chariot and flaming horses came … and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Kings 2:11).
Jesus’ “going up” will not be in a fiery chariot. His “ascent” will be a plunge downwards into humiliation and death. The hill of Golgotha was high and barren, his ending was low and shameful.
For the next ten chapters Luke will skillfully trace this ascent as parts of Jesus’ urgent trip to Jerusalem. We see why he was so severe with people now: he knew what going up to Jerusalem would mean.
Do you want to go along with this man on his journey? What if you hear him say, “The Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head [and neither will you]”? Or, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”?
Wouldn’t you or I and turn on our heels and run away?
Maybe. But look at it.
Jesus is saying that Christianity and Catholicism are to be challenges, not warm blankets. Jesus opens to God, more than to safe sleep, than to family funerals, even more than courtesy to family and friends. None of these latter are evil or bad, they are good. But they receive their worth at their very core from love, which is the primary reason for our lives and deeds, and is the primary mission Jesus invites us to so urgently.
Love of God above all, love of our neighbor as ourselves.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University