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. A man along the way wants to bury his father and then follow Jesus, but Jesus shouts “let the dead bury the dead.” He is moving fast, and his mood is intense.*
Do you remember the time when Jesus began his public ministry? We heard about it before Lent and Easter. He came back from the desert filled with the Holy Spirit and headed straight to his home town, Nazareth. He wanted to preach his mission, but his own townspeople rejected him. They were more than blunt about it: they tried to throw him off a cliff (Lk 4:14ff).
Scholars call the first portion of Luke’s Gospel the “Galilean Ministry,” (Lk 3:1-9:50) which has been the subject of our scripture readings until this Sunday (except for the insertion of Lent and Easter). Now a new section of Luke begins, called the “Journey to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:1-19:28).
He leaves his home town, but now it is the people in Samaritan towns who turn him away. He had sent messengers ahead to “warm up the audience,” so to speak, but the villagers would not let him in. Jews and Samaritans were hostile to each other, and surely that is part of the reason for their rejection of him. But Luke says the real reason is that they knew he was “going up to Jerusalem.”
Think about that phrase. The “going up” part is literal, since Jerusalem is built upon a hill or rise, and you have to climb to get up to it. 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 2 Kings for Elijah’s ascent into heaven. “A flaming chariot and flaming horses came … and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Kgs 2:11). But Jesus’ “going up” will not be in a fiery chariot. His ascent will finish in a plunge downwards into humiliation and death. The hill of Golgotha was high and barren, and his life’s ending was low and shameful.
For the next ten chapters Luke will trace Jesus’ deeds as parts of this urgent trip to Jerusalem. Now we see why Jesus was so severe: 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”? Or, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”?
Very harsh. Wouldn’t you or I and turn on our heels and run away?
Yes, but think about it. Jesus is saying that Christianity is a major challenge, not just a warm blanket. Jesus values God more than safe sleep, than courtesy to family and friends, than family funerals. None of these are evil or bad, they are good. But they receive their worth at the very core of themselves from love. Love, the primary reason for our lives and our deeds, the primary mission Jesus invites us to so keenly. Love of God above all, love of our neighbor as ourselves, no matter what.
*I have set much of Luke's Gospel to music, with libretto by Michael Dennis Browne. Music for "Toward Jerusalem" is included. I poured my heart into writing this musical drama, and maybe you would like to share it. The name is As a River of Light, readily available on CD from OCP by pressing here.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University