You may recall the Gospel passage from last Sunday where Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter, speaking on their behalf, replies: “You are the Christ of God.” Immediately then, Jesus gives a prediction that the “Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”
This he follows with a teaching on discipleship: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Both these themes continue in Sunday’s Gospel reading for Mass.
St. Luke recalls: “When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers ahead of him.” Jesus makes the commitment to travel to Jerusalem where he knows what he has earlier predicted will come to pass: he will be arrested, tortured, killed and on the third day rise. Jerusalem then becomes a symbol of his mission. He is going to lay down his life in love. Literally emptying himself in love.
The phrase “resolutely determined” is a translation of “set his face toward.” We can almost picture Jesus’ facial expression at this point for we all know when someone is determined to do something: it reads on their faces and in their eyes.
A resolution has been made that despite the many obstacles and extreme difficulties that will be involved, Jesus is committed to fulfilling his mission of love. He will continue and will make the journey to Jerusalem.
The reaction of some is telling. When the Samaritans learn that Jesus’ destination is Jerusalem they refuse to allow him to pass through their territory. Some may suggest that this was because the Samaritans, although they worshiped the same God, were at odds with the Jews whose primary place of worship was Jerusalem.
You may recall Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan or his encounter with the woman at the well which refer to these differences. However something more is happening here. The rejection of Jesus in this case is a rejection of the cross. They do not understand Jesus’ messiahship in terms of the cross.
Last week Jesus had to emphasize this connection when he spoke to his disciples about his being the messiah, hence he says: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” The journey to Jerusalem is a journey that all disciples have to take — to lay down our lives in love. The Samaritans cannot accept this, thus they reject Jesus.
We’ve seen such a rejection in other places. You may recall the rich young man who leaves Jesus after he said, “You are lacking one thing. Go sell all that you have and follow me.” Or you may recall the many who departed after Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you. For my flesh is real food and my blood real drink.” These three examples serve to remind us that discipleship involves a commitment to follow Jesus to the cross.
The commitment necessary is emphasized by Jesus as he continues to travel to Jerusalem. Jesus speaks to this three times in Sunday’s passage. Three times would-be disciples approach Jesus and offer to follow. The first says: “I will follow you wherever you go.”
This disciple represents someone who perhaps superficially expresses a wish to be a follower. Jesus’ response gives us the impression that he does not think the disciple really knows what he is getting into. Jesus says to him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” The response may remind us of his interchange with James and John when they had asked one to be seated at his right and one at his left. He responded to them in this case, “You do not know what you are asking.”
Christian discipleship requires sacrifice for this discipleship involves a love that gives to the end. It involves a sincere and steadfast commitment.
The second person puts a condition on following Jesus: “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” While this is a noble and good thing to do, the person is missing the point that Jesus is making. There can be no conditions placed on discipleship.
The same is emphasized with the third person: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” Once the commitment is made the person cannot “look back” for it will distract him or her from the commitment and perhaps pull them away.
Jesus’ mission is a mission of love. His journey to Jerusalem is his commitment to lay down his life in love. He calls his disciples to take up that mission and to make the same commitment.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.