There’s a pivotal moment in the Gospel of Luke when the author writes that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” It’s the moment, for Luke anyway, when Jesus moves from his ministry in Galilee and intentionally begins the journey to Jerusalem, knowing “the days drew near for him to be taken up.”
Even though Jesus has already been busy, it feels to me like a “time to get down to business” moment. There’s an increased intensity and it feels like things have escalated. Things just got real, you might say.
It may be that it’s the beginning of a journey, not just geographically to Jerusalem, but to being “taken up” — the author of Luke isn’t just anticipating death and resurrection, but the eventual departure of Jesus’ person. It may also be that Jesus is beginning to attract more attention, not all of it good. Or maybe it’s something more. Two things happen as Jesus sets “his face to go to Jerusalem.”
First, they’ve sent news ahead that Jesus is coming to a Samaritan town, but the people there aren’t interested in Jesus. Of course they aren’t. Samaritans and Jews are enemies. Samaritans were originally Jews, but they’re Jews who believe that God resides on Mount Gerizim, not in the Temple in Jerusalem, amongst other things. Jesus is headed to Jerusalem.
But the disciples are offended and annoyed and ask Jesus if they should call down “fire from heaven to consume them.” No, says Jesus, let’s just move on.
Second, Jesus and the disciples next encounter three people: one who says they want to follow Jesus, and two that seem to have other priorities to take care of first. In each case, Jesus’ gruff response feels designed to dissuade them, rather than invite them in.
So what’s going on here?
Well, let’s remember that while we revere the divine Jesus and hold up (sometimes in more ways than one) the Son of God, there is Jesus’ humanity too. I think the key purpose of Jesus - divine and human - is to show the divinity and humanity that we are all capable of and inspire us to live more fully into it. So, as Jesus begins the journey to Jerusalem, he acknowledges that we’re all on a journey and our journeys are our own, they’re complicated and they’re not always easy.
I wonder if, after the disciples wanted to “smite” the Samaritan town, Jesus might also have said that they find their way to God their own way, and that’s okay. In a later chapter, Jesus will tell the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus seems to want us to know that not only are other faith traditions still part of the family of God, but that we can learn from them and be inspired by them to live more fully into our own.
I wonder, too, if, with the others, Jesus is pointing us again to this truth: God is life. The divine spirit is in all things and if we don’t understand, appreciate and engage that, then what we are doing is simply behaviour. To live like Jesus is to live with love at the heart of everything, to understand that divine spirit is in every fibre of our being and every action we take, however we know God, however our religion understands it, however our traditions engage it. For Jesus, that’s as real as it gets.