I never forget my visit to Kenya over 20 years ago. I arrived in Nairobi after a long journey and received a kind welcome at the airport, only to be sent on a perilous journey to the Gaba Institute in Eldoret. I traveled along the winding roads of the Great Rift Valley in a matatu, a local taxi with drivers more suited to the Indy 500 than to mountain roads. My most vivid impression, though, was of great numbers of people walking along the side of the road. The sight became for me a metaphor of a continent on the move. Now I realize that, even in the motorized West, much of our life consists of different kinds of journeys.
Today’s Gospel begins the long Lukan narrative of Jesus’ journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, where he will be taken up (both on the cross and to God). It is the theological centerpiece of Luke and contains his major themes (mercy, compassion, prayer and concern for the marginal), as well as memorable treasures of the Gospel (e.g., the parables of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Widow and the Judge). The beginning of the journey sets the tone. Jesus will be the rejected prophet, who equally rejects violent response to rebuffs. He then spells out the demands of discipleship for those who would follow him: an itinerant life style, neglect of the most sacred family obligations (burial of a father) and an instant commitment that surpasses care for loved ones. The disciple is to imitate the prophetic vocation of Jesus.
Jesus’ demands have rarely been literally followed, even in the Acts of the Apostles, and today they are most often the topics of lives of saints. Yet they can still speak to all of us. To begin a journey with Jesus is to place the demands of God’s reign at the center of our lives and in areas as central to our culture as was familial obligation at the time of Jesus. We must balance strong commitments with forsaking angry response to those who reject our values. God may be on our side, but we cannot dictate the means by which evil is opposed. In individualistic and materialist America our choices in life can be dominated by a desire to preserve a destructive lifestyle. Jesus may not ask today that we leave our homes, but that we think of those who have none. God’s reign today does not require that we leave the dead unburied, but that we think of how those already born may have a chance in life.