Summer is a good time to travel. Many of us interrupt the normal flow of life and go elsewhere for a while. Travel allows us to meet different people and see different things, and we often come away refreshed and renewed. At least, that is what we hope.
Today we begin a journey with Jesus and his disciples. It will extend over several months and feature readings from what is called Luke’s travel or journey narrative (9:51–19:44). The journey moves from northern Galilee to Jerusalem and focuses on two themes: the identity of Jesus (Christology) and what it means to follow him (discipleship). Today’s inaugural reading from Luke 9 suggests that the journey may be long, nonviolent, difficult and important.
The journey from northern Galilee to Jerusalem will be long. Nevertheless, despite the trials along the way and the outcome of the journey, Jesus courageously sets his face toward Jerusalem. There he will meet misunderstanding, suffering and death. But it will also be the place of his vindication and glorification at Easter.
The journey will be nonviolent. It is not the march of a military conqueror cutting a path through the land. This leader refuses to destroy his Samaritan enemies or call down fire from heaven on his foes. Instead of acting as some imagined the Messiah would do, Jesus shows himself to be the best example of his own teaching about loving one’s enemies.
The journey will be difficult. Jesus warns a prospective follower not to expect physical comfort or a stable residence. Foxes and birds have it easier than the Son of Man does. If it is hard for the leader, so it may be hard for the followers. There is no guarantee of an easy or comfortable life along the way.
The journey will be important, for it concerns proclaiming God’s coming kingdom and living under its power in the present through Jesus. To underscore its importance, Jesus uses an example that was even more shocking in his day than it may be for us today. He suggests that following him is more important than attending to the burial of a parent. Even Elisha was allowed by Elijah to say goodbye to his parents. This extreme example brings out the importance of joining Jesus and his disciples on the way. Their journey is the pilgrimage that we call Christian life.
This coming Wednesday, July 4, Americans celebrate Independence Day. Today’s selection from Paul’s letter to the Galatians offers an understanding of freedom more comprehensive, profound and challenging than any Fourth of July orator is likely to provide. According to Paul, through Jesus’ death and resurrection we have been freed from the dominion of sin, death and the law (the flesh) and freed for life in the Spirit. Paul could not imagine life without a master, and for him the only master worthy of our service is God. In serving God, we are free to live in accord with what is best in human nature (the spirit), to respond to the Holy Spirit and to fulfill the deepest intentions of the law.