Because of a rare quirk in this year’s liturgical calendar, the church returns to the Sunday readings for Ordinary Time at exactly the point in Luke’s Gospel at which Jesus “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem,” a decision that brought him to the passion, resurrection and ascension. Having recently observed those feasts, we now go back to the moment at which Jesus embraced this fate.
‘When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.’ (Lk 9:51)
Have you heard a call to a second discipleship?
What is your personal contribution to the salvation of others?
Jesus’ determination to travel to Jerusalem is the pivot on which Luke’s Gospel turns. Nowhere is Luke’s brilliance as a writer more apparent. The other evangelists tend to be episodic in their narrative style, tying together disparate events with brief introductions like “Once, while teaching the crowds….” Luke’s Gospel, by contrast, is a unity in which the role of Jerusalem is essential. The Gospel opens with the announcement of John’s birth in the Jerusalem Temple, and it closes with the disciples in the same Temple awaiting the Spirit. The role of the Holy City is especially clear in Luke 9, from which today’s reading comes. Earlier in the chapter, during the Transfiguration, Elijah and Moses speak with Jesus “of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Lk 9:31). Here, at the end of the chapter, Jesus begins that journey.
His ministry changes dramatically. In Galilee many had received his preaching with enthusiasm. Now, as he is on the road in unfriendly territory, Samaritans slam the town gates shut in his face. His followers dwindle in number, as do requests for healings. Jesus increasingly focuses his attention on the small band of disciples who still follow him. To them he offers parables like the stories of the prodigal son and the good Samaritan, teaching them profound truths about divine and human love.
This journey transforms the lives of the disciples as well. Hardship becomes the norm. James and John, shocked by Samaritan hostility, have to learn difficult lessons about forgiveness. Homelessness is the expectation. Unlike animals that have dens and nests, the Son of Man and his disciples have nowhere to rest their heads. Family ties, treasured throughout the Judeo-Christian tradition, now become a hindrance to discipleship. Staying close to Jesus on this final journey means eschewing everything that does not support his destiny.
Many Christians today encounter a similar transformation in their own discipleship. After long personal growth in the Spirit, some inner transfiguration heralds a greater mission. No person will be a “finished product” when the call to this second discipleship arrives, for it is only at Jesus’ side on the road to Jerusalem that one can discern one’s personal contribution to salvation history. These contributions need not be epic in scope to be vital to the salvation of others. Most will be little noted but are no less life-giving for their subtlety. Any disciple who joins Jesus in his resolute determination and accepts the hardships of the road will also join him in liberating others through the good news that God has conquered death.