“I’m on my way!” “We’re on our way!” These are common enough expressions, and we know their meaning. They indicate movement, purpose, resolution. We’ve uttered them many times, with anticipation or with anxiety.
Jesus, we hear in today’s Gospel reading, was “on the way.” The days for his “being taken up” had been fulfilled, and so “he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.”
The journey to Jerusalem was a prophetic mission and the concrete realization of a new Exodus — not from Egypt, but from sin, death and separation from God. Jesus was resolute and unflinching in this decision, by which “he indicated that he was going up to Jerusalem prepared to die there” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 557). Some have suggested or insisted that Jesus, in going to Jerusalem, did not really know of his approaching death, but was acting with naive optimism or blind faith.
However, as we heard last week, Jesus told his disciples that he would suffer, be rejected by the religious leaders, killed and raised on the third day (see Lk 9:22). What the prophets of the Old Testament sometimes saw in startling glimpses, Jesus saw with calm clarity: His mission was to liberate mankind from the slavery of sin and the curse of death by being the sinless, sacrificial Lamb of God. And as the Holy One journeyed to the holy city, he encountered rejection, opposition, confusion and even fervent promises — the same reactions he still encounters today.
The Samaritans, who harbored strong hostility toward the Jews, did not welcome him, apparently because he journeyed to Jerusalem and not Mount Gerizim, the site of their temple (see Jn 4:20). Jesus did not fit their concept of a prophet or messiah, and so they rejected him. Of course, the Pharisees and scribes also rejected him for the same reason.
Jesus then encountered three men who got a taste (and give us a clear picture) of the demands of discipleship. One says to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go,” but keeping such promises is far more daunting than making them. Another asked to be given time to first bury his father; a third wished to first say goodbye to his family.
Was Jesus insensitive to familial responsibilities and hardships? No, said St. Basil the Great, but “a person who wishes to become the Lord’s disciple must repudiate a human obligation, however honorable it may appear, if it slows us ever so slightly in giving the wholehearted obedience we owe to God.” Jesus recognized that these men, well-intentioned and fervent as they may have been, were like those who “receive the word with joy, but they have no root; they believe only for a time and fall away in time of trial” (Lk 8:13).
In “Treatise on the Love of God ,” St. Francis de Sales wrote, “ We receive the grace of God in vain, when we receive it at the gate of our heart, and not within the consent of our heart; for so we receive it without receiving it, that is, we receive it without fruit, since it is nothing to feel the inspiration without consenting unto it.” Contrast that with the newly selected prophet, Elisha. Called by God, he asked permission to say farewell to his family. Rebuffed by Elijah, he literally sacrificed his old life, recognizing that following God requires going all the way.
His actions said, “I’m on the way.” What do our actions say?
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.