Each day is a mixture of the plans we have made and reacting to situations that arise. But what are the essential things in our lives? How do we sense God’s leading at present? Where are we heading today?
51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven,(A) Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.(B) 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan(C) village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John(D) saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them[a]?”(E) 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.
Exploring the challenge
The Road Less Travelled is the title of a bestselling book by Scott Peck, a title taken from a poem of the same name by Robert Frost. Both works explore in different ways the challenge of following life paths and making decisions that may not be understood by many around us.
Two unique journeys
Luke introduces us to a major moment in Jesus’ life at the beginning of this reading. And he does so by way of two unique journeys. The ultimate destination is his exaltation in heaven but only after the crucial events that must take place in Jerusalem. And he embarks on this journey resolutely.
Embrace of destiny
We might use words like focused, driven, determined, committed, in trying to unpack Jesus’ attitude. And this is puzzling. The Gospels show Jesus telling stories, enjoying the company of unlikely friends, giving time to strangers on virtually every page. Yet undergirding everything was his willing embrace of the destiny ahead, flavoured by an astonishing ability to accept others, even those who would not receive him
‘May I today be open to God and the needs of others. Lord, show me the path I must tread as I follow you. Let me be faithful to you and open to all whom I meet.’
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The fulfilment of Jesus’ life and mission is drawing near. He is on his way to Jerusalem, where he will die. He knows this. Luke tells us even more: the time is coming when he will be ‘taken up to heaven’ (v 51). We are to imagine that Jesus is set and resolute and that the foreboding of the coming anguish shows on his face. Perhaps this is why the Samaritan villagers (Jesus has probably travelled down the east side of the Jordan valley) did not welcome him. They sense that something dreadful is about to happen.
It is well known that Jews and Samaritans did not get on (John 4:9), although there were ethnic ties between them. Jesus appears not to have shared this general prejudice and soon the gospel in the early church would spread into Samaritan territory (Acts 8:4–8). Yet in today’s story they want nothing to do with him, thus incurring the ire of James and John, the ‘sons of thunder’ (Mark 3:17). They are all for re-enacting Sodom and Gomorrah, or Elijah (Gen 19; 1 Kings 18). It is good to be passionate about the Lord’s honour, but aggression and violence do not promote it. They earn Jesus’ rebuke – and another village welcomes him.
Clearly, James and John had an attitude and they knew how to use it. We should be concerned when similar attitudes are displayed in the contemporary church. When Christ is insulted (and it happens often) the temptation is strong to unleash the dogs of war and respond to insult with insult. Jesus knew this and for that reason he taught his disciples the discipline of absorbing insults and persecutions and returning good for evil (Matt 5:38–48). Anything else simply recycles bad attitudes and does nothing to overcome them. The ability to respond to evil with good is close to the heart of what being truly Christian is about.
‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ (Rom 12:21)