Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Destruction That Wasn't


I'm experimenting with a new Eucharistic lectionary--the Two-Year Weekday Eucharistic Lectionary found in Lesser Feasts and Fasts (2006). Because of that, the lessons appointed for today are Job 3:1-3, 11-23; Psalm 88:1-8; and Luke 9:51-56.

In our Sunday-morning worship, we have been on a harrowing journey with Jesus. For the last fourteen weeks (ever since June 6, when we read Luke 9:51-62), he has been on his way to Jerusalem, and it has been a rocky road for the disciples. The urgency of his message and the kingdom that he brings has left no room for hesitation or equivocation. Any who would follow him were told to leave everything behind. For Jesus, the demands of God's kingdom are absolute.

It all started back in Luke 9, when Jesus "set his face to go to Jerusalem." That turn of phrase signifies something. It means that Jesus wasn't only headed toward the holy city. He was focused on it, fixated upon it, perhaps obsessed with it. All else fell away. The culmination of his life and ministry awaited. In all of the synoptic gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), this moment is a turning point for Jesus. Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ. Then Peter, James, and John accompany Jesus up the mount of Transfiguration. And, by the time they come down, Jesus is ready to begin his trek toward Jerusalem. In all three accounts, there is no turning back.

It is this singular focus that becomes the source of conflict in today's gospel lesson: "On their way [the disciples] entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem." Samaritans, of course, did not acknowledge Jerusalem and the temple on Mt. Zion as the religious center for God's people. Instead, they worshipped on Mt. Gerazim. That's a long-standing dispute that started during the Babylonian Exile and involved not only theological differences but also ethnic and historical divisions. Because of that dispute, the Samaritans had different expectations of how God's salvation would be manifest to his people than the Jews, which means that any concept of a messianic savior was foreign to them. So the issue of Jerusalem and the conflict that it brings isn't just about worship and history. It's also about Jesus and what he represents.

I don't know what's more surprising: that the disciples felt that they had the power to call down fire upon that Samaritan village or that Jesus rebuked them for suggesting it. Remember, this is the same Jesus who just a few chapters later would declare, "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! (Luke 12:29). But the fire Jesus envisioned in Luke 12 isn't the same fire that the disciples had in mind in Luke 9. The disciples wanted God's fire of punishment to come down and consume any who refused to recognize Jesus as the Christ. But Jesus knew that the fire that he brought was a purifying fire that would set the world ablaze with the hope that only God's anointed could bring. One is damning, but the other is life-giving. The question for us is whether we can tell a difference.

Jesus and what he accomplished in Jerusalem is the focus of our life. In fact, it is the focus of all creation. It is our hope. It is our destiny. It is the fire that lights up our life. But not everyone can see it. Not everyone has seen it. Not everyone recognizes Jesus for who he is and the consummating hope that he represents. And, among those who claim to see it, not all of us agree on what sort of fire it is that Jesus brings. Jesus calls any who would follow him to have that same, exclusive, above-all-else focus on Jerusalem and what God accomplished there. But, unlike many of those who identify as his disciples, Jesus doesn't seem all that bothered by those who won't jump on board. He's got more important things to do than to stop and wag his finger or shake his head or call down fire and brimstone. His mission burns with a fire of a different sort.

What about us? What about our faith? May God grant us that same, Christ-like focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus so that we, too, might let go of all distractions--even those who refuse to welcome God's anointed. May the fire that Christ brings set our hearts ablaze so that the whole world might see and know the light that Jesus brings.

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