Today is the Feast of St. Luke (transferred), and we are treated to a lovely collection of Scriptural readings reminding us of the great gift Luke was to us all. Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1-8 are the prologues to his two books, his account of Jesus’ life and the acts of those who founded the first churches. We believe he was a physician and a companion of Paul, and in that later capacity he gives us a second look at Paul’s missionary journey described in Paul’s own account in his letters. Luke was not a first-generation disciple. He did not know Jesus in the flesh. And yet, as we read in Isaiah 52:7-10, which begins, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news announces salvation,” and ends, “and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God,” it is Luke who brings us a narrative of Jesus filled with imagery and legend, events which we can wrap our hearts and minds around, and a Jesus of human love who reaches out to those of every station and race. And stories found nowhere else: the Nativity Narrative of John the Baptizer and Jesus, the Magnificat, the song of Zechariah, the song of Simeon, the widow of a Nain, the Good Samaritan, Mary and Martha, the Friend at Midnight, the Prodigal Son, Zacchaeus, the Road to Emmaus, and many more. It is appropriate that the chosen text from Ezekiel (47:1-12) is a poetic vision and exultation of God’s power and mercy, leading the prophet deeper and deeper into flowing water until it becomes a great river, fresh water for the land and people, yet leaving the marshes salt for savor. Because the Gospel of Luke is such a river for our souls and salvation.
In Chapter 9, Jesus predicts his own impending death, but his closest do not understand or believe. There had been some squabbling about who is the greatest disciple, and who has authority over demons. In today’s Daily Office Gospel, Luke 9:51-62, often called “the cost of discipleship,” Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem. We know that face, that “do not disturb” face. As is customary, messengers go ahead to arrange for whatever provisions might be needed for their Lord. And when Jesus stops at a Samaritan town, he is rejected. Can we assume that the messengers had gone there first to tell the village that Jesus and his disciples were coming?
There is something odd about this. Samaritans worshiped the same God, but on Mount Gerizim, not at the Jerusalem Temple. They followed the Mosaic law, but because they never found themselves in Babylonian exile, they did not recognize the Prophets. We know from the woman at the well (John 4) that Samaritans awaited a Messiah, and the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) suggests that Jesus was more inclusive regarding the Samaritans than his followers. Is this why a Samaritan village was asked to make ready for him, if, indeed, it was? Did this Samaritan town not receive him “because his face was set towards Jerusalem”? Because Jerusalem was not their holy place? Or could they see and believe that Jesus’ mission was fixed, as was Jesus’ face? Did they understand? Again, it is the disciples who do not understand, and James and John, the Sons of Thunder, want to use a power they may or may not have, not as Jesus would have them use it, but to destroy others out of anger. Other ancient authorities add, “Jesus rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what spirit you are of, for the Son of Man has not come to destroy the lives of human beings but to save them’.”
Jesus had already told his own that a disciple must take up his cross in order to follow him (Luke 9:23-25), and now we find three anonymous disciples, or prospective ones, who cry out to join Jesus on the way. Will they learn the cost of discipleship? Heed the warning that the Son of Man has no place to rest. First. he must bury his father. Or, say goodbye to family. And Jesus’ reminder that to plow a straight furrow, one must only look straight ahead.
But let’s turn it around. Let’s hear Jesus’ words from his own point of view. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Is not Jesus himself acknowledging his wandering life? Did he not sometimes dream of a quiet life, such as that at the family home in Bethany? As for the man who wanted first to bury his father, did Jesus not recognize that he had no son to say Kaddish at his grave like a normal man? And did he bury his father, Joseph, according to the Law? Did he not think on his mother and brothers and sisters, one last goodbye and reconciliation for all the pain he put them through? He, too, in his incarnate form, was a disciple, a disciple of God his Father. And the burden of carrying his obedience, his prophetic call, his divinity, while in a mundane world full of sorrow, but also full of joy, was not the easy yoke he spoke of. And plowing a straight furrow always requires focus and looking ahead, but don’t we all want to look back? He came to us not as a magician, but as man as much as he was God, a God who embraced the experiences of our lives, as he was now going to embrace a terrible death. To be lifted up on a Roman cross. To heal our wounds as he received his. To bring us to his Abba as children, as was he. Yes, his face was set. This was no time to fail his Father. All of humanity. Himself. So, yes, he was also leaving us words for our way of the Cross. Guideposts to remind us what was our true goal. But words for himself, as well.
In all these words to those anonymous disciples he was advising us to embrace poverty. The vow of poverty is probably the monastic vow most familiar, and perhaps the least understood. We hear about turning over all personal possessions for a life in a convent. And about how St. Francis stripped naked in the middle of his town square and embarked on a life of service to the poor. What we are called to, and what these three examples suggest, is the willingness to give up anything and everything at any moment to follow the call from God. That rich young man who went away grieving because he had so much was not excluded because of his wealth, but because he was more attached to it than to God (Mk 10:17-31, Mt 19:16-30). That is true poverty. Jesus is giving up life, friends, family, in obedience to the will of God his Father, for a promise of nothing but pain, humiliation, hatred, and death. Yes, his face was fixed like stone. Because even the Christ had to gird his loins and face the inevitable journey. So that advice was for us, but also for him.
As we grow in Christ, we share with the Jesus the suffering and pain of this life. As his gift in return, he came to offer us, in his abiding love, faith, redemption, and ultimately resurrection from death, and unity with him in eternity. And, especially now, with political chaos and danger, the pandemic, and the fruits of ignoring climate change, we, too, must look ahead, and fix our gaze toward Jerusalem.
Dr. Dana Kramer-Rolls is a parishioner of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, CA. She earned her master’s degree in systematic theology from the Jesuit School of Theology/GTU and PhD in church history and spirituality from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California. She is a postulant in the Episcopal religious order, The Sisters of St. Gregory. She lives with her cats, books, and garden. Soli Deo Gloria.