The first verse of today’s gospel is a major marker in Luke’s story of salvation. Jesus is now ready to be “taken up,” i.e. to move toward the final stage of his mission which must happen in Jerusalem. For that reason, “he resolutely determined (lit. set his face) to journey to Jerusalem.” For the next ten chapters, Jesus will be on this journey during which he will illustrate the meaning of the journey of faith on the part of his followers of every age. This is clearly a spiritual journey in which theology trumps all merely historical considerations.
This arrangement also reveals Luke’s recognition of Jerusalem as a kind of powerful magnetic force draws Jesus to the climax of his mission. For it is in Jerusalem that he will reveal the whole purpose of his life, namely, to die out of love for others. Then, in Luke’s second book, the Acts of the Apostles, he will show how the saving power of the Risen Lord radiates out from Jerusalem to transform the whole world.
The first lesson for those who would travel with Jesus is to put aside all initiatives prompted by anger and prejudice. Thus, Jesus rebukes the disciples who want to repay the hostility of the Samaritans with fiery destruction. The second lesson is one of Luke’s favorites, namely, that those who would follow Jesus must be willing to let go of all previous attachments. Half-hearted discipleship simply will not be acceptable.
When Luke shows us how Jesus began his career with signs of power in Galilee only to let go of all that as he gave up his life in Jerusalem, he is offering us a dramatic expression of the profound paradox that lies at the heart of Christianity. Jesus freely gives up his power to control as his loving makes him vulnerable and seems to lead only to defeat. But that same loving concern for others releases the power of God within him-—a power that easily conquers death and eclipses by far all the earthly power that he had manifested in Galilee.
Our secular culture teaches us to value the power of wealth and politics and intelligence as the ultimate achievement in human life. This kind of power is not to be despised but it must always be subordinated to the only power that is ultimately effective, that is, the power of loving concern. We too may revel in the success of the “Galilean” period of our lives, usually marked by strength and success, but we must come to understand that the only lasting success in life comes from being loved for ourselves and from loving others for their good. This exchange of loving concern has the potential to transform the world, as we see the Book of Acts being written over and over again.
This wisdom will also enable us to put aside anger and violence as ways to solve problems. We will be able to accept Jesus’ reminder that to “call down fire from heaven” is not the Christian way to deal with difficult people. Moreover, when we really begin to trust the wisdom of Jesus, we will gladly let go of unworthy attachments as we trust more and more the promises of God and begin to run joyfully toward the future. There we will discover that, as the wise adage says: The only gift we can ever keep, is the one we give away!
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.