Tuesday of Week 26 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 9:51-56

We come today to a distinct turning point in Luke’s gospel. It is marked by the opening words of today’s passage:

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

The ‘taking up’ or the ‘assumption’ of Jesus refers to his passion and death leading to resurrection and ascension. It corresponds to the ‘glory’ that John speaks of and for whom the crucifixion is a ‘lifting up’ into ‘glory’.

At this point we have now come to the end of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and we move on to a new section – the journey to Jerusalem which ends at chap 18:27 where we find Jesus in Jerusalem. The opening corresponds to Mark 10:1 where Jesus is seen entering Judea to preach there and which John more specifically describes as a journey to Jerusalem during the time of the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:1-10)

But Luke diverges from Mark’s story with very different material. He now follows Matthew’s source as well as using material of his own. The section consists almost entirely of teachings of Jesus to his disciples. It is all loosely organised within the framework of Jesus making his way to Jerusalem. The section we are entering is a time of preparation for the disciples for their future role as Messengers of the Kingdom.

Jerusalem is the place where it is all going to happen – the ‘exodus’ of Jesus, including his suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension – leading to the passing on of his mission to his disciples with the coming down of the Spirit of the Father and Jesus on the disciples. And it will be from Jerusalem that the new Church will be established and from Jerusalem it will spread gradually throughout the whole Mediterranean area until it reaches the empire’s capital in Rome and from there to the ends of the earth.

As he set out, Jesus sent some messengers ahead to announce his coming. In order to go directly from Galilee to Judea, where the city of Jerusalem was situated, they would have had to pass through Samaria. Samaritans were particularly hostile to Jews, especially when they were on their way to a Jewish festival in Jerusalem (as Jesus and his disciples seem to be doing). It would take at least three days to cross Samaria and the Samaritans were refusing the disciples overnight shelter. Because of this situation, Jewish pilgrims and travellers often avoided confrontation by going down the east bank of the Jordan River. There is an irony here that, when the first Christians were persecuted in Jerusalem, they took refuge in Samaria which became one of the first places to accept the Gospel. It is very likely that the evangelist is aware of the irony when telling this story.

Faced with this hostility, the brothers James and John, whom we described yesterday as hotheads (Sons of Thunder), suggested that fire from heaven be called down to burn them up. Their threat is reminiscent of the fire that Elijah brought down on the emissaries of an idolatrous king. They were indignant that their Master, the Messiah, should be treated in this way. There is a parallel here between Jesus’ negative reception in his home town of Galilee and his rejection by the people of Samaria.

But Jesus distances himself from those disciples and gives them a scolding. This was not Jesus’ way. Instead, they went off to another village where they hoped to find a better welcome. As we see in other parts of the Gospel, Jesus does not normally go out of his way to court trouble. On the other hand, he will not hesitate to speak his mind or do what he believes is right, even if certain kinds of people take offence at it.

It is never Jesus’ way to destroy his enemies. We will see that clearly after he reaches Jerusalem where far worse things are done to him. Jesus’ purpose always is to change people who are against him, to defuse their hostility and help them to see things in a better way. It is something we could try to do more often. It is not at all the “softy’s” approach. On the contrary, it requires great inner strength and security.

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