I read one of my favorite passages from Luke’s gospel the other day, Luke 9:51. It tells us that Jesus, “resolutely set his face towards Jerusalem.” It is, for me, a profound statement about Jesus embracing the cross and all that it would mean for him personally. But when we put it in its context it says even more about what discipleship is all about.
This verse is bracketed by a conversation that John has with Jesus about an individual who has apparently been casting out demons in Jesus name, but who was not one of the disciples. John informs Jesus that they stopped the guy (he doesn’t indicate what they did to stop him, whether they spoke to him, warned him, or passed legislation at Conference to keep him out), but whatever means were used, they made it clear to him that since he wasn’t one of the official group he was not allowed to use the “Jesus brand.” Jesus informs John that they are not to stop him “for whoever is not against you is for you.” Jesus, as he sets his face towards Jerusalem broadens the definition of disciple.
Following Luke 9:51 is another event involving John and this time, his brother James as well. As Jesus and the disciples come to a Samaritan village they are, the text says, “Not welcomed because they are going to Jerusalem.” How it was known they were going to Jerusalem is not clear, but James and John are incensed about the attitude and suggest to Jesus that he call down fire on the people. I love one commentator’s suggestion that this event was the impetus behind Jesus’ later tongue in cheek reference to these two as the sons of thunder! In any case Luke tells us that Jesus “rebukes” them for their suggestion and they move on to another village.
So what do these two events — bracketing Jesus resolutely setting his face to Jerusalem — tell us? Well I think they reveal some misconceptions regarding discipleship. Discipleship is not about privilege. It’s not about us against them. It is always about the road to Jerusalem. It is always about setting our faces towards the places of sacrifice and offering grace. As one commentator has put it in describing the context of Luke 9:51:
“Taken with the episode that follows about the conditions of discipleship, the two scenes serve to correct wrong ideas of what it means to follow Jesus. Discipleship does not consist in zealous punishment of those who reject Jesus and his mission; nor does it consist in qualified following. All of this comes from the teacher who walks resolutely toward the goal.”
As we continue to walk through the days of this Lenten season, may we be those who walk resolutely with Jesus towards the goal of servant-hood and mercy, the true mark of a disciple.