Readings: 1 Kings 19:16, 19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62
Jerusalem is central to the experience of Jesus and Luke brings this out more clearly than any of the other evangelists. One way he does this is by writing a second work, after his gospel, which tells of the beginnings of the Church. The gospel is all towards Jerusalem and Acts is all away from Jerusalem, the work of Jesus carried by the apostles through what they said and did beginning in Jerusalem, and then in Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
Today we come to a passage in Luke's gospel which is decisive in this regard and which introduces a long section of the gospel containing material that is found only in Luke. 'He resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem' is one translation of 9:51, or literally 'he set his face to go to Jerusalem'. Jerusalem is the place of triumph and of loss. It is a place of unparalleled joy and unique sadness. Jerusalem is the place of the presence of God and then of God's absence when he withdraws from the Temple. These alternating moments of joy and sadness, of presence and absence, are the way in which the people gain a deeper understanding of God and enter into closer intimacy with God.
The devastation of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon was the most cataclysmic event in the Old Testament. But in the hands of the prophets, and from their lips, it becomes a moment of new freedom as the people are helped to gain a new understanding of God. The second destruction of the Temple (the killing of Jesus, the sack of Jerusalem in 70AD) is a cataclysm at the beginning of our era. But these events also are understood as opening the way to a new freedom, a new intimacy with God, a new way in which God, who seems to have been expelled from this world, is actually more radically present than was understood before.
The Christian life may be understood as 'a pilgrimage to Jerusalem'. It is a way of radical discipleship and Jesus will speak frequently about this in the gospel readings over the coming Sundays. The road to Jerusalem is the road to the cross. But the road to Jerusalem is also the road to freedom. To live in Jerusalem, in the Jerusalem that is coming, means entering into ever greater freedom. This is because it brings with it a clearer understanding and love of what is good.
We look for a New Jerusalem, the Heavenly Jerusalem, a new experience of loss and restoration as we travel through death into the kingdom prepared for us. The kingdom that is to come, and is coming, will mean an ever deeper knowledge of God and an ever closer intimacy with God. In each moment of loss and restoration, centred on Jerusalem, there is a new and deeper understanding of God, a closer intimacy with God, a fresh understanding of transcendence and immanence, that God is at once more universal and more local, more removed from this world and more intimately present to it.
Jesus goes to Jerusalem because he is a priest and Jerusalem is the place of the Temple and of the sacrifices. He goes to Jerusalem because he is a prophet and Zion is always central to a prophet's mission. He goes to Jerusalem because he is a king and Jerusalem is the royal city, the city of David, the place of enthronement and rule. He is priest, prophet and king, but in ways that transform the meaning of these roles. And he calls us to join him in the Messianic people, to join him on the road to Jerusalem, and to learn from him as we journey towards the city that is to come.