Last Sunday we were saying that Peter’s confession was a kind of “watershed” in Jesus’ life. For the first time, somebody had recognized Jesus as the Messiah; for the first time, Jesus had predicted his passion. Now Jesus can start the second part of his public ministry. Until now he has preached in his native country, Galilee; now the time has come to set out for Jerusalem, the city where his destiny will be accomplished. Today’s gospel opens with these words: “When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled...” Literally: “When the days of his assumption were accomplishing...” The time of the assumption—that is passion, death, resurrection and ascension—is approaching for Jesus; so he has to start his journey toward Jerusalem. And he does it freely and willingly. The gospel says: “He resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” Literally: “He steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.” During his journey, Jesus, instead of devoting himself to preaching to the crowds, prefers to concentrate on the formation of the apostles, not only to prepare them to face his passion, but also and above all to prepare them for the role they will play after his “assumption.”
To go to Jerusalem, Jesus has to cross Samaria. The Samaritans were not in good terms with the Jews, especially because they did not accept the temple of Jerusalem as the only place for worship. So, when they know that Jesus is going to Jerusalem, they reject him. Nothing new: Jesus had already been rejected at the beginning of his Galilean ministry. If you remember, when Jesus visited the synagogue in Nazareth, they drove him out of the town and wanted to hurl him down from the brow of the hill. And they were not enemies; they were his fellow citizens. James and John—who, perhaps for this reason, were nicknamed by Jesus “Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder” (Mk 3:14)—would like to call down fire from heaven to consume them. They are not asking anything absurd: Elijah, for three times, had called down fire from heaven. But Jesus does not like these brisk manners; he prefers to let it go.
Just as at the beginning of his Galilean ministry Jesus had called his disciples to follow him, so at the beginning of the journey to Jerusalem, we find a short account of calling. In this case Jesus shows himself very demanding: following Jesus is not a joke; it requires renunciation to everything and total devotion to him. Luke relates three cases. The first one volunteers to follow Jesus wherever he goes. Jesus does not reject him, but reminds him of what is awaiting him: “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” The second one is invited by Jesus to follow him. He does not refuse, but he gives his availability only after his father’s death. His attitude is commendable: it is God himself that in the commandments asks us to take care of our parents. But following Jesus is more important than family ties and filial obligations. “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” There will be somebody else who looks after your parents; do not worry; you yourself, keep your mind on your new mission. The last one is willing to follow Jesus at once; he just asks Jesus to let him bid farewell to his family. You have heard that Elijah, in a similar case, had allowed Elisha to say goodbye to his dear ones. But Jesus is more demanding than Elijah. His following must be prompt and immediate; there is no room for second thoughts. “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” Let us ask the Lord to have the same promptness in following him.