When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village. 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
About a year ago I got off Facebook. Initially, I stopped because I was beginning a sabbatical, but soon realized I needed to stay off because I was getting too churned up and angry about some of the absolutely evil things people would post. In the name of Jesus, no less.
Over and over, I became enraged at people I knew who were defending the most horrific, despicable, cruel actions and attitudes toward other human beings; toward Muslims and people of color, particularly immigrants; who would justify tearing frightened babies from their mothers’ arms, locking them in cages with no beds or soap; who would use the Bible to explain taking jewelry and medicine away from these people who were fleeing from more horrors and violence than I ever will be able to imagine. I had to express my righteous anger. I needed to defend Christ-like compassion in the name of Jesus. More than that, I felt it necessary to put those pseudo-Christians in their place, to demean them, to rage about how wrong, narrow-minded, evil they were. I wanted to blast them off social media. Or worse.
“When his disciples James and John saw [that the Samaritans had rejected Jesus], they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’” Yes! That! Do that!
Oh, I get it. James and John were just defending Jesus against people who are openly rejecting him. They even have scripture to back them up (some copiers inserted “like Elijah did” after requesting fire from heaven). The honor of Jesus is at stake here. The truth of his message is on the line.
But Jesus turned and rebuked them for defending him. This is not the attitude of those who follow me, he says. Then they went on to another village to do it all over again.
Jesus has to call out the violent and vengeful tendencies among his disciples. Even if their reasons are good. Even if they are confronting evil. Even if they are defending Jesus himself. These threats of violence and attitudes of hatred have no place with him. It will stop—at least among his followers. That includes me.
It’s becoming easier and easier for us to demonize anyone on “the other side” of any issue. It’s becoming more and more normal to draw a dividing line between “us” and “them,” and to hate, threaten, and dehumanize “them,” whoever “they” are. We better check our own Facebook and Twitter feeds because Jesus has something to say about that.
That same attitude is often exhibited with much less drama than “fire from heaven.” When we take the opportunity to respond to anyone we disagree with, we tend to abuse it. We are all too willing to inflict emotional harm, we easily degrade people, we ignore those whose voices aren’t as strong as ours, we put down those who might challenge our way of thinking, we talk about them behind their backs, we create alliances against them. Who is it we’ve been bad-mouthing lately? Because Jesus will have none of it.
Because here’s the thing. Whether his disciples are angrily defending him or the Samaritans are openly rejecting him, Jesus has set his face to go to Jerusalem. He is determined to get there, knowing he will die there. His love for his disciples who seek vengeance, his love for the Samaritans who flatly reject him, his love compels him to go to Jerusalem and the cross. Love determines his actions, nothing else.
And nothing can dissuade him. Not rejection, not threats of violence, not hateful attitudes. He will act in love no matter what. No matter who. No matter what’s in the way.
That’s where the second part of this text comes in. Jesus invites us to follow him in exhibiting this kind of love, to follow him even if it means going to Jerusalem. We too often respond, I will follow, but first I need to bury my father. I will follow, but I just need to say goodbye to my family and friends. And yet, he will go to the cross for us even when we put our own priorities ahead of following him. He will go to Jerusalem for us even when we’re so busy doing good things that we neglect to follow him in love.
It’s worth asking, what beliefs or positions are we so attached to that they come before following Jesus in love? What are we clinging to that is a higher priority than his compassion and non-violence and forgiveness?
So I’m back on Facebook, but with some conditions. I’m trying not to post anything that Jesus would turn and rebuke me for. Even if I think my reasons are good and my anger is just, I’m trying to post only things that reveal the kind of love Jesus has for me. And for any who might read them.
No matter what our attitudes or priorities or actions, Jesus is going to Jerusalem for us. His love for us is that unconditional. And he invites us to follow.