Our Gospel this weekend says ‘Jesus resolutely took the road for Jerusalem’ but another version puts it more strongly: ‘Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem’. Either way we get a picture of someone absolutely determined to carry through the Father’s will. Whatever awaits him in Jerusalem, he is ready for it and he calls followers who have the same determination.
In the lines that follow, Jesus rejects four false ideas of what following him means. First the brothers, James and John, known as ‘the sons of thunder’ think that loyalty to him means calling down punishment on those who oppose him, but that is not his way.
Next someone comes up who has an idealistic impression of being a follower of Jesus – he will go wherever Jesus goes – but he is warned that there will be nothing comfortable about following Jesus. Instead he will have to become a homeless wanderer, with no fixed abode in this world.
Jesus calls the next person to follow him, but the call is met by an excuse,
‘Let me go and bury my father first’. This doesn’t mean that his father has just died: it means that he might be prepared to follow Jesus sometime, but not yet. He is using the excuse that he has family responsibilities to put off making the radical choice that Jesus is offering.
The final would-be disciple has a similar excuse: ‘Let me go and say goodbye to my people at home’ means finding out whether his family will approve of him following Jesus. This is the same excuse that Elisha offered to Elijah in the first reading, but he thought better of it, cut his ties and followed Elijah there and then.
Anger with those who disagree with us, cosy ideas of being close to Jesus, delaying tactics, worrying about what others will think: none of these are the marks of the genuine follower of Jesus. Setting our faces towards our Jerusalem, standing firm in the freedom Jesus has won for us, refusing to submit again to the slavery of self-indulgence, serving one another in love: these are the actions of real disciples. We are able to be such followers, not because we are strong or brave or clever, but because the Spirit of love has been poured into our hearts through the mystery of Jesus’ own resolute journey to Jerusalem, beyond suffering and death, and into the glory of his resurrection.