The Long Road to Jerusalem

When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem.

Today’s Gospel, from Luke 9:51-62, is one of those readings that sets some people on edge, as Jesus can seem a bit curt:

But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

I have a self-identifying “progressive” friend
who argues that Jesus is here portrayed as being “dark” with his own flawed humanity; uncharitable, narrow and curmudgeonly. Particularly in light this post over at Deacon Greg’s and some of the comments, there, I see the reading very differently.

As a sinful woman, I have been much-humbled to understand that God, in his mercy, draws near to the imperfect soul at his own pleasure, no matter what state the soul is in, and regardless of what anyone else thinks about it.

Grace is a great mystery. What motivates the All-Perfect and All-Good to come running toward what is so vastly imperfect, faulty and broken when He is called? It is the same unfathomable love that gives foolish Israel a worldly King, when it has demanded one; it is a love that acquiesces in incomprehensible, paradoxical ways, in order to teach by example; it is a love that will heal our wounds instantly or over time, depending on the injury, and how often we reopen those wounds.

We taste its sweetness or spit it from our mouths by our own choice, but either way, God’s love is a love that never fails, even though we do.

Understanding this, when I hear suggestions that only certain types of people belong in church or ministry, I mostly laugh. A healthy church opens its doors to all the sick people seeking to be made well; all are welcome. While some might like to believe that their community is “more tolerant” or “more obedient” than others, my experience within the Catholic church is that this welcome is true, and more real than some want to believe, regardless of how a parish identifies.

A parish that is sincerely seeking Christ is one that fundamentally understands how flawed are the people within its walls, and that we seek out God with and through each other. That we commence this search through the thick jungle of psychological, ideological and prejudicial barriers we foolishly place before ourselves only demonstrates the extent of our collective and individual illnesses. Perhaps we believe that by insulating ourselves with the “right” kind of people, in the “correct” sort of parish, we have protected ourselves from the so-called “ick-factor” of the other, whomever we perceive that “other” to be.

But there is no room for an “ick” factor, or an identifiable “other” in the life of the Church, or the Christian. We are told to “instruct and admonish one another in wisdom made perfect,” which can only mean in love. The way to love the “other” is to first come to know the “other,” which means we look at ourselves.

In truth, the “other” is you and me, and that part of us that does not want to hear the word “no,” or be told that we must work against the powerful instincts and urges that so tantalize us into believing that we lack self-control. Someone might not wish to be told that it is to his spiritual advantage to say “no” to sexual temptation; another may grouse to hear that her body, mind and spirit would be better served by saying “no” to a stack of pancakes and a fantasy about Shemar Moore, yet another might wince to hear that “no,” she ought not participate in the Eucharist for now, even if she really wants to, because withholding herself temporarily may facilitate her understanding, trust and growth in ways she cannot yet imagine.

“. . . it comes from saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much . . . it’s only by saying ‘no’ that you can concentrate on the things that are really important”
— Steve Jobs

Our willingness to hear the word “no” and to at least attempt to discipline ourselves to self-restraint and surrender are what will ultimately help us to grow in Christ.

Jesus, we are told, moved with determination toward Jerusalem, the City of Peace. We are all called to this same city; Real Estate aside, it is meant to live within each of us. Our job is to move determinedly toward Jerusalem, every day, and the City of Peace cannot be a place of judgment, animosity, jealousy, ego, spite or malice.

Aspiring to Jerusalem, we are all on the road; conservative, liberal, gay, straight, fat, thin, cynical, naive, we trod the same rugged path. Along the way we encounter numerous daily weigh stations–they pop up everywhere–where we must make our choices in order to press forward; we must decide on a thousand different “no’s” in order to complete the journey to the ultimate Yes of Jerusalem.

Some of our “no’s” are collectively understood. We will not kill. We will not lie. We will not take what is not ours to possess, or deliberately hurt or tear down.

Some of the no’s are personal challenges, meant for the individual journey. We will not over-serve the addictive and powerful temptations of the flesh–be they sexual or sensual–no matter how much the world, which is not traveling the same road, encourages us to yield. We will not surrender our charity to the self-satisfaction of the ego–in its rush to correct and condemn–no matter how many times our virtues are overpraised, and our sinfulness is minimized by those who have an interest in keeping us distracted, and easily tripped.

The great saints did not spend a lot of time focusing on the sins and imperfections of those around them. Jesus had kindly taught them that looking backward, or sideways, might cause them to tumble or to step off the road, altogether, and so they remained focused on their own walk, and their own sins.

Moving with determination toward our interior City of Peace, our footpath is crowded with other pilgrims seeking that same destination, facing their own weigh stations, confronting their own cracks and sinkholes. May God help us to support each other, in “wisdom made perfect” as we put one fragile foot forward, and then the other, on this long and arduous trek toward Jerusalem.

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