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.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • SSNarwhal

    Powerful thoughts. That Israel wanted a King like their neighbors, was a indication of their mood that God was not acceptable as their leader and Lord. All man made institutions of governance will fail, because they are all flawed, as Muslims will soon discover. But at some day in the future, one will work. Its leader will rule with justice and mercy in perfect proportion and with a rod of iron for the rebellious. Thanks for the reminder.

  • jb

    The “greatest saints” will never be known until “that day” . . . for their travails have never been, nor ever will be, advertised to either the Church or the world.

    The Church’s penchant for canonization (East and West)–while admirable in one sense–that being the example of faith to others; is likewise less admirable because by default in comparison, it must minimize the incredible struggles of faith that are not advertised . . . miracles of living that in many cases eclipse those of the openly-declared saints.

    The New Testament says all true believers are saints.

    That should be sufficient for the Church in the here and now. Any degrees of glory in eternity are up to the Lord of Glory, not our suspect determinations in this vale of tears.

    In Heavenly Jerusalem, the surprises will be astounding. Whatever rank, we shall all be ecstatic

    Pax Domini

  • Lenore Arbaugh

    What an amazingly spiritually discerning comment, jb!!! As a convert to Catholic Church, I have not heard this expressed before and really it is about time! Certainly has been something I have thought about to some degree and wondered about the canonization of saints. I agree with you!!! Beautifully expressed! Thank you!

  • http://www.brutallyhonest.org Rick

    Powerful.

  • Deb

    Wow. Just Wow. Thank you for that.

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com Bender

    Maybe some do, but I should think that most people who examine the actual lives of those who have been canonized would not conclude that the Church is, by the canon, minimizing the faith (the sometimes heroic faith) of unknown everyday people. Some might, but I would doubt that most people would look at them as if up on a pedestal and say with discouragement, “I could never be that good.”

    A good many of those canonized saints were pretty notorious sinners at one point. And it is that fact that gives a great deal of hope to the rest of us. If, for example, an accomplice to murder could go on to be the great missionary Apostle, or a guy struggling with sexual temptations in a hedonistic society could become the greatest theologian of the Faith, maybe us lesser sinners can be saints as well, even if not as “great” a saint as they. But just as they did not do it all themselves, they had the helping hand of grace, so too do we need that as well.

    Moreover, not a few of the canonized saints have pointed out that it does not necessarily take superhuman heroics to be a saint. One can attain sainthood in the simple acts of everyday life. To be sure, this Little Way to being a saint has become quite a popular understanding.

    The problem with the “all true believers are saints” idea, heard mostly in Protestant circles, while correct, is also misleading. It is misleading because of that tricky word “true.” Most of us, and perhaps even all of us in the world now, fall short of that standard of “true believer.” Instead, we are imperfect believers. We might be 99.9 percent true, but that still falls short of the perfection that is heaven.

    While here on earth, we are, by definition, still here on earth — we are not in heaven yet. We are sojourners, travellers, a pilgrim people traversing along the path. As such, there is still the chance of straying from the path, and most of us step off into the weeds many times along the way. We might call ourselves “saints” now, but that is a foolish presumption, because although we might call ourselves a “saint” today, it is quite possible we will be one of the damned tomorrow.

    For those who are already in heaven, however, it is a different story. We don’t have to worry about them straying from the path, or falling short. They have already run the race, they have fought the good fight, and they are, being filled with grace, forevermore true in the faith. Thus, it is with them, and only with them, that we can confidently call them “saints.”

    Some of those saints in heaven are added to the canon of saints, but many, many more are not included in the canon, the list of recognized people in heaven. But that does not mean that these people, anonymous while here on earth, are unknown to God or the other saints and angels in heaven. Nor are they unknown to the Church. Sure, the Church may not know them by name, but she does know that they are there in heaven and, like the others, they too pray for us here on earth and the faithful in purgatory.

  • http://amba12.wordpress.com amba (Annie Gottlieb)

    Beautiful post!!

  • Julie

    Beautiful and true!

  • http://www.withouthavingseen.com Ryan Haber

    Very well said, Anchoress.

  • Lori

    Beautiful post, Anchoress. And Bender, I liked your comments. I think of canonization as part of the “what you bind on earth is bound in Heaven” that Jesus promised the Church. I had the odd thought once: hey, why didn’t Jesus just give the Apostles a big ring binder (okay, a big long scroll) with an exact blueprint for what He wanted His Church to do, complete in every detail? He could have written it all up and it would have (ideally) saved so much controversy: “I have declared Peter your first Pope. When he passes on, you will choose another, and so on in succession … You will establish parishes, bishoprics, dioceses … etc.”

    I actually had to think about this, and what I concluded was that God gives us the enormous privilege of participating in the creation and evolution of His Church. He wanted us to have the freedom to make it ourselves (with the help of the Spirit), even with all our imperfection. Even more, He wanted the Church to evolve. There were ideas and doctrines and practices that the early Church might not have been ready for, that we came to understand by the guidance of the Spirit later on.

    God wanted the Church to unfold naturally, and with as His co-creators. What an astounding privilege. And this is why Sola Scriptura will never be enough. The Church in its rich traditions has built upon the Scriptures, never contradicting them, but fulfilling them and giving them ever deeper meaning through Tradition created and embraced over the centuries.

  • Lori

    Beautiful post, Anchoress. And Bender, I liked your comments. I think of canonization as part of what the Church binds on earth – the “what you bind on earth is bound in Heaven” that Jesus promised us. I had the odd thought once: hey, why didn’t Jesus just give the Apostles a big ring binder (okay, a big long scroll) with an exact blueprint for what He wanted His Church to do, complete in every detail? He could have written it all up and it would have (ideally) saved so much controversy: “I have declared Peter your first Pope. When he passes on, you will choose another, and so on in succession … You will establish parishes, dioceses … etc.”

    I actually had to think about this, and what I concluded was that God gives us the enormous privilege of participating in the creation and evolution of His Church. He wanted us to have the freedom to build it ourselves (with the help of the Spirit), even with all our imperfection. And He wanted the Church to evolve. There were ideas and doctrines and practices that the early Church might not have been ready for, that we came to understand by the guidance of the Spirit later on.

    God wanted the Church to unfold naturally, and with as His co-creators. What an astounding privilege. And this is why Sola Scriptura will never be enough. The Church in its rich traditions has built upon the Scriptures, never contradicting them, but fulfilling them and giving them ever deeper meaning through Tradition created and embraced over the centuries. One of these is the recognition of some (certainly not all) Christians who have become especially venerated for their holy example – an excellent antidote, and perhaps the only one, to the tawdry cult of fame our society is plagued with today. We’re let down by “heroes” like Tiger Woods, but we can always look to St. Augustine … and St. Francis … and St. Joan of Arc … and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta … and God willing, one day, Pope Saint John Paul the Great. Subito Santo!

  • Lori

    Beautiful post, Anchoress. And Bender, I liked your comments. I think of canonization as part of what the Church binds on earth – the “what you bind on earth is bound in Heaven” that Jesus promised us. I had the odd thought once: hey, why didn’t Jesus just give the Apostles a big ring binder (okay, a big long scroll) with an exact blueprint for what He wanted His Church to do, complete in every detail? He could have written it all up and it would have (ideally) saved so much controversy: “I have declared Peter your first Pope. When he passes on, you will choose another, and so on in succession … You will establish parishes, dioceses … etc.”

    I actually had to think about this, and what I concluded was that God gives us the enormous privilege of participating in the creation and evolution of His Church. He wanted us to have the freedom to build it ourselves (with the help of the Spirit), even with all our imperfection. And He wanted the Church to evolve. There were ideas and doctrines and practices that the early Church might not have been ready for, that we came to understand by the guidance of the Spirit later on.

    God wanted the Church to unfold naturally, and with us as His co-creators. What an astounding privilege. And this is why Sola Scriptura will never be enough. The Church in its rich traditions has built upon the Scriptures, never contradicting them, but fulfilling them and giving them ever deeper meaning through Tradition created and embraced over the centuries. One of these is the recognition of some (certainly not all) Christians who have become especially venerated for their holy example – an excellent antidote, and perhaps the only one, to the tawdry cult of fame our society is plagued with today. We’re let down by “heroes” like Tiger Woods, but we can always look to St. Augustine … and St. Francis … and St. Joan of Arc … and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta … and God willing, one day, Pope Saint John Paul the Great. Subito Santo!

  • Dwayne

    Thank you Anchoress — as always, insightful and challenging. I was struck by a part of this gospel that was left out (at least at our parish). When Jesus rebukes James and John he says, “You know not of what Spirit you are. The Son of man came not to destroy souls, but to save.” Not sure why this very important bit was omitted, but it is so beautiful and hopeful. I for one, am glad to know that God is not nearly so interested in destroying as in saving. Thanks again.

  • Pingback: » Links To Visit – 06/28/10 NoisyRoom.net: The Progressive Hunter

  • elmo

    Needed this today. Thanks!

  • Joe

    The apostles were certainly flawed human beings and if they were presented with such a response initially by Jesus I doubt any of them would have followed him. Yet Jesus sought them out to serve.

  • kmk

    Thank you for the post! I do have one question–about not receiving the Eucharist is a good thing.. Is the example about someone in mortal sin, or for some other reason?

    Thanks for the link to Deacon Greg’s as well–I will go over and check it out….

    [I think it goes without saying that the example is of someone in mortal sin. -admin]

  • Phil

    Hi jb,
    I admire that thought of yours. I can’t say something out of that for the best saints can only be known in heaven as only the One Eternal Blessed Trinity can truely see how perfect a creature is.

  • Pingback: The Anchoress | A First Things Blog


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X