Luke 9: 51-62
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In a May, 2015 TED talk titled “What I Learned from 100 Days of Rejection,” entrepreneur Jia Jiang describes what led him to try what he calls Rejection Therapy. The first was an experience as a six-year-old in elementary school. His teacher brought in an armful of small wrapped gifts and placed them on a table in the middle of classroom. She then invited the children to complement each other. When a child heard their name they got to claim a gift from the table. It started with the whole classroom of 40 children, then there were 20 still standing, then 10, 5, until only three children were standing, and Jia was one of them. All the compliments had stopped and he was crying. The flustered teacher finally said, “why don’t you go get your gift and sit down. So behave next year -- someone might say something nice about you." I know, right? By the time he was twelve, he was ready to take on the world; full of plans to build the biggest company in the world; one that would buy Microsoft. Only that isn’t what happened. By the time he was 30, his career had stalled. The company he tried to start faltered. The rejection by potential investors hurt so bad he wanted to quit there and then. And that’s when he found the idea of rejection therapy and set out to do something every day for 100 days that would likely get him rejected. Over the course of that 100 days he did get rejected, but he also go better at being able to cope with the fear of rejection that kept him from moving forward in the first place.
In the classic C.S. Lewis children’s book The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe the Pevensie children have wandered into the magical realm of Narnia. One of the their first conversations is with Mr. Beaver who intones to them, “They say Aslan is on the move.” Aslan, we come to find out, is a lion, but not any old lion. He is the King. And his movement in Narnia signals a shift in that land where it is always winter, but never Christmas. We witness something similar in our reading this morning from Luke. Only in this account it is Jesus who is on the move. “When the days drew near for him to be taken up,” writes Luke, “he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” In that moment, Jesus goes from being an itinerant rabbi, wandering here and there around the Galilean countryside saying and doing extraordinary things, to a man on something of a mission. He becomes a man with a sense of direction and purpose- Jerusalem. From where he’s standing, the road to Jerusalem goes through Samaria. And it’s at this point that you wonder if Jesus wouldn’t have benefitted from Google maps, because with all the bad blood between the Jewish and Samaritan people of that day, they probably wished they could have been rerouted to go another way. But they couldn’t, so they ended up heading for a Samaritan village, where quite predictably, Jesus was rejected.
He was rejected because his face was set toward Jerusalem. Really? What’s the big deal? What do these Samaritans have against Jerusalem. Well, as you may remember, Jerusalem was home to the magnificent second Temple, one of the wonders of the ancient world. That temple was believed to be the very dwelling place of God, and observant Jews from all over would make pilgrimage there for the major religious festivals specifically so they could worship and celebrate the feast at the temple. It was a very big deal. Only not to the Samaritans. No, for them, Gerizim was the holy mountain. They were taught what their parents were taught, and what their parents before them were taught, and on and on for a thousand or more years, that Gerizim is where pilgrims were supposed to go to worship God. Of course, Jesus wasn’t really rejected because of Jerusalem, so much as he was rejected because he didn’t do things the way the Samaritans did them, the way they’d always done them. He just wasn’t one of them. He was rejected, like so many are, because he wasn’t from around here. He was one of those others; different. And the reaction of James and John? Same as it ever was, same as it ever was. Today when people who come at the world from opposing points of view encounter one another on the internet, what results is sometimes referred to as a flame war. Someone says something cruel to another person and it’s called a “burn,” or they’re said to have been roasted. Well, when Jesus is rejected by that Samaritan village, James and John, the unironically nicknamed “sons of thunder,” are prepared to command fire down from the heavens to punish these deplorables. But Jesus will have none of it.
That’s because Jesus is on the move. His face is set toward Jerusalem. He has a purpose and a sense of direction and he knows that nothing good is served, nothing good comes from raining fire down on the people who don’t welcome you. Nothing is gained from the endless back and forth of slight answered with slight, evil for evil that divides a people against one another. In our own contentious and divided country, where one group of people have their preferred media sources (their own holy mountain if you will) and another group has a different set of preferred media sources, where we heap derision on anyone who belongs to the other side, Jesus’ rebuke is not just for James and John, it is for us who lose the plot with our petty acts of retribution- trying to give people a taste of their own poison, instead of setting our faces toward what matters.
For Jesus, what matters is Jerusalem. What matters is not some provincial dispute over who owns God, but the stranglehold sin and death have on humanity, they way it get us to do the dirty work ourselves; tearing each other down and scorching the earth. And as he makes his way, he lets it be known to those who would follow him, those who would become his disciple in and on the way to Jerusalem; he lets it be known that he is on the move and there is not time for fooling around, there is no room for side projects. “I will follow you wherever you go.” That’s nice. But you get the sense that Jesus doesn’t buy it. “Foxes have holes,” he tells the would be follower, “and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Um? Kay. What exactly does that mean? I think it means that Jesus is on the move. Earlier in this same chapter of Luke, before setting his face toward Jerusalem, Jesus is up on the mountain with three of his closest followers when things get pretty weird. We’re told that his appearance is transfigured and his clothes become dazzling white, and he’s suddenly chatting with Moses and Elijah. And in that moment, it’s Peter who wants to settle down in that place, make some booths, commemorate the occasion. No sooner does he say this than the whole thing shifts back to normal and they’re headed down the mountain and Peter’s building project is abandoned. Why? Because Jesus is on the move, and being on the move means that one is effectively homeless. And here is why that is important, here is what the sons of thunder miss in all of their self-righteous bluster insistence on commanding fire down on the people who reject Jesus. That Samaritan Village- not Jesus’ home. It was just a place to stop for the night. If they put him up, great. If not, just keep moving toward what truly matters and stop getting waylaid by what doesn’t. If we want to follow Jesus it means understanding this thing that has ultimate meaning in our life, and all the other things that we are just passing through. Some people hear that and think it applies to all of material reality and say things like, “this world is not my home.” But Jesus isn’t espousing dualism here. Jesus isn’t embracing a world-denying asceticism. He’s making it absolutely clear that following him means traveling light. It means letting go of the stuff that’s just going to slow us down on the way to Jerusalem. And it probably means that we are going to be rejected by those who don’t understand what we’re doing, or who insist we should be doing it their way, the way they’ve always done it. It means becoming homeless ourselves, so that when the rejection comes, or a competing loyalty would sidetrack us, we know that isn’t what truly matters, that’s not where we belong, that isn’t what we’ve set our faces toward. It doesn’t slow us down. We can let it go, on the move ourselves with Jesus.