The Gospel set for this Sunday is Luke 9:51-62
Why would anyone follow Jesus?
In this passage, Jesus is about to be taken up (we’ll return to what that means below) and set his face to go to Jerusalem. Aware of the witness of the Jewish scriptures concerning what happens to those who represent the covenant-making god Yahweh before the covenant-breaking people; aware that seemingly powerful men who consider Jesus a threat (and thus reveal that their power is precarious) are at work behind the scenes to kill him; aware of the flaws of his disciples: Jesus is confident that he will be betrayed by a close friend, deserted by the rest, and die a very public death, utterly alone. And yet he sets his face to go to Jerusalem. He is determined to go through with this.
Why? Because God desires to be in relationship with us, from before the creation of the world. And nothing will stop this. Not the fact that no world, let alone one with the necessary conditions for life to evolve, existed. Not the Ages required for human beings to evolve. Not death, neither our deaths nor our putting God-with-us to death. Like Paul after him, Jesus is convinced that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
And he is about to be taken up into this, in his Passion and crucifixion, his resurrection and ascension. To be taken up, and to take us up with him. The promise of being one with God forever.
On his way up to Jerusalem, they pass through Samaria, and one village refuses to offer them a bed for the night. There is little live lost between the residents of Samaria and Judea. And James and John, the so-called Sons of Thunder, counsel calling fire down from heaven, a holocaust, to consume the villagers as an offering. But Jesus will have none of it. Which is just as well, for James and John, given that just days from now they, too, will fail to receive Jesus, will abandon him to his fate.
As they continue on their way, others approach, or are approached by Jesus, but he sets a high bar. To follow Jesus is to fully recognise all that would try to stop us—the hostility of the world, or non-existence or not-yet-existence of an unfolding world in which we might be found; the unavoidable reality of death; the bounds of time and space, with its seasons and places and relationships—and, trusting, follow anyway. Trusting that all these things will also be taken up, with Jesus, and in the end redeemed, beyond all we could hope for or imagine. Even if, for now, they look anything but promising. Even if we are sorely tempted to settle for less.
So, why would anyone follow Jesus?
Perhaps because they have known the hard realities, and know that they will face more to come, and yet, in Jesus, see a great hope, the promise that nothing can separate us from the supreme Being who has gone to unimaginable lengths for us to share in a perfect love in time and for eternity.
And that might be crazy talk. But then, when you think of it, so are the alternatives.