A Set Face
“… Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. He sent messengers into a Samaritan town to arrange things; but the people would not receive him… The disciples asked, “Lord, should we call fire down from heaven to destroy them? But Jesus rebuked them.” – Luke 9:51-54
Jesus ‘set his face’ towards Jerusalem. If you have willful kids or a stubborn co-worker, you’ve seen it, that look that says ‘You’re not going to change my made-up mind.’ It’ll take him ten more chapters to get there, but nothing will keep Jesus from Jerusalem, and the cross.
Not even Samaria, which was dicey territory. People with the wrong religion lived there, no friends to Jews. Jesus could’ve taken a detour, but it would’ve added time. When you’ve set your face, you don’t have time. So he sends in advance men, but the Samaritans slam the door. The outraged disciples propose bombing ’em into oblivion.
Jesus is always asking his disciples to believe in him. Turns out they do, maybe too much. They’re exceedingly keen to kill people who don’t. What could be more pious than to wreak havoc on those who reject your guru or your god, or your politics? Nothing makes the world go ’round like a little righteous violence. But Jesus rebukes them.
In Luke’s gospel “rebuke” is a word reserved for taming chaos and exorcising demons. So when Jesus rebukes his disciples, we learn an uncomfortable truth: our indignant impulse to make resistant people heel arises from our own moral chaos. Some inner demon has persuaded us that we’re good and right and enlightened, so that when we call down fire, we’re not really being violent, we’re just being helpful.
Jesus says, ‘To hell with your help.’ He means it. His face is set.
Remove the self-delusion that fuels our pious rages, O God. Set our faces towards Jesus and his peace. Amen.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.