Thursday, July 21, 2005

Set Your Face

As the time for Jesus’ passion approached, He decided to head toward Jerusalem. Well, He didn’t merely decide, He set his face toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). That is a biblical expression for a resolute determination to do something. He was so determined to do his Father’s will that even the Samaritans noticed it—though with a certain haughty indignation. They wouldn’t even let Jesus stay in one of their villages, for they knew his face was set toward Jerusalem. The disciples wanted to blast them with fire from heaven (saw too many movies, I guess), but Jesus reminded them that He came to save lives and not destroy them.

A funny thing happened on the way to Jerusalem (not “ha-ha” funny, but curiously remarkable). Jesus invited others to set their faces as well (9:57-62). Or rather, He showed them how properly to set their faces, since they already wanted to but didn’t quite understand the demands of discipleship. One who wanted to follow Him didn’t realize that it meant relying utterly on Providence, even unto being virtually homeless. Another one wanted to wait till his parents had died so that he would be free of filial responsibilities. But Jesus reminded him that if he was going to preach the Kingdom of God, that work must be left to others.

Finally, and perhaps most strikingly, one poor fellow wasn’t even allowed to go home and say goodbye to his family and friends before setting his face toward the Kingdom. Jesus’ response to his request was: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.” Here is the basic principle: if you set your face forward, you cannot turn it back. If you resolutely determine to follow Christ, you cannot return to your previous way of life; you cannot even toy with that idea or make a few compromises. It’s all or nothing. If you are to be fit for the Kingdom of God, you set your face and keep moving forward.

I would guess that most of those who would take the time to read this have already (at least to some extent) put their hands to the plow in the service of Christ and the Kingdom. But we have to examine our consciences: are we looking back? Have we made resolutions about which we tend to waver or compromise? Do we sometimes long for the “fleshpots of Egypt” while we sojourn through the desert on the way to the Promised Land? Do we try to justify or rationalize behaviors that are incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus? Do we fall into self-indulgence or self-pity when what the Lord requires is fidelity, courage, and trust?

Let the dead bury the dead. You have to speak and live the word of the Lord. Set your face toward Christ and resolve to do his will. Put your hand to the plow—and don’t look back. The only thing that ultimately matters is being deemed fit for the Kingdom of God.