Luke 9:51-62 “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’ But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village.”
I have been wearing eye-glasses since I was in the seventh grade, so maybe this is an experience you can relate to only if you wear glasses. Have you ever asked, “Has anyone seen my glasses?” and someone else responds, “You’re wearing them”? I remember a similar incident in a college Greek class. My professor was holding his Greek text in his hand and asking, “did anyone see where I put my book down?”
Sometimes things become so much a part of us that we don’t realize that they are there anymore. I have been looking at the world through glass lenses for so long that I sometimes forget that they are perched on top of my nose.
Something similar may happen to our spiritual eyesight over time. Many of us have been looking at Jesus and looking at his word through the eyes of faith for so long, that we can’t remember what it was like to look at him without that faith bringing things into focus. Faith has been such a part of our lives for so long that, in a sense, we forget it’s there, and that without it we could not see.
So it is that we are befuddled by our Jewish friend who can read the same words in Isaiah 53 as we do, words which describe Jesus’ suffering and death so clearly, to our way of thinking. But somehow he just doesn’t see it. Why doesn’t he get it? There is that neighbor or family member that we have been witnessing to for years. They seem to carry such misery around with them. So many of their problems are self-imposed. Maybe they have even accompanied us to church once or twice. Why can’t they see that Jesus is what they need?
The problem is that they aren’t looking through the miraculous lenses that allow us to see Jesus as he really is. The problem is that so much of who Jesus is lies hidden behind a very plain and ordinary human exterior.
It was no different when Jesus visibly walked through the streets of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. The King and Creator of the Universe lived here incognito. The Samaritans in our lesson could not see his divinity or his charity. All they could see was his nationality. Jesus was too human and too Jewish for them to welcome, and so they passed on the chance to host the single most powerful, most important, and most giving and gracious person in world history.
Even after the Spirit has fitted us with faith-tinted lenses, we have trouble making Jesus out. He doesn’t fit our expectations for heavenly royalty. We expect more as members of his court. Shouldn’t friends of the crown, even members of the royal family like us, find richer, easier, more trouble-free lives in this world? Shouldn’t they be given a little slack when it comes to the urgency of the work of God’s kingdom? Shouldn’t they receive more privileges, and more accommodation, when it comes to their earthly needs, and their earthly relationships? The three would-be disciples in our lesson all seemed to think so. They weren’t looking for following Jesus to get in the way of their earthly comforts or their family relationships.
But the Jesus who makes everything in life more comfortable, who makes every human relationship happier, is a false god who exists only the minds of those who can’t see the real thing. Following the real Jesus means a life of self-denial, and taking up your cross, not a life of self-indulgence on earth. Following Jesus means a life that often turns a man against his father and a daughter against her mother. A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Those are his own words. Following the imaginary Jesus of ease and comfort and heaven-on-earth is a sin for which he calls us to repent.
The loving and gracious Savior who promises rest for the weary may be hard to see in the suffering Jesus whose followers suffer with him on earth. But hidden in Jesus’ own suffering is the unconditional love and unlimited forgiveness we seek. And hidden beyond our own suffering is a real heaven, not an earthly counterfeit, which Jesus will reveal at the proper time to those who continue to fix their eyes on him in faith. May Jesus himself continue to fix our focus.