This is a difficult passage, but as I read it, I sense there’s a shift happening. Verse 51 says “he set his face toward Jerusalem.” Jesus comes off as pretty harsh later in this text, but is it possible that he’s coming to grips with what he’s about to experience? So far Jesus has spent his time outside of Jerusalem lifting up the lowly and bringing down the proud. It seems that now he’s seeing the imminent consequences of that work. He will head to Jerusalem and he will be killed. So when someone says, “I will follow you”, he’s getting honest about what that means: “Okay, go ahead and follow me, but just know that foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” When someone says, “I will follow you, but first let me go and do such and such”, he’s thinking “I don’t have time for people who aren’t in all the way.” I Imagine Jesus not even looking at these people, but saying these things with his gaze fixed upon Jerusalem.
I wonder if he’s not saying it to them as much as he is to himself. He knows this is what he has to do, and he knows he cannot be distracted by those who aren’t with him all the way. Is it possible that he’s saying these things because he knows that if he’s got people with him who will bail when it gets hard, he may be tempted to bail too? It’s around this time in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) where Jesus starts to get particularly irritable, and usually when I get to these parts, I’m a little taken aback by this Jesus. For whatever reason, reading this here in Luke, I’m feeling empathy for him. There’s something about the phrase “he set his face toward Jerusalem” that causes me to wonder what is going on inside Jesus at this point. He needs a strong team around him to head into this work.
As we sit in the season of Lent, we need to set our faces toward our own Jerusalem. We need to look toward the hard places to go, the places where God is calling us into the outer reaches of sacrificial, fearless love. Where is that place for you? What are the hard, scary, uncertain places to which God is leading you. What might keep you from getting there? And what will it take for you to set your face toward it?