At that time some Pharisees came up to him and said, “Go away. Leave this place! Herod seeks to kill you.” He told them, “Go tell that fox, ‘Look, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow. On the third day I reach my goal.’ But it is necessary for me to go forward today and tomorrow and the following day, for it is not possible for a prophet to perish outside Jerusalem.”
At first glance, it seems as if the Pharisees who have been in conflict with Jesus are now looking out for his welfare and attempting to save him from the hands of those who await him in Jerusalem. Looks, however, can be deceiving. As Luke presents the Pharisees, they are consistently resentful and hostile toward Jesus. Thus, it seems most likely that here, under the guise of concern and kindness, they are actually the vehicles of a temptation to Jesus to turn back from his call as prophet and as suffering servant.
To understand the full import of this moment of confrontation and temptation, we can look to the moment in Luke’s gospel when Jesus deliberately turns toward Jerusalem and and commits himself fully to the fulfillment of his mission. At Luke 9:51-62 Jesus makes clear to his disciples and the others that the cost of discipleship is to be a whole-hearted commitment without reserve to one’s call and destiny. “No one who has once grasped the plow yet keeps looking backward is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). The Pharisees are attempting to prove that Jesus is no prophet but that in the face of the dangers of fidelity he will “go away.” But Jesus, addressing not so much the straw man Herod as the Pharisees themselves declares he will not look back but continue his work until he reaches his goal.
Perhaps the great temptation in life is finally to allow ourselves to be deterred from what is, uniquely for each of us, the “necessary,” “But it is necessary for me to go forward today and tomorrow and the following day, for it is not possible for a prophet to perish outside Jerusalem.” All the way to the cross, the “leaders of the people” will mock Jesus’ vocation, taunting him to prove himself by saving himself. “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!” (Luke 23:37). Jesus set himself on the road to Jerusalem, and would not let anything deter him, because he realized that this was his way, that it was for this that he “had come into the world” (John 18:37).
We live in a world and a time of so many choices and possibilities. I often think of how I travel wider distances in a single trip than my grandparents did in their whole lifetime. While on the positive side this potentially allows a much broader awareness of the world, it also makes choice more difficult. Research shows that when human beings have too many choices, a paralysis sets in that can inhibit our ability to make a single one. This is quite one level of problem in the cereal aisle of the supermarket, but it is a much more serious one at the level of life direction. The temptations to skim the surface of life are so many for us. So, perhaps, the decision to choose and to remain faithful to what is necessary for us in the midst of so many apparent possibilities is among our greatest challenges.
The Xaverian Fundamental Principles state: “Day by day you will need to renew your response.” Jesus replied to the Pharisees: “Look, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow. On the third day I reach my goal.” Today and tomorrow may we continue to live out in the daily responsibilities of our ordinary lives what is ours to do, that, finally, “on the third day” we might reach our goal.
Your own efforts “did not bring it to pass,” only God—but rejoice if God found a use for your efforts in God’s work.
Rejoice if you feel that what you did was “necessary,” but remember, even so, that you were simply the instrument by means of which God added one tiny grain to the Universe God has created for God’s own purposes.
“It is in this abyss that you reveal me to myself—I am nothing and I did not know it.”
“If without any side-glances, we have only God in view, it is God, indeed, who does what we do . . . Such a person does not seek rest, for that person is not troubled by any unrest . . . That person must acquire an inner solitude, no matter where or with whom that person may be: (s)he must learn to pierce the veil of things and comprehend God within them.” (Meister Eckhart)
Dag Hammarskjold, Markings, p. 88