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TRAVEL FREED Galatians 5:1, 13-25 and Luke 9:51-end

It’s the holiday season and so making preparations to go away may be on your mind. When packing for a journey what do you take? That will be determined by how you are travelling and where you are going. If you are taking your car then all sorts of bits and pieces can be thrown in along with your cases. If you are flying then you have the airline’s luggage allowance. But it’s a whole different ball game if you are on foot and all you can take must be carried on your back. That really concentrates the mind!

Jesus’ Journey to Jerusalem
Luke tells us that Jesus made his last journey to Jerusalem and in preparation he sent messengers ahead to book his accommodation. Unfortunately his destination caused difficulties. Passing through Samaria on their way from Galilee in the north to Judea in the south, they were denied a place to stay. If someone was on the way to Jerusalem on pilgrimage that meant they were of a rival tradition and providing a bed for the night would imply accepting the legitimacy of Jerusalem as a superior place of worship. The disciples, in the words of one commentator, would have liked pyrotechnics and displays of power by way of protest and punishment. Elijah had called down fire in similar circumstances. But Jesus is able to accept rejection as an inevitable part of being God’s friend.

The journey that Jesus is making with his disciples is highly significant. Luke says, in quite graphic terms, that Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. Even more significant is that this was when the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up. All of that is coded way of saying that this was not only a pilgrim’s journey to a holy city, but Jesus’ momentous journey back to the Father’s side. He would be “taken up” after being “lifted up” on the cross. Setting his face was a deliberate attitude, one of knowing what his mission was and that it must be fulfilled through ultimate cost. No wonder there was a difference in the reaction of the disciples and Jesus to being refused a night’s accommodation on the way! The disciples are on a different wavelength, but for Jesus this hostility was minor compared to what he may have sensed was coming his way once he had arrived in Jerusalem. The fire would come down from heaven, but not on some unwelcoming Samaritans. The fire would come down in the form of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. We know from his cry of desolation that an impassable gulf would open up between Jesus and his heavenly Father. More than that, the fire would not be divine retribution on individuals who refused to welcome a prophet, but it would be divine judgement through which a rebellious human race would be cleared and offered friendship with God. What Jesus carried with him mentally was very different to what the disciples had put into their emotional baggage: despite them accompanying Jesus, they had, in a sense a very different destination in mind at this stage.

Where do you stay?
Along with packing to suit your mode of transport, you also pack according to where you plan to stay. Self-catering may call for plenty of supplies; camping means you’ll have to think of the kitchen sink. Staying in a hotel might mean taking something for evening dinners. Going on a cruise probably needs sea-sickness remedies to be included in what you take with you!

For Jesus, the need to move on to another village where perhaps they were given a place to sleep, was still fresh in mind when he came out with a saying that has become a famous one: “Foxes have holes, birds their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Luke gives us two further examples of Jesus’ response to those who considered following Jesus. “Let the dead bury the dead” and “no one who puts their hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.” Memorable, they may be, but seemingly harsh and possibly mystifying. It is all to do with where you stay, where you abide, with what you are at home.
Jesus’ picked up the insincerity and the ignorance in people’s response whether he called them to follow him or they expressed an interest in doing so. If you come with me, you might not get a bed each night! If you come with me, you come now, dropping all your earthly commitments! If you come with me, you cannot look back in a way that distracts from the way forward! The places where you stay in the company of Jesus are only resting points – they are never places of permanent security, not places to settle, for he is always on the move.

The normal duty of Jewish man of the day was to see that his father was properly buried when he died. The man who said he wanted to fulfil that was saying, “I will follow you when I’m ready. When I’ve seen to my earthly commitments, I’ll come.” Perhaps Jesus’ response means: “OK, that really means never. Let the dead bury the dead.” The man who wanted to say “Goodbye” to his family was possibly a little more ready to follow, and you would have thought it was good to do that first. But Jesus’ response makes it clear that there is not even time to do that. We might think it is healthy psychology, but judging by Jesus’ response the man was going to be saying farewell for a long time in the sense that even if he travelled with Jesus, he would still be saying “farewell!” in his heart and not setting his life’s focus on what lay ahead. We can look back in positive and negative ways. When we never let go of the past, when we don’t release hurt, loss, past loves or even old triumphs, though our hand is to the plough, we will make a squiggly line. But if we allow the past to be just that, we move on at Jesus’ behest, not going back to say “farewell” but letting go straight away and setting our faces to the future in his company. It all depends where you’re at, where in your heart you are staying – locked into the past or freeing yourself to move ahead with a sense of purpose: with a field to plough in straight lines.

Ultimate destination

To get to somewhere you often have to go via somewhere else. We are flying via Ethiopia to Kenya. We have to change planes in Addis, so we have tourist visas for our arrival in Kenya, but I don’t expect us to need any special documentation whilst we are in the transit lounge at Addis Ababa International Airport! The ultimate destination makes a difference to the journey and how it is made.

The letter to the Galatians seems very stark but in a way it is about how the followers of Christ are to travel through this world because ultimately we are bound for the next. The whole point is that we have been set free to travel not just around this world but to see ourselves as on a journey to eternity. Those whose destination ends with life in this world show what their horizon is by the way they travel. They are burdened with the heavy baggage of the flesh – as Paul calls it. The whole list of baggage he gives in verses 19-21 is of a way of travelling that brings you to a dead end. A very different way of going is to be led by the Spirit. Paul gives another list, (verses 22-23) which he calls fruit of the Spirit. Unlike baggage, fruit gives energy, nourishment, life. Travelling through this world, but knowing that your ultimate destination is the next, is a pilgrimage. This pilgrimage begins and ends in love. This pilgrimage is one which gives the traveller a sense of direction and purpose. This pilgrimage to heaven demands that you let go and travel light, more like travelling with a backpack than a suitcase. It may provoke hostility in others who only journey for this world. We may, at times, feel like calling down fire on people who reject our destination. This journey may call us to drop everything, leave treasured memories behind and keep moving on. But this journey is one in which we will realise that our Lord has gone on before us to get our accommodation ready. How do we make this journey? We pack nothing and pick the fruit along the way, enjoying the company of others and letting the Spirit lead us wherever he will!

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith




Gracious Father,
by the obedience of Jesus
you brought salvation to our wayward world:
draw us into harmony with your will,
that we may find all things restored in him,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.