(Adults, for the 6-9 year old, I consider simply the first five verses of the Gospel reading. You could begin by reading these verses aloud to the child.)
Each week when we go to Mass, we hear a reading about Jesus from one of the Gospels. Because we only read a small portion, we do not always know what has been going on before the account we hear, and we do not always know what comes afterwards. It can be difficult to know what is going on. The Gospel for this Sunday, however, begins in a way that tells us what is happening.
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
At the very beginning of the reading, St. Luke lets us know that Jesus is leaving Galilee and heading towards Jerusalem. We know about Jerusalem. We know this is the most holy place for the Jewish people. We also know that in Jerusalem, Jesus is taken up upon the cross and dies. Why, then, does Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem?
What else happens in Jerusalem? When it seems like all hope is lost and death and sin have won, Jesus is taken up out of the tomb—God fills him with eternal life. Outside the walls of Jerusalem, Jesus rises from the dead. Love conquers death. Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem to change things forever.
So why do we need to hear this today? Jesus has already walked to Jerusalem. Jesus has already been taken up on the cross and died. He has already been taken up out of the tomb. He is Risen. So why is this Gospel reading important today?
What else do we know happens in Jerusalem? In Jerusalem, after 40 days of appearing to the disciples, Jesus is taken up into heaven. The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost and the church begins to grow. Is the Kingdom of God complete? Is there no more hunger? Is there no more pain? Is there no more death? Not yet. There is work to do. The Kingdom of God is not yet ready. Jesus sets his face now to lead us.
And he sent messengers ahead of him...to make ready for him.
If Jesus sends out messengers in our Gospel reading, does he send out messengers to make ready for him today? We can think about that. Who are the people who bring the message about Jesus to us? Who would we list? We wonder if they know that they are helping to make the Kingdom of God ready. We wonder if we can be messengers for Jesus, too.
but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
Not everyone receives Jesus. Not everyone wants to follow Jesus in his walk towards Jerusalem. Does Jesus punish them? Absolutely not. He is very clear about this when James and John want to punish these people. That does not help build the Kingdom of God. Jesus just sets his face and keeps on walking. Those who want to come are taken up—they join in the journey to Jerusalem.
Jesus sets his face now to lead us. Everyone who wants to follow can come. We will not punish those who choose not to come, but we pray they follow, too. Where is he leading us? Where are we all going? To Jerusalem? Perhaps. Perhaps we are being taken up to the most holy place for all people—the Kingdom of God.