Journey of Jesus to Jerusalem
Where are we going? And when will we get there? These are the questions asked on every trip since the beginning of time. Along with the related and dreaded question: “are we there yet?”
Lent is a journey, after all, during which we walk alongside Jesus throughout his life and ministry. Jesus’ ministry begins along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, expanding throughout the Galilee region and beyond, even to Judea. Jesus is clear that his journey has a destination: Jerusalem, where he will suffer and die (and rise).
The synoptic gospels (that’s Mark, Matthew, and Luke) have a turning point around which their story of Jesus pivots. This moment splits the gospel in half: into “the before” and “the after.” This turning point is the moment when Jesus announces the destination of his ministry. Let’s listen to this announcement in the gospel of Matthew:
13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Listen now for the turning point in this next verse.
21From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Matthew 16.13-23)
These questions of Jesus’ identity, “Who do the people say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?” lead to his destination, his purpose, his end. And Peter, who aces the question of who Jesus is, rejects his ultimate purpose. It’s understandable—we all want the Messiah, the King, to reign and rule—not die in defeat.
This turning point or hinge of the gospels, the announcement of Jesus’ suffering and death in Jerusalem, is foreshadowing at its best. The image of Good Friday, of Jesus suffering and dying, is the backdrop towards which Jesus’ ministry presses.
So let’s take a step back from the turning point, to the overall route of Jesus’ ministry journey. What is he up to? Where does he go? Jesus, in his own words, is showing and bringing the kingdom of God, mostly through teaching and healing. He’s half roving medic, half itinerant teacher, who stops for a good meal.
Here’s his ministry in a nutshell, my summary of the gospel of Mark in less than 200 words: Jesus calls disciples, teaches at the synagogue at Capernaum, casts out unclean spirits, heals Simon’s mother-in-law and others who are sick, heals a leper and declares him clean, heals and forgives the paralytic (who is lowered through the roof), calls Matthew, eats with tax collectors and sinners, teaches in parables, plucks grain on the sabbath, heals a man with a withered hand on the sabbath, appoints twelve disciples, responds to his critics, teaches the parable of the sower (and explains it to the disciples), teaches about the kingdom of God through more parables, calms the storm, heals the Gerasene demoniac, raises a little girl from the dead, heals a hemorrhaging woman, teaches in the synagogue at Capernaum (again), sends out disciples two by two, feeds 5,000, walks on water, debates with Pharisees, heals the Syro-Phoenician woman’s daughter, heals a deaf man, feeds 4,000, heals a blind man, prays on a mountain and is transfigured, heals a boy with epilepsy, teaches the disciples, debates with Pharisees, turns down James and John’s request to be Jesus’ right hand men, heals blind Bartimaeus…. Then he enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
Hopefully from that summary, you can tell that Jesus is indeed half roving medic, half itinerant teacher, who stops for a good meal—and sometimes a very big meal.
We’ve looked at the overall route of Jesus’ ministry journey—and zeroed in on the turning point when he announces his destination and ultimate purpose. Now let’s look at church history to see how Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem has been commemorated over the centuries.
How has the church marked the time between Ash Wednesday and Holy Week? This messy middle of Jesus’ ministry has no special events or days. Holy Week is the showstopper; that’s the subject of next week’s episode. And Ash Wednesday was a worthy, if somber, kickoff event. But what about the middle?
One of the ways the middle of Lent has been marked throughout church history is the tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays, as a way to commemorate Jesus’ dying on that day of the week. A way to keep Jesus’ destination and ultimate purpose in view.
You may know this tradition as “Fish Fridays.” What began in the early church as a tradition of abstaining from meat (of warm-blooded animals) on Friday, has evolved into eating fish (cold-blooded animals) on Fridays. It’s a loophole of sorts.
Today Catholics still observe these fast days on Fridays, especially during Lent, as a way to acknowledge Jesus’ great sacrifice on Good Friday.
So we’ve looked at the overall route of Jesus’ ministry journey, zeroed in on the turning point when he announces his destination and ultimate purpose. And we’ve looked to church history and the tradition of fasting on Fridays as a way to commemorate Jesus’ suffering and death throughout the season of Lent. So what does that mean for us today?
Good news for seafood lovers out there! You can observe Fish Fridays as a spiritual habit. Or you can just eat vegetarian for the day. Abstaining and fasting is a traditional way to remember Jesus’ sacrifice each Friday of Lent.
Yet there are many other ways to remember Jesus’ sacrifice that don’t involve food. You can set an alarm for 3 pm each Friday to pray. Or you can develop some Friday ritual to remember Jesus’ sacrifice, his destination, his ultimate purpose. Whatever you choose, may your journey through the middle of Jesus’ ministry be guided by the backdrop of his ultimate purpose, his giving of his own life on our behalf.
Let us pray.
We resist your destination, your ultimate purpose,
We wish you’d go somewhere else.
Nevertheless, as we commemorate your ministry and your life,
By walking with you towards Jerusalem,
Help us to keep the end in view,
The gift of yourself, your life, your sacrifice,
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, world without end, Amen.