Luke, Chapters 17 and 18 (NRSV)
As we read our way through the heart of Luke's gospel, it's critical to keep the narrative context of Luke's writing in mind. The various incidents, teachings and healings that we encounter in these two chapters are all taking place "on the road to Jerusalem". Everything that Jesus is now doing in the Gospel has to be understood through the lens of the cross. He has traveled north out of the heart of the Jewish lands into the lands of the Gentiles and then the Samaritans and he's now looping back toward Jerusalem.
Everything written in both Luke and Acts ends and then begins in Jerusalem. It's the city of God, where Mount Moriah (where Abraham took Isaac to be sacrificed) is close to if not physically there, where the Temple of Solomon is built, and where Herod the usurper has rebuilt the cult center of Jewish sacrificial worship.
Jerusalem is the place where the priests absolve, on God's behalf, the sins of the people by sacrificing lambs and other animals to God. It's the place that psalmist laments and praises. It's the place where prophets die and the Kingdom is expected to be revealed. It is traditionally called the navel of the earth - and it's the central to three of the World's great religions.
And Jesus is going there, to die.
It's always seemed to me that Luke's story-telling pace picks up as Jesus grows closer to his cross. Perhaps that is just my own subjective reading, colored by the foreknowledge of what is going to happen. But there's this sense of history circling around a great whirlpool and preparing to be drawn down into the deep center of the vortex.
There's certainly a thread running throughout these chapters. Jesus is now intentionally preparing his disciples for the time that he will no longer be with them on earth. He warns them of what is going to happen to them. He encourages them not to lose heart, and reiterates again and again how important the message is that he is going to entrust to them. God has fulfilled the promises of the prophets, worked out the plan of salvation, and is bringing the opening acts of creation to a close, and to a new beginning.
Go back now and re-read the two chapters keeping in mind the context and setting. Does it change anything about how you hear Jesus' words? Remember what it feels like inside to sit in the dark, bare church on Good Friday and hear what Jesus is telling us. Is there a different quality to the way these words resonate within us?
Perhaps on this rainy, dark Wednesday at the end of February, as we wait for Spring to arrive, it's enough to just let the words of the Gospel work upon us. There is, as Luke underlines in the last verses of Chapter 18 in Jesus' words, something important to be revealed out of the darkness into which we are going. We are being called to follow, and not required to understand.