Please note: Never ask me for directions. I will get you lost in my own hometown. Really, it is pathetic: despite my efforts to repair this constant geographical disorientation, I honestly cannot point east or west when the sun is setting, or distinguish one mile from five. Consequently, for many years of my young adult life I have wandered in self-doubt, anxiously anticipating the realization that I have led myself to a completely different location than I intended.
Then came the iPhone. Now, with the touch of a little square button in the corner of my screen, a glowing blue dot appears on a handheld map that shows exactly where I am along the winding streets of Boston. When I want to go somewhere—by foot, or bus, or car—I type in the address and have directions for my every step, and a little blue dot that follows me along the tiny computerized map! Admittedly, in spite of my device’s attentive companionship I still wander in the wrong direction from time to time. But so long as I am strict with myself, strategically attending to the personalized list of directions one at a time, I can successfully make it to my destination (…usually).
This Sunday’s gospel reading led me to ponder something about Jesus I had never considered before: Did Jesus have a good sense of direction? In Luke’s gospel, we encounter him en route to Jerusalem where he will be sentenced to death and crucified. At this point in his life, we know that Jesus is a well-experienced traveler and the leader of many followers. Yet in the obscure dialogue disclosed in these verses, I think Jesus sounds rather directionless. First, he lays out the route for his disciples, who angrily return to inform him that the group will have to take an alternative path. Naturally, they assume that this is the fault of the Samaritans, but Jesus rebukes the disciples. He does not seem so surprised by the news that his directions need alteration. Second, when a follower approaches Jesus, telling him, “I will follow you wherever you go,” Jesus’ response indicates that he does not exactly know where he is headed: “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”
I see a lot of myself in this account of Jesus. I can recall plenty of occasions when I have told travel companions, “Follow me…I can’t exactly tell you where we need to go…but I’m trying!” Still, it is in the last section of the gospel reading, amid Jesus’ notoriously chilling commands, where I happen to recognize myself the most. “Let the dead bury their dead,” he tells one follower. “But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” He tells another, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” In these words, I hear Jesus saying, “Don’t look back.” He tells them, “Stay focused on where we are going, to Jerusalem.”
I often find myself staring down at my iPhone, breathing deep, calming breaths, giving myself these instructions. Focus. You will get there. In these moments, I don’t know where I am going, but I know that I have to follow the next direction. I wonder if, like me, Jesus was trying to rely on something more than himself to get where he needed to go. Maybe he didn’t have a clear picture of the fate that awaited him down the path, but he held a strong conviction that he needed to depend on the divine intuition, or revelation, or mysterious pull that was taking him where he needed to go. Perhaps the directions he was following were not obvious, or even tangible, but they were real. And they were sufficient: into Jerusalem he went…
I could use a little of that GPS, too.
Jessica Coblentz is probably wandering through the stacks of the Harvard Divinity School library. If she’s not there, she is probably down the street looking for ice cream. Find her writing on the Web at www.jessicacoblentz.com.