The road to Jerusalem

One of the more enduring genres of film in recent decades has been the road movie. The plot typically involves two or more companions who embark on a long and arduous road trip, either on foot or by planes, trains and automobiles.

The companions are on a shared quest to find home, seek a new home or, simply, to find themselves in their wanderings. Film historians have noted that the road movie is a post-war phenomenon, capturing the zeitgeist of a world trying to redefine itself in the wake of dislocation, death, and the dismemberment of old national identities. The ‘Road to…’ films starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, which began during the Second World War, featured nomadic characters, ex-sailors or ex-soldiers, trying to make a fast buck in far flung corners of the world, including Australia.

More recent films of this genre focus on a new breed of ex-soldiers, battle-worn veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, who wander the countryside righting wrongs and challenging corruption in high places through force of arms and violence.

The gospels read like scripts for a road movie. Their central protagonist, Jesus, leaves home on a great journey through the occupied territories of Roman Palestine. He gathers a group of companions to join him in battling injustice, sinfulness, and sickness. But, unlike the more recent road movie hero, Jesus does not triumph by force of arms or violence. Rather, he conquers prejudice and fear by standing up peacefully for justice and charity.

Today’s gospel reading (Luke 9:51-62) captures something of this in its vision of Jesus being “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51), where he will meet his death at the hands of the powerbrokers of this world. This episode marks an important turning point in Luke’s story. From this event onwards until Jesus enters Jerusalem (Lk 19:28), Jesus travels with his disciples, teaching them and preparing them to understand his death and resurrection. Like Jesus, his companions are called to leave their homes and families, take to the road, and pursue a heroic and seemingly ill-fated cause (Lk 9:57-62).

On one level, this story can be understood in literal terms. There are those who are called to a religious or priestly vocation of celibacy and obedience, to a life without a home, spouse or children. On another deeper level, however, this story speaks to the essential Christian challenge to “repent”, submit to a radical change of mind and heart (metanoia), and seek a new path in life no matter what obstacles one might encounter. This is the ironic message that lies at the heart of all great road movies, especially that of Jesus.

One must be willing to push beyond the comfortable and familiar in search of one’s true home. If we want fulfilling lives and just societies, then we must spend our life’s-journey in making heroic, self-sacrificing efforts “to serve one another through love” (Gal 5:13).

Ian J Elmer

© Majellan Media 2022

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