The Journey to Jerusalem: A Test of True Discipleship

Jijo Kandamkulathy CMF

Claretian Missionaries

Jesus was starting a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. A pilgrimage is a journey to meet God, and on such a journey, one meets one’s real self. Here, the journey is as important as the destination. I remember a pilgrimage we made on foot during my early years of priestly formation to the tomb of Saint Alphonsa. It was about 25 kilometers. We were about thirty of us. Some could not make it. Their minds were willing, but the body could not take the hardship. For some others, the body was strong, but the mind did not have the resolve. In that journey, one could discern the strength of the body and spirit at the same time. In fact, every pilgrimage imposes the same act of discernment on the pilgrim. I am reminded of that beautiful hymn “To Be a Pilgrim,” based on The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. It explains the resolve of the pilgrim who would not be stopped by discouragements, oppositions or fears.

Usually there is a guide for these pilgrimages, and here Jesus himself is the guide. He had made this pilgrimage before with his parents and relatives. But this time around it was a different pilgrimage. This was a pilgrimage of no return. So he recruited his team carefully. Some were eager to join him, but he refused to let them, and some who were reluctant, he encouraged. I used to ask this question as to why he refused some who wanted to join. I can only arrive at one answer: he chose only those who would make it with him at least till Jerusalem. He was reminding them that there was no surety of getting a place to sleep. Jerusalem would be the place of his crucifixion and glorification. For Jesus this was the way to glorify his Father.

A curious event that happened at the start of the journey was the rejection in the Samaritan village. Jesus had sent disciples ahead of him to prepare, in advance, places for eating and sleeping (probably as we make hotel reservations at present) since he was going with many people. The disciples came back disappointed because the Samaritans did not welcome Jesus and the group.

The disciples felt rejected, disappointed and angry. These events took place immediately after they had helped Jesus feed the five thousand and the Transfiguration, and they knew that Jesus had a lot of power at his disposal. It would not be difficult for him to bring fire down from heaven. We cannot but remember the Second Book of Kings, right in the beginning chapter, where the prophet Elijah calls fire to kill the servants of Ahaziah. The disciples were expecting the same fire from Jesus. Therefore, the “sons of thunder,” John and James, suggested to Jesus to bring down fire. By the time of this final journey, the disciples were with Jesus for over two years, and they would have definitely heard from Jesus about loving one’s enemies, and here they were suddenly enraged enough to destroy because they felt rejected. Forget about loving their enemies, they were ready to kill them! What a sorry example of disciples of such a forgiving, divine Master!!

Rejection, the subsequent anger, and power will make a dangerous cocktail for destructive behaviors. The greater the access to power, the greater will the destruction be. The anger of the disciples gives a clue to the psyche of a rejected person. A person who has no access to power falls into sadness and grief on being rejected. A sense of worthlessness is the first feeling of rejection. Self-confidence vanishes. A person who has power at one’s disposal seeks to annihilate the people who reject. The request of John and James represents this state of mind to prove that they are strong, powerful and have resources. The result of this attitude will be destructive behavior. A recent criminal case of a female serial killer with six homicide instances involving her husband’s family, sheds light on the mind of a person who has not recovered from rejection. She poisoned the six people in a decade’s time. Imagine how long she harbored anger in herself!

The one who feels rejected is in a generally unhealthy state of mind and is vulnerable. In a healthy state of mind, one respects the freedom of the other person. Jesus rebukes the wounded egos of the Zebedee brothers. He knows too well that those who are walking with him are sick. The same tendency would follow them even to the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter takes out his sword to protect, and Jesus asks him to put his sword back to its scabbard. It was not that Jesus was unable to call heaven’s powers to defend himself; it is just that he was convinced of his mission on earth, and his powers were not to be used for destruction and self-defense.

It is important to make a pilgrimage to one’s own heart. It is good to learn from the Master the art of handling rejection and the spirit of forgiveness.

(Image: josealbafotos at