A porter loaded down with suitcases followed the couple to the airline check-in counter. As they approached the line, the husband glanced at the pile of luggage and said to the wife, “Why didn’t you bring the piano, too?” “Are you trying to be funny?” she replied. “No, I really wish you had” he sighed. “I left the tickets on it.”
Today travelling is very much part of our modern culture. As a family we travel much more than our parents do. My child, who is 3 and half now, has probably travelled more than I did when I was his age. We got use to airports, luggages,… and travel jokes.
However travelling for holidays is very different from going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, or going on a journey through the Camino de Santiago. The story of the Exodus is actually the great example of the most important Jewish journey when they travelled from Egypt to the promised Land. As they did so, they would tell other biblical stories as well -stories about kings and prophets, about God’s dealing with Israel in bygone days. Those stories were actually part of the same story of salvation told to their children and families in many episodes. In a time where there was no Tv, no Netflix, Amazon Prime Tv or Sky premiere, people would seat around the fire and listen to the stories told by the elderly about Abraham, Noah, Gideon, Moses and the great Exodus from Egypt.
Now Luke -as well as his readers- has all this in mind as He tells us Jesus’ plans to go to Jerusalem, where He was to fulfil his “Exodus”. His readers are just as the spectators watching another episode of the “Game of Thrones” and ask: “Is he going to die?” with one important and essential difference. “Game of Thrones” is just a successful -but still- Tv series and its characters are fictional: Jesus really lived. However the suspense is the same. What is going to happen next? There is feeling of an upcoming dramatic moment for Jesus while he moves on toward Jerusalem. What is clear here is that from now on Jerusalem is the goal, and Jesus is constantly on the move. The description of the journeys of St Paul are part of this idea that travelling in obedience to God’s call is what means to be a Christian. Following Jesus is what it’s all about, and does not seem to be easy. If this is Jesus’ Exodus -and He is certainly greater than Moses- as the Gospel shows us keeping the analogy with the Old Testament, this new journey where they are invited to follow him will be the road to the real promised land; as a matter of fact, it is the road by which God himself is returning to his people.
For the people of God was very clear that following Moses would have meant to become a nation and regain their freedom. Essentially the promised land meant to them: freedom. That experience was so powerful for them that it is key for us to understand the entire history of salvation. This is why they could re-interpret their story in the light of the Exodus and magnified this event as “The Event”: Exodus means the beginning of freedom and a new lease of life.
The question for us -as Jesus’ followers- is: “Do we feel the same? Is Jesus our new Moses able to bring us out of Egypt and lead us toward the Promised Land? If Egypt means slavery and Promised Land freedom, in what sense do we may understand this Gospel? First of all we are not slaves. We live in democracy and freedom is one of our great western values. Whether we could disagree or not with the outcome of the EU Referendum, we have to acknowledge that it was a wonderful example of democracy. Although we might not be sure about the consequences of this decision for good or for bad, we certainly know that the United Kingdom as a free and democratic country was entitled to express its will about it.
We are free then. We don’t need to fight for freedom. So again we may have to ask what this gospel means to us. Paul comes to our help with his usual clarity: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”. And he goes on saying: “do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence…If you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another”. Here he gives us two important clues. The problem is that in our modern culture self-indulgence means sin that refers more to a trivially naughty pleasure that to a serious matter. Do you remember a quite famous advertising slogan “naughty, but nice” created by Salman Rushdie and used by Lyons to advertise Mr Kipling’s cakes? The point of the advertising slogan is not only that the attractions of ‘nice’ outweigh the threat of ‘naughty’, but that the question of whether or not to buy and eat a cake is one that simply boils down to whether you want to -says Stephen Cherry’s in his last book called: “the Dark Side of the Soul”, which explores the nature and relevancy of sin for our daily life. Self-indulgence is not that harmless after all. For instance, Gluttony would be a perfect example of the complex and insidious nature of sin, but we don’t have time for it today. Instead, we would concentrate on St Paul’s emphasis on biting and devouring each other. It is an powerful image of what he means when he talks about slavery. Caught into the web of sin, we might find ourselves driven by greed, hypocrisy, gluttony, lust, perfectionism, insatiability, rage. Those deadly sins or evil forces -as we might call them- are the source of our slavery and lead us to bite and devour each other. Jesus came to free us from them. Our spiritual journey, our Exodus toward Jerusalem is from the slavery of sin to the freedom of love where we are guided by the spirit and therefore learn to love each other. Now we may feel that we are not that bad persons: we are just average sinners. However this is all to be proved. As a matter of fact, quoting again Stephen Cherry, I would say: “Sins and vices are rarely self-evident, especially when they are own sins and vices. They are often self-disguising; sometimes they even disguise themselves as virtues. Even when they come to our attention they can encourage self-deception and, when that fails, self-excuse. (…) Learning about the dark side of the soul is learning about yourself, and to learn about sin and vice is to grow in self-awareness that sometimes is painful”, but it is the only way of setting us off toward the Promised Land -as it were-: freedom. It is a journey we go through along with Jesus and our Christian community. It is also a daily struggle. When you lose, we all lose, because we are not islands: the self and the society are not separate things. Sins and vices are attitudes and behaviours by which the self and the society are both damaged, wounded, diminished, distorted and, if not destroyed, then isolated. When you win, we all win, and learn to have better relationship, and love according to the spirit.