From February 21, 2016
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is still on his way to Jerusalem when this morning’s encounter takes place. So, even though he hasn’t made it to the city, the city is ever on his mind. It is his destination. It looms in his ministry. The author of this gospel places Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem here – away from the city. Jesus laments long before he gets there. He knows, in part, what he will find.
Some scholars noted that the Pharisees, in this encounter, seemed to be concerned for Jesus’ well-being. Others wonder if this wasn’t a way of trying to silence Jesus. “Look, you’d better watch out. You’re in danger! Get away from here.” They wanted him out of their community. Jesus’ response calls them to account. He recognizes their willingness to use a hated ruler to further their own ends. They are playing a political game to silence an opponent.
Jesus won’t be silenced. In fact, he asks them to deliver a message to Herod. “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I must finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be one my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’”
Jesus will not be deterred. He will continue to journey to Jerusalem – the place that was the heart of his people’s faith. And, because it was the heart of the faith, the place where the external threats to their faith were most deeply felt. There were those who, for the sake of expediency, cooperated with the Roman powers. There were others who were constantly looking for a hero who would re-establish Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, free from foreign influence.
Some have accused Jesus of being politically naïve; and it was that naiveté that got him killed. Others have said that he wasn’t concerned with politics at all – that he came to proclaim a personal relationship with God; his death, therefore, was because the personal faith challenged the religious structures of the day.
Both interpretations ignore parts of the Biblical witness. Jesus was aware of all the power struggles around him, some of which were a result of living in an occupied land, others which existed within the political/religious structure that had developed within Judaism, and others which arose because power struggles are endemic to human communities. “Grant us to sit one at your left hand and one at your right,” two of Jesus’ own disciples asked.
Jesus, in this encounter, is telling the Pharisees – and us – that he is willingly and knowingly challenging all the power structures that are a part of human life. His challenge, scholar Rodney Clapp says, will go all the way to the top. Jesus is proclaiming, working for, demonstrating a topsy-turvy kingdom where the “first will be last and the last will be first.” He has been doing that – much to the dismay of those in power. And he will continue to do that – all the way to the heart of Judaism’s identity, Jerusalem.
Lent has at its heart an invitation to introspection. It is, in many ways, an inward journey. But that doesn’t mean it is merely a personal journey. The inward journey is so that we may consider what is at the heart of our faith. Jesus, as he looked to Jerusalem, mourned because the city that was central to his very faith, to his people’s faith, lived in brokenness. He laments that the city killed the messengers of God who proclaimed to it a different way, different values. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.” It is a motherly image. The fox, Herod, threatens the brood, but Jesus speaks of a tender love that desires to keep the flock safe. Yet, the flock chooses to admire the foxes, the ways and the values that threaten its very existence.
It is the image of a loving parent who sees a child or children making the wrong choices – and longs to bring them in and make them safe once more. Yet, that parent acknowledges that love requires that the children have the freedom to make mistakes. Sometimes those wayward children reject the ones who truly love them. “How often have I desired to gather your children together!”
Last week I spoke about seeing the ways in which we tempt Jesus. Perhaps a good question for today might be “How do we grieve Jesus?” How are we like the little chicks who stray and reject God’s ways, choosing instead the ways of the world that lead to destruction, division, hatred and fear – even when they promise the opposite!
I’ve started reading a book by Diana Butler Bass titled Grounded: Finding God in the Word. In her introduction she talks about the way we have historically viewed God. In spite of our declarations of Jesus as Immanuel, God with us, the church has consistently proclaimed a hierarchical view of God. She writes about what theologians call the omnis – God was seen as “omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient” – that is, “all-powerful, in all places, and all knowing.” God became the ultimate CEO of the church throughout the ages – yet removed, distant.
Contrast this image of God with Jesus who laments, Jesus who weeps – or to pick up on an image that we used Wednesday evening, the God who wipes away our tears. Bass describes this God as the inter-God, “the spiritual thread between space and time; intra, within space and time; and infra, that which holds space and time. This God is not above or beyond, but integral to the whole of creation, entwined with the sacred ecology of the universe.”
Now, this could just be a reason for a theological discussion – yet, our assumptions about God profoundly affect the way we live out our faith – individually and corporately. Jesus lamented that Jerusalem rejected God’s ways. We see that play out when he came to Jerusalem and was caught up in all the political turmoil. Rome and the religious authorities saw him as a threat. People were looking for someone who would exercise power and overthrow the hated rulers, both religious and foreign. Jesus demonstrated and proclaimed a different way of being that was grounded in God’s expansive love – a love that embraced all people – Jews, Gentiles, -- even Romans. He rejected hierarchical structures and worked to welcome those who had been rejected, condemned, sidelined, or ignored.
How do we grieve Jesus? Bass’ book talks about the challenges facing the church today. She talks about people who have a sense of God yet find a church that rejects their experiences or condemns their experiences. She challenges the church to recognize its adherence to hierarchies that, in the modern era, are crumbling or institutionalizing a disconnect from God.
How often do we as people of faith buy into the power structures of our world? How often do we think that someone will be able to set things right so that we can just live out our lives the way we want to live them? Does Jesus grieve, “How often I have wanted to gather you together?” while we wander our own way, looking for those who have power, giving them that power, and then resenting it?
Jesus’ image is of inclusion – not each of us going our own way. Clapp says, “… all the first who would be first, then and now – they want to see themselves as masters of the universe, invulnerable and imperial behind their relentless, foxy maneuvering. Jesus calls their death-dealing by name, yet he also sees them as barnyard chicks lost in a storm, too afraid and too stubborn to find shelter under the shadow of mother hen’s wings….the foxes are not in control as much as they think they are.”
“The foxes are not in control as much as they think they are.” That is the good news for us. But we have to remember that at times we strive to be the very foxes Jesus condemns. We want that power and control – in big pieces or small. We want to matter.
Yet, we do matter. We matter to the one who loves us, who wants for us what is good and life-giving – for each of us, for all of us, for friends and family, for strangers, and even for enemies. We matter to the one whose love for us matters most. How do we let that love shape our lives, our faith communities, our work and witness in the world?