Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 Psalms 27 Philippians 3:17-4:1 Luke 13:31-35
The readings for the second Sunday in Lent stress promise and expectation. The account of the covenant with Abraham presents God’s promise of a child to the childless couple, and Abraham responds with faithful trust in the God who makes that promise. The psalm is filled with assurance and confident trust in God. The epistle calls attention to the cross and reminds the church that it awaits its savior. The Gospel reading shares Jesus’ words to Herod which sparks the anticipation of the events lived out during Holy Week.
The Pharisees weren’t really interested in protecting Jesus from danger. They were trying to trap him themselves. They urged Jesus to leave because they wanted to stop him from going to Jerusalem, not because they feared Herod. But Jesus’ life, work, and death were not determined by Herod or the Pharisees. Jesus’ life was planned and directed by God, and Jesus’ mission would unfold in God’s time and according to God’s plan.
These verses open with the Pharisees warning Jesus that Herod is seeking to kill him. The remark is significant, because it shows that Jesus has caught the attention of the leadership. It also provides a way for the Pharisees to get rid of Jesus without doing anything that reflects badly on them. The threat of Herod’s executing Jesus could eliminate the nuisance of Jesus’ call for repentance if he flees to save his life. We may see their statements as an expression of concern. But they have been consistently portrayed as doubting and challenging Jesus, so to have them now looking out for his welfare is totally out of character.
Why was Jesus focusing on Jerusalem? Jerusalem, the city of God, symbolized the entire nation. It was Israel’s largest city and the nation’s spiritual capital, and Jews from around the world visited it frequently. But Jerusalem had a history of rejecting God’s prophets (I Kings 19:10; 2 Chronicles 24:19; Jeremiah 2:30; 26:20-23), and it would reject the Messiah just as it had rejected those before.
Luke’s reading is especially appropriate for the Lenten Season in that it looks toward Jerusalem and the passion of Jesus. And if Lent is understood as a pilgrimage to Good Friday and Easter, then, this passage is doubly appropriate, for it falls within Luke’s lengthy “journey narrative.” This large section begins with “he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” That controlling image of Jesus has been repeated often – “Jesus went through one town and village after another….as he made his way to Jerusalem.” Luke is fond of using the journey, not only for presenting Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel and Paul’s ministry in Acts, but also for characterizing the Christians as pilgrims, those of “the way”. Luke offers us a frame of reference with events in chronology as Jesus heads to Jerusalem.
Jesus warns the nation of Israel by mentioning the city that represents her, Jerusalem. Like the prophets, he argues that judgment for her is inevitable. Jesus has issued several warnings that have gone unnoticed, so now God will discipline God’s chosen people. The punishment will last until the whole nation recognizes Jesus as God’s representative. Many in Israel did hear Jesus and respond to him, but the vast majority, including many of those responsible for the nation, did not. The fate of the nation is patterned after the king’s righteousness.
Jesus replies by stating that he will complete his mission. Nothing will stop him. So, they are to tell Herod that Jesus will continue healing folks, getting rid of demons and fulfilling his mission. He must go this way, because a prophet can’t perish outside of Jerusalem. Death is not to be avoided, but instead it is the pivotal point in his ministry. Jesus’ presentation of himself as a “prophet” brings to light his role as the revealer of God’s will. Just as God at the Transfiguration told the disciples to listen to Jesus, now he states his prophetic mission to Israel. In rejecting him, they are rejecting the call of God through him.
Then we hear Jesus’ lament. The emotion and pain of his declaration is seen from the very beginning. Jesus’ pain comes from realizing the privilege of Jerusalem’s position as contrasted with the history of her killing and stoning the prophets. Jesus speaks in the first person for God, likes the prophets, and explains how he longed to care for them and protect Jerusalem as a hen cares for her chicks. Is there a more tender image than this? However, the chicks don’t want to stay in the nest.
The result is the isolation and freedom from God’s will that those in Israel desired when they refused to enter into his tender care. One of the tragedies of rejecting God’s will is that people get what they ask for, separation from God. We are reminded of the painful exile of God’s people. Such desolation will remain until a large majority in the nation recognize the blessedness of the “one who comes in the name of the Lord.” They must recognize Jesus as the figure John the Baptist announced as the one. The word “until” suggests that though this judgment is serious, it is not forever. If the nation of Israel turns, God’s will again, will take them under his wings.
The event is a major turning point in the Gospel, for Jesus will now concentrate on teaching his disciples rather than addressing the nation. They have made their decision and sealed their fate. Jesus has the last word in this high-stake debate: “You will not see me until the time comes…” (v35). His last word is accurate. It is his way of saying, “There is not much time. We had better get the words right.” This is not the time for easy platitudes. Soon the people will no longer see him. This is a hard truth. His journey is not about politics. If it were, he’d react to Herod’s fear. He’d soften his message, join the crowd, and become a tenured rabbi.
His journey is not about religious negotiation. If it were, he’d react to the Pharisees’ caution. He doesn’t let others sway him from his path. Jesus describes Jerusalem killing him like it does all its prophets. Then, he quotes the Palm Sunday cheer as Jesus enters Jerusalem – “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (v35) – the victorious welcome of some to those in this perplexing city of Jerusalem.
Waiting patiently on the Lord is not something we are comfortable with. We wait for test results, for answered prayer, for affirmation, for clarification, for an open bed in the nursing home, to hear from far away loved ones. We talk a great deal about waiting on the birth of the Christ Child during Advent. But in Lent – aren’t we also waiting – waiting in darkness and not just because it is winter. In the darkness, there’s no clear vision, the outlook is bleak. Every year, the earth lies fallow for a season. While it appears, there is nothing happening below the surface, we know that’s not true. Lent can be the fallow ground we crave for our spiritual growth…time to be still, to do nothing, to let the wisdom of God’s season work below the surface of our hearts, of our lives.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We celebrate St. Patrick today. He was born in Britain to wealthy parents near the end of the fourth century. He is believed to have died on March 17th, around 460 CE. Although his father was a Christian deacon, it is suggested that he probably took on the role because of tax incentives. There is little evidence that Patrick came from a religious family.
At the age of 16, Patrick was taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders who were attacking his family’s estate. They took him to Ireland, where he was held captive for six years. During that time, he worked as a shepherd, outdoors and away from people. Lonely and afraid, he turned to his religion for comfort, becoming a devout Christian. It is believed, that at that time, he first dreamed of converting the Irish people to Christianity.
After more than six years of captivity, Patrick escaped. According to his writing, a voice – which is believed to be God’s voice – spoke to him in a dream, telling him it was time to leave Ireland.
After returning to Britain, he experienced a second revelation – an angel in a dream tells him to return to Ireland as a missionary. And that is what he did, after a number of years of religious training. It wasn’t a time that he could get counseling to deal with his captivity, but it was a time that God healed those wounds, so Patrick could minister to the people who held him prisoner. It is a wonderful story of forgiveness and redemption. Patrick heard God’s call and God equipped him to meet the challenge.
Years later, when Patrick returned to Ireland, he chose to incorporate traditional Irish ritual into his lessons of Christianity instead of dismissing the native Irish beliefs. He used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to celebrating their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called the Celtic cross, so that the veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish.
God uses everything that we experience to help the next thing we are called to do. It is good that no experience goes to waste. St. Patrick knew how to reach the Irish people, because of his experience with them as a young man. That is how it is with God – nothing goes to waste. Jesus knew to pick his battles with the Pharisees. Jesus knew when the time was right. Nothing goes to waste in God’s plan for all of us. Our challenges and struggles teach us life lessons, God lessons and self lessons that make us stronger, better, more informed – sure of who and whose we are.
The metaphor of the inward and outward journey for Lent emphasizes deliberate reflection on the obstacles that impact our spiritual life. And with it comes the hope each year that we will take a new direction, reaffirm our gifts, reach out in love. Jesus was journeying just as we are. Not even the threats from Herod, “the fox” could distract him from his destination. His is on a sacred journey ordained by God. It could not be influenced by the jealous anger of Herod. Our Lenten journey is also a sacred journey ordained by God – that we continue to grow in our relationship with God.
What is the message to us? Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. What is God wanting us to do in God’s kingdom? How are we to use our gifts to lift up the downtrodden, feed the hungry and offer hope to the oppressed? Whatever our individual and collective answers may be, the truth is that Jesus will be there like a mother hen protecting her brood. We will gain strength, courage, momentum under his wings and be able to fly – strong and straight – toward God’s plan for us. Amen.