On this Second Sunday of Lent we find Jesus’ lament for Jerusalem. Here Jesus turns and squarely faces his destination. Where he must go and preach his final sermon on love, which will take place on the cross. It is an extrodinary passage in Luke’s gospel which demands that we see clearly how God views the world: worth saving.
Scripture: Luke 13: 31-35
Over the last few days we have all heard of the horrific attack that occurred in Christchurch New Zealand. A gunman entered a Mosque and with deadly precision opened fire with assault weapons, killing Muslim’s as they worshipped. It is a crime born of hate, ignorance and fear. Fifty people have died as a result of one man’s actions and another forty are recovering from various injuries. A nation is in mourning and around the world we look on with shock and horror, wondering what can we do and if it will happen here next.
Of course, it has already happened in Canada. Two years ago Muslim worshippers in the Sainte-Foy neighbourhood of Quebec city were attacked. Six people died, nineteen were injured.
This level of violence disturbs us and it should.
As Christians, we are a people of peace. We don’t seek violence. Today we are able to gather and worship and we are thankful that we can do so in peace. But Christians are not immune from attack. Christians have been attacked while worshipping around the world. There have been attacks on Christians in the United States. I would be lying to you if I said that there wasn’t at the back of my mind the fear that someone might burst through our front doors.
It seems that when you try to preach peace, when your try to worship God that somehow a target gets placed on you. It’s a sad state of affairs that the world finds itself in. We are at a loss to determine how to overcome the violence, the hatred, the bigotry and the ignorance that prevails. All we know is that the actions we witness are wrong.
As Christians we are called away from violence and towards love. We don’t need to look very hard to find that example, it is embodied in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Yes, sometimes we get it wrong, sometimes Christians do hate. Throughout history we have conquered in the name of Christ, but today I would say we recognize this as wrong. As the antithesis of what Christ came to teach.
In his book Saved from Sacrifice Mark Heim writes about how Jesus came to break the cycles of violence. That the themes of sacrifice in that we read about in the Old Testament were meant to end with Jesus. Jesus was to be the ultimate scapegoat, the ultimate sacrifice that would break the need for further sacrifices. We clearly have a long way to go, but the example is there before us. We simply can’t see beyond our own hurts, our own egos to recognize the better way that is before us.
Pastor Carey Nieuwhof of Connexius Church in Barrie writes, “This is the time to be the church, because what Christians have to offer is a radically different ethic and alternative to hatred and violence. The Gospel is a needed ethic in our culture, and it’s being lost in the noise” (reference).
We need to keep being Christian, which means we need to continue to love with all our heart, mind, strength and soul. I believe love is the only thing that keeps the darkness at bay, it is the light we are called to bring forth.
Jesus knew what it was to bring light into dark places. In our passage from Luke this morning Jesus was heading to Jerusalem. He was warned off by the Pharisees, “Don’t go” they said, “Herod is looking for you and wants to kill you.” Herod who had already arrested and executed John the Baptist. But Jesus has no time for that fox.
It’s interesting language Jesus uses, calling Herod a fox. Then using the imagery of a hen protecting her chicks. “Fire is as terrifying to trapped animals as to people, if not more so. When a farmyard catches fire, the animals try to escape; but, if they cannot, some species have developed ways of protecting their young. The picture here is of a hen, gathering her chicks under her wings to protect them. There are stories of exactly this: after a farmyard fire, those cleaning up have found a dead hen, scorched and blackened – with live chicks sheltering under her wings. She was quite literally given her life to save them. It is a vivid and violent image of what Jesus declared he longed to do for Jerusalem and, by implication, for all Israel.” (NT Wright, Luke for Everyone, p. 171).
Jeruslaem is where Jesus will go. Jesus knows that this is where he is to go and to where he will die. He is doing this to break the cycles of violence, to demonstrate that they don’t work. That through his death and his resurrection that violence and sacrifice are not the way. That we are promised something greater, if only we will stop and see with clear eyes.
“Jesus destiny, then, is to go to Jerusalem and die, risking the threats of the fox, and adopting the role of the mother hen to the chickens faced with sudden danger. (ibid, p173).
It is an image which is both fierce and vulnerable. The image holds together the tension of the prophetic tradition all while pointing to the crucified Christ.
The fox is the image that Jesus uses for Herod. Clever, but sly and unprincipled. – Leslie Hoppe
Herod is a clever little fox, but God is in charge. This passage from Luke reminds us of God’s divine will and the prophets role within that. We should also remember that the rejection of the prophet by Jerusalem was a part of the Jewish tradition. It is not an invitation to read anti-Semitism into this passage.
We say that Lent is a time of reflection, a time of preparation. We use it to prepare ourselves spiritually, mentally and emotionally for Holy Week. To deal with the events of Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection. As a result it can be a dark time, to be sure Lent is not a cheery holiday in the Christian year.
When we consider the attack in Christchurch and other acts of violence that occur in the world we are disturbed. That worshippers, even those of a different faith would be attacked with such indifference disturbs us. We should ask questions of ourselves, our faith, the society that we are a part. How, why do these attacks happen? How can we participate in stopping them?
No matter the cost, no matter the obstacle, hell or high water, Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem and once there will face the fate as so many in the prophetic tradition before him. Only this time it is different, as Jesus is no mere prophet, he is the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus does all of this out of love for us and not just us, but all of us. Everyone on this planet, Jesus does this because God knows that violence isn’t the answer. Violence tears us apart, it does not build us up, it does not repair. Only love, only love.
During the early days of the Civil Rights movement in the United States Martin Luther King Jr spoke these words:
“We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in word that echo across the centuries: ‘Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.’…We must meet hate with love.”
I believe it comes down to the love that God has for us. Do we have the courage to respond with that same love? To respond with an ethic of love rooted in the relationship we have with God, who is our creator? Can we love that deeply, can we love when we are hurt, can we love in the face of anger and violence?
Jesus knew the way that he was going. Jesus knew where his destination would lead. Jesus knew what it would result in. Jesus also believed it would result in something new being created, that it would demonstrate a love the world had never seen before. Do we believe in that enough that we are willing to follow? Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.