Audio transcript available at https://youtu.be/TBkrxuhfkHI.
Lent 3 C 2016
1 Cor 10:1-13
Who remembers the old chorus written in 1922 by Helen H Lemmel, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus”? It’s a very smaltzy old song but at its heart there is a very good truth. We, while walking our own Lenten journey, follow Jesus along his road to the cross and learn from him. Here, in this passage Jesus hears a threat and we see his reaction and it has a lot to teach us.
The first interesting thing is that it is some Pharisees who come to warn him of Herod’s antipathy. We think of the Pharisees as all being baddies, but actually like any other group of people united by a common factor, in this case that they belonged to a particular school of Jewish thought, there are differences within the group- we always need to be aware of making assumptions about people. So these Pharisees come and warn Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. I suspect that Jesus was already well aware of the fact, but he sends a clear message that he is not going to be cowed by the threat of Herod. Jesus knows that it is not Herod that will kill him but that in Jerusalem, his own people will rise up and choose him for their scapegoat and cause him to be killed. And he is on the way to that fate having set his face towards Jerusalem. But he is going at his own pace, staying true to his mission. He expresses his mission here as “casting out demons and performing cures”. Jesus wants people to be healed in mind, body and spirit. And he says that he will achieve that, bring it to completion, on the third day. This is, quite clearly, a reference to his resurrection. His death is going to be achieved in Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets, but death will not be able to hold him down! Jesus will bring his work to completion, through his resurrection, and his ascension and through the sending of the Holy Spirit to be here with us, the Kingdom of God will come in.
Jesus says that this is necessary- he must be on his way to Jerusalem because that is where the prophets are killed. Now, if you were to go through the Old Testament you would find plenty of prophets that were killed in other places but Jerusalem, which in Luke’s gospel is more of a character than a place, is the focal point for the nation. Jerusalem, for Luke is the locus of Jewish thought and temple practice. The temple is the place of sacrifice and Jesus is going to heal the false sacred, and give his life once and for all. Jesus will fold up the sacrificial system that was keeping people in bondage. And the prophets that are referred to are, I believe, not just the people who were physically killed there but the voices that have not been heard, particularly that of Isaiah, calling for a new system that is not dependant on sacrifice. The problem with Jerusalem is that it does not want to hear the truth. Jerusalem is a seat of power and as we all know, power corrupts. The chief priests, as well as the civil authorities, have a lot invested in their system as it stands. There is a financial aspect to it- they control the money that flows in through the temple taxes, but much more than that, they have the power to give benefit and the power to restrict it. They get to say who is in and who is out, and the idea of exclusiveness is one that Jesus has been fighting against all the way through his journey. Jesus brings healing to those who are excluded by the Jewish system. And Jesus’ inclusiveness is clear in the next statement. Jerusalem is “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” and yet Jesus desires to “gather [the] children of Jerusalem together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings”. How amazing is this? Jesus looks at the place where he will die, the people who will kill him and he still has compassion on them. Jesus’ reaction in the face of his coming death, clearly articulated here, is to want to gather up the perpetrators under his mother wings. This is love that transcends all the evil of the world, this is love for everyone, flawed and broken, power hungry and hating and Jesus desires to be a protective mother, saving them from, you would think, themselves!
It is such a beautiful image isn’t it? It reveals the mother heart of God. It is an image that speaks of safety as well as comfort. The fox of a few verses earlier will not get the chicks while the mother is there to defend them. The problem is that some people refuse to be gathered. Some refuse the safety and comfort of Jesus’ love. And their house is left to them, Jesus says. What does this mean? Well, all the way through this passage are intertextual references back to the prophetic literature. This is something that Luke does a lot and does not flag, unlike Matthew who helpfully tells us who he is quoting. The reference here is to Jeremiah who warns Israel, “But if you will not heed these words, I swear by myself, says the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation” Jer 22:5. And of course, by the time Luke was writing, it had happened. Jerusalem had been sacked and the temple destroyed. And not just the physical building but the sacrificial system that Jesus was supervening, the sacrificial system that Jesus came to finish.
And just to make it all crystal clear, Luke then tells us that Jesus says that they will not see him until the time comes when you will say, “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord,” a quotation, this time, from Psalm 118. We are familiar, of course, with the context of the quotation on Palm Sunday. Luke is making it absolutely clear that when Jesus rides into Jerusalem, it is on his own terms, as a King, even though it leads directly to the death he has himself prophesied here.
There are another five chapters of narrative and teaching before we get to the record of Palm Sunday, but the reality of Jesus’ death hangs over the whole of the rest of the journey.
And what about us, as we journey on through Lent? We are also headed not just towards the cross but towards the knowledge that Jesus died so that we might be healed and restored and forgiven. Jesus’ great act of love for us, on the cross, made us people redeemed by his blood, forgiven and set free. We have access to the healing that Jesus provides, that he was going to bring to completion. And we live as resurrected people. So how should we live? Just as Jesus himself, lived. We should live loving and inclusive lives, bring life and wholeness to others.
I want to finish with that wonderful picture from Isaiah, “Ho, everyone who thirsts,/ come to the waters:/ and you that have no money,/ come buy and eat!/ Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price…Incline your ear, and come to me; listen so you might live./ I will make with you an everlasting covenant,/ my steadfast, sure love for David.” David here is a metonym for the whole of God’s people, the people of David, continued for us in Jesus. All of us, in our poverty, are included in God’s wonderful feast, the feast of the eternal covenant between God and humankind. God loves David with an eternal love. Now if we consider David as an individual, he is a great man and a great sinner, isn’t he? An adulterer, a murderer, a man who failed his children, a man who led his nation, sometimes wisely and sometimes not so wisely. David epitomises human frailty, at the same time as great strength, and yet God loves him. God has “made him a witness to the peoples,”. Not just to his own people, but to all the nations who shall, “run to you”. Now, while this is clearly a reference to Jesus himself, in the earthly line of David, it is also a reference to us, as the body of Christ, here on earth. We are to be the witness to the peoples of God’s great love and generosity. Just as the sinful failure, David, is eternally loved by God, so we, fragile and fallible as we are, are called to bring others in to the great covenant of love. Jesus sought to gather up the chicks under his wings even though they were murderous sinners, and we are called to the same action- to love unconditionally and to share God’s generosity, God’s grace, with all around. We need to be like Jesus.
So my call to us all, as we walk this next week of our Lenten journey is to “turn our eyes upon Jesus” and to be like him, loving others so completely that he walked on towards the cross.