Luke 13:31-end 24th Jan 2013 Tgwk HC Lent 2 Yr C
The word ‘gospel’ is translated as ‘Good News’ – that is, the good news of Jesus’ coming, ministry, death and passion. But the good news, although it’s the main thrust of Mt, Mk, Lk and John, certainly isn’t the whole story, and in these few verses we see some snapshots of the other side of Jesus ministry – the difficult, painful side. And it’s good that we have bits like this in our lectionary, because if they weren’t there, we’d probably skip over them – we’d move from the story of the crippled woman being healed and the parable of the mustard seed, to Jesus going to a dinner party. When we do that, we’re not doing ourselves any favours because we’re glossing over the difficult bits – and we need those, because we all have difficult bits in our lives and sometimes we need some help in knowing what to do when we’re in one of those painful patches.
So, we have here: politics and death threats; the anticipation of suffering; and the pain of separation and bereavement.
First of all, the politics. Pharisees usually get a bad press in the gospels, but we generalise too much, and there were lots of good ones. We have them here, coming to warn Jesus that Herod is after him – so they think it’s best if he leaves to somewhere a bit more remote, away from Herods forces.
Now Jesus could easily have done that – he certainly didn’t have to make his way to Jerusalem, where he knew he would be in the spotlight. Why court trouble? Why not make things easier for yourself? By following the path he did, Jesus put himself on an inevitable collision course with the Roman authorities. He chose to do that, no-one made him.
We find that very hard to understand, and it’s not just Jesus who has acted like that. Throughout history there have been Christians who have thought it more important to stand up for what they believe than opt for the easy life and keep quiet. The early Christian martyrs could have kept their fingers crossed and bowed to the Roman emperors – but they refused to do that and were killed for their faith. And since then there have been many who have believed it more important to speak up for God than to avoid conflict. You’ve probably heard of Oscar Romero who was shot on 24 March 1980 while celebrating Mass at a small chapel, the day after a sermon in which he had called on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God's higher order and to stop carrying out the government's repression and violations of basic human rights. He didn’t have to preach that sermon – but God’s truth was more important to him than his safety. That’s the attitude he developed from following Christ.
We’re not talking here about suffering being good in itself, or making religion an excuse for being anti- politics or anti- culture. There are some things which we can make issues out of which are not really essential to the gospel – but there are others which we need to be willing to stand up for. For example, without generalising and being judgemental, I would think that maybe whether you wear a cross as jewellery isn’t on the same level as for example, demonstrating or making your voice heard about issues of justice in our society, for example cuts to the lowest paid or the disabled. But we’re blessed in our society that we’re not going to risk imprisonment and death because we speak up for things like that – whereas that’s not the case in other places in our world.
2, anticipating suffering
Jesus tells his kind advisors why he’s not going to take any notice of them. He is under no illusions about Herod ‘that fox’ – but an earthly ruler isn’t going to stop him doing the heavenly King’s will. Jesus mission is to teach, and heal and save as many people as possible before the climax of his ministry on the cross. And so he says ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow’ – well, apart from the bravery of it, that’s sort of easy to understand. Doing that is Jesus’ stated mission, so of course he’s going to get on with it.
But notice he says ‘today and tomorrow – and on the third day I will reach my goal’. Two days until he reaches his goal on the 3rd. And that is a reference to his death, his burial in the tomb, and his resurrection. Jesus goal is the resurrection. His ultimate aim is not just to give people emotional and physical healing, although he’s been spending his time doing that. His ultimate aim is his death – and then his resurrection, which will bring complete and eternal healing and salvation.
Jesus’ death was no accident, he faced it with commitment and purpose. He knew how awful it would be, but he also knew that there was no way to resurrection and our salvation except through his passion. And that’s what we’ll think more about in Holy Week and Good Friday – Jesus’ commitment to pain and suffering, in order to win our salvation through his resurrection.
3 The pain of separation and bereavement.
We’re not told, but I think that Jesus said these words with tears in his eyes and a catch in his voice. ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you. How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not’
Jerusalem according to the OT was the Messiah’s own city, and in Jerusalem was the house of God, the temple. But Christ did not raise an army, or use his miraculous powers to drive out his enemies from Jerusalem and throw the corrupt Israelite priesthood out of the temple. Instead he let them throw him out of both the temple and the city; and what had been his Fathers and his, he left in their hands. That’s an awesome thing to contemplate – if people use the free will God has given them to reject the Saviour, God will not over-rule that free will.
But even so, when Jesus got to this point and met with their determination to reject him, he could have abandoned his final journey to Jerusalem, and left them to their fate. But he did the opposite. He continued on his path, determined even to die at their hands. One day, however long it took, that death would make it possible for Israel to turn and repent.
The words we have here show the love of a mother or father for their child. It’s the deepest love imaginable, and Jesus longs to put things right for Jerusalem, which stands for his children. What he says here about Jerusalem he says and feels about each of us when we go our own way and ignore him. When we read the newspaper or watch the tv news and wonder why humanity gets itself into such a mess, and why we continually hurt and destroy each other – that is the tiniest, weakest reflection of the sorrow and the longing Jesus feels for his world. The longing expressed here is deeper than we can imagine. It’s the yearning love for us which took Jesus to the cross. However hurt we may feel, however much pain and isolation and suffering we go through, it is nothing to that which Jesus suffers for us. Because his love is so much deeper than ours, so his pain is so much greater. Jesus knows that he is facing death in order to bring life to us – but he also knows that he can’t shield us from all the pain and suffering we bring upon ourselves.
And all that is true – even though we’re on the other side of Easter. The triumph over death at Easter is not yet an end to the battle with death and sin. The war is won, but the mopping up operations are still taking place and that means that we still live in the realm of suffering and pain. But the way we look at suffering can be different, because of Jesus resurrection, and because of what he says in the last verse we read.
You will not see me again until you say ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ This phrase is a bit odd, and difficult to understand. Of course, on Palm Sunday the crowds shouted ‘hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ – is that what Jesus means?
Or is he referring to the end time in heaven, when all of us will see him and worship him as our Saviour and redeemer?
Or perhaps, as we come to HC, we should remember the words we use in our prayer at the end of the sanctus, the Holy holy holy…. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Because HC is when we share in the deepest way possible, in the death and resurrection of Jesus. HC is when we share in the bread and the wine, his body and blood, and pray that as we do that, our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls may be washed through his blood and that we may dwell in him and he in us. Sharing bread and wine, we become part of his new life, his resurrection life. And so in the midst of the pain and suffering of our broken world, we have a little part of Jesus’ resurrection life in us by his Holy Spirit. As we ask in the euch prayer ‘as we eat and drink these holy gifts, renew us by your spirit, inspire us with your love and unite us in the body of your son’.
So, in each Christian, is a little piece of heaven. We are not left alone until we reach either the end of our lives or the end of time – we carry a piece of heaven in our hearts. And so Jesus does come, and makes living each day a totally new experience, an adventure living in God’s love, even while we’re living also in the suffering of our world
Gracious God, by your Spirit, heaven is in our heart.
may your life within us enable us to live as citizens of heaven
here in our broken world,
that others may see a reflection of you in us,
and that we may be transformed into the likeness of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord