Today is the Second Sunday in Lent. The collect and readings for the day may be found here. The appointed gospel is Luke 13:31-35:
31At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32He said to them, “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 finish my work. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34Jerusalem, 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! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
A battle is brewing on the road to Jerusalem. At first it looks like just another confrontation with the Pharisees and a puppet tyrant. But it is more than that. It will be a battle between a hen’s wings of love and a fox’s claws and fangs, a battle between stone and flesh. That does not sound like a fair fight and it is not. Only Jesus, however, seems to know that.
Jesus is going to Jerusalem making his way through cities and villages, teaching as he goes. Some Pharisees come to Jesus. There are no friendly greetings. There is no small talk. There is no exchange of roadside hospitality. This is about business. Jesus and the Pharisees are each on a mission. But they are headed in opposite directions. “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you,” threaten the Pharisees. These are words of rejection – Jesus is not welcome.
Jesus rejects their threat, false authority, and the power of death. “You go and tell that fox Herod that I am busy, too busy to be bothered with a life-stealing little animal like him. I am busy healing and giving life. I will leave in my own time but only after I have completed my work and not before then.”
Jesus knows something that Herod and the Pharisees do not. The contest was never against Herod or the Pharisees. It was always with and for Jerusalem. Jesus is not Herod’s problem. Herod does not have to worry about killing Jesus. Jerusalem will do that for him. It always has. The road to Jerusalem is paved with the stones of rejection.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem the city that kills the prophets
and stones those who are sent to it.”
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” In those words I hear my name. For you see, Jerusalem is the universal name. It is the name of every family, language, people, and nation. Jesus is calling your name and my name. And I cannot help but begin to recall the stones that I have thrown.
Stones of inadequacy – stones that say, “Go away. I’m not worth your time or love.” Stones of arrogance – stones that say, “My way is better.” Stones of isolation – stones that say, “I can do this all by myself. I don’t need you.” Stones of fear – stones that build walls instead of a home in which all are welcome. Stones of immaturity – stones that say, “I don’t want to grow. I don’t want to take responsibility. Just let me play by myself.” Stones of prejudice – stones that say, “You’re different from me. You’re not wanted or needed around here.” Stones of defensiveness – stones that say, “Don’t change or challenge me. Let me stay in my narrow little world.” Stones of violence that deny another’s dignity and humanity.
Each stone we throw is not simply the rejection of another. Ultimately, it is the rejection of our self. It says we trust fangs and claws more than we trust the wings of love. It denies that we are God’s people. As Jerusalem we are meant to be the Holy City of God’s residence and not the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to it.
But Christ looks beyond the stones desiring to gather us together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. He rejects all other roads except the one leading to Jerusalem, the one leading to us. He rejects all false authorities – not allowing threats, warnings, or even the power of death to control him. He rejects any attempt to interrupt his life-giving mission. Over and over the wings of love are opened, waiting, exposed to the fox’s fangs and claws. How can love do any thing less?
With each step towards Jerusalem Jesus is saying, “I will heal you, forgive you, and make you holy.” With each step towards Jerusalem Jesus is saying, “I love you and give you life, my life.” With each step towards Jerusalem Jesus is saying, “I will pursue you to the very end – even to death and beyond.” He says all this even while looking at our hands, filled with the stones of rejection.
Everyday he comes to us. We hear him in the cries of the poor, the immigrant, the homeless, the needy, and the hungry. We see him in the faces of those who are different from us, who threaten us, who scare us, those who live on the fringe of what we consider acceptable, those who would stretch us, confront us, and maybe even change us. We feel him in the touch of friends, parents, spouses, and mentors, whose hands support, encourage, sustain, and challenge us.
These are the ones who reveal God incarnate. These are today’s prophets calling us to live as the New Jerusalem. Everyday they come. Everyday they stand before us; within a stone’s throw. And we must decide. What do we see – prophets or targets? And what will we say? Will we say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord?” Or will we say, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you”?
Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem.