February 27, 2010 Leave a comment
2 Lent Yr C, 28/2/2010
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
What would you do if you knew that your friend’s life was in danger? Wouldn’t you want what was best for your friend, try your best to protect them and warn them of the life-threatening danger? Most of us, I believe, would want our friend to escape the life-threatening danger and do what we could to try and help them.
Well, in today’s gospel, we learn that “some Pharisees” were friends of Jesus by trying to protect him from a life-threatening danger. These Pharisees came to Jesus and spoke the following words of warning: “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” Now I think this is a rather instructive story for us concerning the Pharisees. Perhaps the most common picture or view of the Pharisees in the four Gospels is that they are the enemies of Jesus, not his friends. Moreover, ever since the beginning of the Christian faith, there have been Christians who tried to justify anti-Judaism and antisemitism. Over the centuries—particularly during Lent and Holy Week—Christian preachers and theologians ramped up their rhetorical hatred of the Jews and incited parishioners to persecute and commit crimes against the Jewish people. The Jews were labelled as “Christ killers” and became the scapegoats for all of society’s problems. One could go on at length about the horrendous crimes Christians committed against the Jews, all in the name of Christ and Christianity. However, that is not my purpose today.
Coming back to our passage, I say this is an instructive text for us because it gives us a more positive picture and description of “some Pharisees.” In other words, not all Pharisees hated Jesus, or considered him an enemy of theirs deserving death. Today some biblical scholars who have read and studied all four Gospels carefully have observed that there are three major categories of the Jewish people in the Gospels. Some of the Gospel passages refer to the Jews in a negative way as enemies. Other Gospel passages refer to the Jews in a neutral way—neither as enemies or friends. Yet other passages refer to the Jews in a positive way as friends or even family. So, when we read our Gospel today, we discover Jesus’ fellow Jews, “some Pharisees” as his friends or even family. We notice too that the word “some” is employed in front of “Pharisees.”
During our Lenten journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and his suffering and death there; we need to remember that not all Jews or their leaders plotted the death of Jesus or were collaborators with the Roman authorities in the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus. Again we must employ the word “some” Jewish leaders and people were involved in Jesus’ death. As Christians we should never blame all of the Jewish people and leaders in Jesus’ time—or in any other time—for his death. So, then, Lenten gospels like the one today open up the door for us Christians to continue to work for a better understanding of the Jewish people, which results in a deeper love for them and desire to live in peace with them. The season of Lent then affords us Christians with the opportunity to resist and condemn rather than promote or justify anti-Judaism and antisemitism.
Back to our gospel today, Jesus answers the Pharisees in a prophetic way, first of all justifying his public ministry of bringing in God’s kingdom through the exorcism of demons and performing cures or healings, and then by predicting his work being finished with his resurrection “on the third day.” The irony of Jesus’ answer is also in his calling Herod “that fox,” which could have been taken as an offensive way of addressing Herod. Foxes are often viewed as crafty creatures and certainly predators of chickens. Ironically, Jesus speaks of himself as being like a mother hen. Herod the fox and Jesus the mother hen—what chance of survival does a mother hen have against a hungry fox? Ultimately, in the natural world the way it exists right now, put a fox with a mother hen and the fox will 99.9% of the time, kill and eat chicken for dinner.
Herod’s malevolent desire “to kill” Jesus and Jesus’ courageous determination to face rather than flee from Herod represents the clash of two kingdoms. Herod’s earthly kingdom is temporal, rooted in sin, based on the coercive use of power to rule by an iron Roman fist, and the fear of punishment if one disobeyed Roman laws. Herod’s power existed by enforced slavery, oppression and injustice. In stark contrast, the kingdom of God that Jesus was ushering in is, in part temporal, but in its completeness eternal. The kingdom that Jesus was bringing into existence was rooted in love and forgiveness, based on the freedom to follow God’s will by serving others and making the ultimate sacrifice for them—of laying down one’s own life on a cross. God’s kingdom attracted many people because of the levelling of all people as brothers and sisters in God’s family as equals, living under the power of forgiveness, mercy and the gentle rule of peace.
Yes, the collision course is in Christ’s mind and heart inevitable. Christ knows what he has to do, saying: ‘I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ No other option is available for him but to go to Jerusalem and die if he was to be faithful and freely accept his heavenly Father’s will. Here we have an example of Christ’s courage and single-mindedness towards his mission—nothing; nobody can stop him from going up to his death on a cross in Jerusalem. Do we face hardships as willingly and freely as Jesus did in order to do God will by choosing the way of the cross? A question that we may wish to ask ourselves during Lent is: what things do we need to die of in order to gain abundant, eternal life? Do we, like Jesus, need to follow his way of the cross by dying to the temptations of power, wealth, wisdom, and popularity? Or are there other gods that we need to renounce if we are to be faithful to God’s will and purposes?
As our gospel continues to unfold, Jesus goes into a lament over the city of Jerusalem. In my chaplain’s office hangs a picture of Jesus sitting on a mountainside and looking over at Jerusalem in the distance. The picture depicts Jesus in a thoughtful, yet sorrowful way. He looks to be all alone, no one is with him. He must face his final earthly destiny alone, despised and rejected by sinful people of his day and of every time and place, including you and me.
Jesus, lamenting over Jerusalem, like the prophet Jeremiah who once cried out: “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” (Jer 9:1) And the lament of the prophet Ezekiel, quoting the LORD’s words: “As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek 3311) In the tradition of prophets like this before him, Jesus speaks a prophetic word of judgement upon Jerusalem. The words are not easy to speak, nor does Jesus rejoice in speaking them. He does not desire the punishment and destruction of his people and the city of Jerusalem. In the midst of this lament, Jesus gives us the most beautiful picture of his love towards his own people and the sadness and pain of his love being spurned. He sees himself as being like a mother hen who wants to protect her chicks by placing them under her wings. Here Jesus gives us a feminine image of gentle love, yet courageous protection. Jesus sees himself in this way and his own people as chicks that are not willing to be gathered under the protective wings of a mother hen. The gentle love and protective courage of a mother hen towards her chicks is true to real life. Listen to the following story:
Somehow one spring a hatch of chickens was born behind the barn. The children of the family had never seen range chickens before. They wondered how they’d keep warm without a heater. They were thrilled to discover that the mother hen sheltered them under her wings. They wondered how they’d be safe from the cat and were amazed to see the mother hen fly at the cat and scare it away with her loud noises and her beak.1
Jesus is like the gentle, loving, courageous, protecting mother hen who is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of laying down his life for his people, including you and me. His sacrificial death on a cross means that we are given life—abundant life now, and eternal life beyond the grave. For that, thanks be to God! Amen.
1 Cited from: Emphasis, Vol. 24, No. 6, March-April 1995 (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc.), p. 23.