Lent 2c, February 21, 2016

February 23, 2016

Barnyard Faith
Luke 13:31-35

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He 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. 33 Yet 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.’ 34 Jerusalem, 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! 35 See, 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.'”

There have been moments in my life when I’ve been crossed up with other people, but I don’t think anyone has ever really wanted to kill me. I’ve never been engaged in warfare, so I’ve never faced an anonymous enemy that was out to kill me, nor have I ever had a personal enemy that sought to end my life. As far as I know, if anyone has actually wanted me dead they were kind enough to not let me know or to act on their feelings.

I know we’ve got some veterans in the church who have encountered hostile forces. Others of you may have actually encountered homicidal acquaintances as well. And people who’ve been in such situations can better understand what Jesus was experiencing at this point in his ministry. I’m sure this is an experience that sticks with you for a lifetime, and I’m guessing that’s a situation that would be hard to deal with as graciously as Jesus did.

Of course it isn’t just war, terrorism, or murder that that threaten people’s lives. Accidents and disease are threats that we all face, and I’m sure many of us have had brushes with situations that have felt life threatening. But I doubt that there have been many of us who have faced threats as personal as the one that Jesus was issued by Herod.

I can’t really imagine how it would feel to know that there was someone wanting to kill me. I’m not exactly sure how I would respond to the threat of murder, but I’m sure I would spend more time considering my options that Jesus did. Actually I would probably have spent less time thinking about my response. I’m sure I wouldn’t have referred to him as any kind of animal, and I likely would have told the Pharisees to thank Mr. Herod for the warning and to let him know I would seek to be much more considerate of his feelings. Maybe I wouldn’t have buckled under the pressure, but I know how intimidating it can be to face professional scrutiny. I’m guessing I would have been trying to find a way for everyone to get along.

There’s an unusual twist in this story as well. It’s a group of Pharisees that bring this warning to Jesus – which is not the role that we usually see the Pharisees playing in the gospels. We don’t know what motivated their expression of concern for Jesus’ wellbeing. We know that they would later be instrumental in plotting for his death, so it’s hard to say what was behind this warning, but it wasn’t information Jesus chose to act on. If anything, this warning served to fortify his resolve to continue his work and to press on to Jerusalem.

I don’t want to make too much of the fact that the Pharisees were the ones to show concern for Jesus, but on some level what this passage seems to identify is both the predictable lines of conflict that occur among people and the possibility of new relationships between former enemies.

There’s nothing surprising about the conflict between Jesus and Herod. Herod represented the politics of earthly power. Herod was the representative of Roman rule, and he had no tolerance for anyone who didn’t have absolute allegiance to the Emperor. If you think of the world as a barnyard, the Emperor was the bull – threatened by no one and capable of crushing anyone. And as Jesus pointed out, Herod was the fox. Not really that powerful in the grand scheme of things, but certainly capable of harassing and feeding upon smaller animals. Nothing surprising about Roman power dynamics, but when you consider the way in which the religious community interacted with the other animals in the barnyard it gets complicated.

Jesus made this reference to Jersusalem as the place that killed the prophets, but he also had this affection for it. He had this desire to gather it in as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing. There’s the bull, there’s the fox, there’s the hen, and there are chicks. How the animals interact in the barnyard is something for us to consider.

The Roman Emperor was perfectly predictable. Nothing but absolute allegiance was expected or tolerated. Herod was nothing but the local agent of the Emperor, and he had his own cadre of toadies who would carry out his proclamations. It was a system based on intimidation, and what we see is the way in which they sought to intimidate Jesus. Certainly the people of Israel were intimidated by the soldiers of Herod, and this caused the faith of Israel to become distorted in many ways, but it wasn’t just Herod who caused Israel to go astray. As Jesus pointed out, Jerusalem had been a place of religious distortion for a long time. It had a long history of exchanging the truth for lesser agendas. The leaders of Israel had often exchanged the fruit of the spirit for the treasures of this world.

Jesus expresses both sympathy and disgust for the city of Jerusalem. He had these feelings for Jerusalem that he compared to the feelings of a mother hen for her chicks, but he also knew of the ways in which Jerusalem was the sight of great travesty – it was a place with a history of rejecting Israel’s spiritual giants.

Jesus was told by the Pharisees to stop doing what he was doing, but Jesus wasn’t intimidated by what Herod could do to him. Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit, and while he had no illusion about what would happen when he got to Jerusalem, he knew that this course he was on would conclude with his death, but he had full confidence that his mission would be successful. He knew he would be killed, but he also knew that by doing what he was doing the dynamics of power would forever be changed.

This is a passage of scripture that reveals the nature of the power struggles that generally occur in this world. It reveals the fact that we often allow ourselves to be threatened by those who appear to have power, and we remain oblivious to the source of real power. Jesus wasn’t caught up the pettiness of unholy power struggles, and he revealed the way to live in this world without being destroyed by the ever-present demands of power-hungry people.

It’s important for us to understand who it is that we seek to serve and what it is that we need to resist – otherwise we will become both victims and collaborators with the ugliest forms of power and the worst agendas imaginable. The power of God is not the most obvious manifestation of power in this world, and it’s easy to live in response to the claims of more immediate forms of power. Jesus didn’t live in response to the agenda of Herod or even of the Pharisees – Jesus lived in a relationship with God. It would be the cause of his death, and it would be the source of his resurrected life.

We all are faced with this temptation to heed the warnings of the Pharisees not to offend the Herods of the world. And it’s hard not to do this. As I mentioned earlier, I know how stressful it is to feel pressure from powerful people, and I know how intimidating that can be. I’m certain there are situations where I have caved in to the demands of people who have no love for the truth. I don’t want to get in to the specifics on this, but trust me – it has happened. On the other hand, I also know that there is a tremendous reward that awaits us when we live with allegiance to God and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I’m happy to say I’ve had a taste of this as well.

Living as a true follower of Jesus Christ certainly has an eternal reward, but I also believe it has rewards on earth. I believe people who live on earth as if they are in heaven create a new community on earth that is truly a reflection of heaven. To live like this is to disrupt the usual patterns of behavior and expectations and create new possibilities that make this world a better place for all people.

It’s very likely that the Pharisees came to Jesus because they were in touch with Herod’s people, and they were told to give Jesus that message, but I also think it points to the possibility that we can all step out of our familiar identities and roles and to step in to new places and make contact with new people. The fact that the Pharisees gave this warning to Jesus indicates that they might not have wanted any harm to come to him. They had a lot to learn about who he was, and what he sought to do, but maybe some of them came to see he was not who they thought he was.

I think this passage of scripture points to the nature of the power struggles that we all face in some way. Some of us are the Pharisees of this world – unwittingly carrying out the agendas of little Herods. Sometimes we know when we are being used to do ugly work, but unholy agendas are often well masked, and it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit to become aware of what we are doing and how we can change.

It is a gift to be able to live with more allegiance to the Kingdom of God than to the bullies of the barnyard, but it’s also our work. There is some cooperation that needs to take place between us and the Holy Spirit as we seek to develop this relationship with the source of real power. This work requires us to resist the claims of some people and to embrace the claims of others. It requires the courage to stay on a given course when other avenues would be easier. It means having more regard for the victims of powerful people than for the concerns of those powerful people.

This barnyard that we live in is a tumultuous place. We all come in to this place with different skills and abilities and power and expectation. The natural thing is for us to try to carve out the most advantageous situation for ourselves, but Jesus challenges us to let go of our natural rivalries and selfish ambitions. The call of Christ is to live in response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, who guides us out of the barnyard and in to the kingdom of God.

This offer comes to us as a gift, and it provides for us our work.
Thanks be to God.


2 Responses to “Lent 2c, February 21, 2016”

  1. Earl Jones Says:

    Your point of Jesus “power” and the help that belief and reliance on it can help us deal with the “power” of some folks we deal with was right on time. I understand and have had to deal with it in many situations that you described.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: