2nd Sunday of Lent – February 21, 2016

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Luke 13:31-35 – Lent 2C

This week we go to Luke 13:31-35 and this odd exchange between Jesus and some Pharisees and then next week we will go back to the beginning of chapter 13. Perhaps we have this strange sequence because we need to be reminded on this second Sunday of Lent just where Jesus is headed: Jerusalem, that place that kills prophets. If we wait until week three we might be lulled into a false sense of security, to a denial that the end of this ministry isn’t a party, plaque and title of emeritus – it is the cross. The Gospel reading for Lent 2 keeps us honest: This is a journey to a place called The Skull. Let that truth focus your mind and filter your thoughts. Some Pharisees understand that the stakes are that high. Do we?

Jesus certainly isn’t keeping it a secret in this exchange. Jesus doesn’t deny Herod’s intent, he simply makes it clear that the where and the when isn’t up to Herod. Herod may think he’s in control, but God is the author of this plot. I admit I like Jesus talking to some Pharisees like a toddler or a teenager, “You tell Herod he is not the boss of me!” Eye roll. Door slam. Stamping foot. I want to cheer a little and say, “Oh, snap! I guess he told you!” It is satisfying to see some righteous indignation and some truth to power and I want to remember this scene when it appears that Herod has his way. Maybe that’s a clue to the timing of this text. Remember, disciples, it may look like earthly powers win, but that is an illusion, they are not the boss of God, so hang in, hang on and pay attention.

What is striking about this short passage from Luke, aside from Jesus’ rare show of attitude, is the complexity of the other players in these verses. Some Pharisees come and warn Jesus to get out of town. This seems a very un-Pharisee thing to do, doesn’t it? Why are they telling him to get out of harm’s way? Don’t they, too, have it out for him? Or are they more like Nicodemus of John’s Gospel, curious and searching? Maybe they are Herod’s double agents, ready to report back on Jesus’ plans and whereabouts? It is really hard to tell whose side they are on in this exchange.

And what about Jerusalem, that place of promise and religious reverence that rejects the very ones sent to it by the One they seek to worship? Why must it be so recalcitrant? Why won’t it accept the guidance and care that God so longs to give? Why does it have to learn the hard, hard way?

Even Herod, that character who is the bad guy, murderer of John, beholden by pride to his drunken promises, even he is not entirely beyond being used by God to further salvation history. Herod seeks to see the One who is healing and raising the dead. Does he seek to see Jesus only to kill him or is he curious about this miracle worker? Hard to be 100 percent sure at this point in the story.

The only unwavering one in this narrative is Jesus. He is direct and clear: Go and tell that fox I am going to keep right on casting our demons and curing today and tomorrow and I will finish up the day after that. I will leave – not because I am afraid of him, but because the next part of my mission requires that I go to Jerusalem. That is where my mission is going to end and then really begin on the third day. So get to stepping, I’ve got work to do.

This little exchange has more layers than a Coen brothers movie. Those we think are the enemy do something seemingly helpful. The place that is the pinnacle of the faith is also ground zero for the worst sort of betrayal, cruelty and violence. The Bad Guy may have hints of humanity in him somewhere. The ones who think they are calling the shots aren’t and, in fact, they are going to be put to use by the One truly in charge of the plot. But Jesus is Jesus is Jesus, on a mission, unstoppable and unwilling to stray from the vision he set out in that first sermon in Nazareth. He will bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed. The scripture will be, has been, fulfilled, no matter how the rest of the cast responds.

Perhaps that’s the link to the Genesis story appointed for Sunday. It doesn’t matter how dire circumstances seem, how impossible the odds, how inevitable one outcome appears; God will have God’s way. Barrenness and old age? So what?! Landless, wandering nomad? Not a problem! Terrifying darkness? Not to the One for whom darkness is as bright as day. Four hundred years of oppression? Doesn’t end the promise or mark the covenant null and void. Corrupt, self-serving religious leaders? They come and go. Power-hungry government officials? A frequent blip on the divine radar. Stiff-necked people who turn their back on the One who made them and claimed them? If I had a dime for every time that happened! Tell those foxes, everyone, their day is coming, justice will roll down like waters, evil will be defeated and death will be no more. You are not the boss of me. Door slam.

On this second Sunday of Lent when earthly powers are all over the place, calling the shots, rolling over the vulnerable and trying to tell the Son of God to get out of town or else, remind your hearers that nothing will stop the will of the Most High God, not even a death march to Jerusalem.

Remind your hearers that in the throes of their own chaos, the illness, the worry, the fear, the ambiguity, the uncertainty, the morass within them of corrupted good, that Jesus is Jesus is Jesus in the midst of it all. Nothing they can do will thwart the love of God that has come to save us. Nothing. So stay focused on him and don’t worry about the foxes or the Pharisees or the rebellious people in Jerusalem and beyond. Jesus is Jesus is Jesus and he’s the One we are to follow.

This week:

  1. The lectionary leaves out verses 13-16 in the Genesis reading. Why? Do you see any value in leaving it in?
  2. Take a look at how Pharisees are portrayed in Luke’s Gospel. There are three meals that Jesus shares with Pharisees (only one Pharisee is named). Is this a more nuanced view of Pharisees than in the other Gospels? Why would this be significant for the Gospel writer? To us?
  3. Do some digging on the texts that prove Jesus’ point that Jerusalem kills the prophets. Take a look at 2 Chronicles 24:20-22 and Jeremiah 26:20-23. Also review Acts 7:52.
  4. How do we operate under the assumption that Herod is control rather than Jesus? How does giving into that assumption thwart our ability to follow Jesus?
  5. What do you make of Luke 13:35? Is Jesus referring to his entry into Jerusalem? His resurrection? His return in glory? All three?
  6. In keeping with Genesis 15:5, here is a word about stars by Walt McDonald from “Sourcebook about Sunday” (edited by Paul Ford and J. Michael Thompson): I try to ignore the stars, a billion witnesses that I give myself to black skies, not even gravity holding me back, cast into outer darkness. Not stars always on fire, not fire, but beyond, whatever scattered them: that power.

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