If you choose to do as Jesus did and let God’s priorities direct how you will live your life, it is guaranteed that you will meet opposition. Jesus was rejected by God’s people, the Jews, but he continued to do all he could to reach them. He loved them and felt great sorrow at the way they turned their backs on all those God sent to them, including his Son. Paul felt sorrow over those who lived in a way that was in opposition to the cross of Christ. We too should feel sorrow over those who are offered God’s love but choose to reject it. We are called to live and love as Jesus did, and to accept the hatred that we will attract as a result of fulfilling our calling.
The readings at the noon Sunday service were Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1 and Luke 13:31-end. The reflection on the passages follows:
I don’t know about you, but I found a lot in the short Gospel passage for today quite puzzling and I’ve had to work hard to make some sense of it. The confusion starts for me right at the beginning. Are the Pharisees who are mentioned for or against Jesus? We are used to thinking of Jesus and the Pharisees as being in conflict, with a few exceptions such as Nicodemus, so it seems odd to find a group of them warning Jesus of the threats from Herod and urging him to escape. It’s really impossible to decide if they are friends and concerned about Jesus or are there to carry a threatening message from Herod himself to try to silence Jesus.
Herod Antipas was tetrarch over Galilee and Perea. It was he who had had John the Baptist beheaded and the Gospels tell us elsewhere that he thought Jesus might be John come back to life. Jesus would have had good reason to expect to be Herod’s next target. Jesus was probably in Perea at the time of this incident so Herod held the power in that area. Jesus didn’t seem particularly worried by Herod, calling him ‘that old fox’. Foxes may have a reputation for cunning but it was going to take more than cunning or temporal power to stop Jesus’ mission.
Like the psalmist who said, ‘Though a host encamp against me, my heart shall not be afraid, and though there rise up war against me, yet will I put my trust in him’, Jesus knew that God was in charge and that it was God’s plans which would prevail. Nothing could happen to him without God’s permission and according to God’s timing. Herod could threaten and bluster as much as he liked – it would do no good.
Jesus intended to continue to do what he had been doing: casting out demons and curing the sick. It sounds as though he meant to do this only for another two days before completing everything on the third day, as he said, ‘today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work’. This was a Semitic phrase which meant a short but unspecified period before some kind of crisis or event rather than a literal two days. As though to emphasise it, Jesus used a similar phrase in the next verse: ‘today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way’. There was work to do for a period and Jesus was intent on doing it.
Jesus had made it plain to the disciples that he was heading for Jerusalem and that it was there he would suffer and die. Luke’s Gospel earlier says: ‘When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem’. Not all prophets had died in Jerusalem in the past but Jerusalem was probably more dangerous for one of God’s prophets than Herod’s threats were. This is ironical as from David’s time Jerusalem had been the centre of the nation’s religion. It was the place God had chosen in which to show his glory to the people and yet it didn’t welcome God’s messengers, the prophets. In the time of Joash, the nation abandoned God but he still sent prophets to try to bring them back to him. They rejected them and killed Zechariah. Elijah told God that the prophets he sent had been rejected and killed. In the book of Jeremiah the Lord says that his prophets had died by the sword. Rejecting and killing prophets was the norm.
It had been predicted by Isaiah that the Messiah would be rejected as the prophets before him had been. Jesus was under no illusions about how he would be treated. However, this didn’t prevent him feeling great sorrow at the choice Jerusalem was making in so consistently rejecting those God sent. Later in Luke’s Gospel we hear how Jesus looked over Jerusalem and wept for it. He wanted to gather it up, to protect and care for it as a hen does for her chicks. It’s easy to miss this deep love that Jesus has for Jerusalem and for all the people there, probably 25-30,000 people, because we see him challenging so often, but his motivation was definitely love. He was prepared to use all means to draw the Jews back to God.
The outcome of the rejection of all God’s overtures towards Jerusalem is a terrible one. Just before this incident, Jesus had said that: ‘some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.’ Though Jerusalem boasted of its wonderful religious heritage, site of the throne of David and the Temple of Solomon, Jesus said, ‘Your house is left to you.’ God would abandon the Temple and the city as Jeremiah had predicted: ‘I have forsaken my house; I have abandoned my heritage’. When Jesus spoke of Jerusalem, he spoke of the whole nation as it was the spiritual and political capital of the Jews and so representative of the whole. The chosen people, those who were first, would find themselves locked out of the Kingdom of God, their Temple once full of the shekinah glory of God would be devoid of God’s presence, their religion an empty show.
The Church is the new Israel and it too can find itself in the same predicament of losing God by rejecting Jesus. It can become too proud, too sure of itself and turn its back on the message God sent in the person of Jesus. Too often we hear of scandals in the Church, of those who should be representing Christ acting in a way that is totally out of line with his teaching. Individual churches can do the same, teaching the wrong message to the people and leading them astray. This should be a cause of sorrow for us as it was for Jesus and as it was for Paul who said, ‘For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.’ I know from personal experience what it is to weep over someone who is offered the love of God and turns away from it.
We are each called to follow Jesus, to do as he did, to love as he loved. Jesus chose to live according to God’s plans, not letting those who would threaten him divert him from his course. Time and again he pointed people to the way to live, out of love for them, accepting the rejection that came as a result. Jesus said to his disciples that as he was hated they too should expect to be hated. We are to live our lives to the beat of a different drum and that will set us apart as happened to the prophets of old.
The collect for today prays for Christians: ‘that they may reject those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same.’ Lent is a good time to look again at whether we are ready to follow the way of the cross no matter what it costs us. That is a challenging calling but we need have no fear in choosing it because we can say with the psalmist:
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor