When we picture Jesus we tend to have the image of a peaceful, warm and welcoming person who looks like he could never raise his voice much less call anyone names.
Our passage from Luke today does not depict Jesus as these things. He gets angry and does call people names. Specifically calling Herod a “fox.” While Jesus is not being kind, he is being truthful.
Calling someone a “fox” in ancient Jewish culture implies that that person is not only sly but also that person is not as big of a threat as they appear to be or as a big of a threat that people think they are. This is deeply insulting for people like Herod who did indeed possess a lot of power and who actually did pose a threat. At the wave of his hand, he could have anyone killed just like he did to John the Baptist. But this did not seem to bother Jesus because he knows the plans of God and understands what needs to happen.
Herod and the Pharisees don’t understand God’s plan (not that anyone else did either). Part of God’s plan is for Jesus to make it to Jerusalem and meet his fate on the cross. Jesus makes it clear to both the Pharisees and Herod himself that God’s plans cannot be thwarted.
Jesus makes it clear that he is on a schedule for the next few days to heal people, cast out demons, and that he can’t be bothered with empty threats. He is confident of what he needs to accomplish in the next few days and neither Herod nor the Pharisees can stop him from arriving in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is the heart of Judaism. It’s where the Temple is located (The Dome of the Rock is now where the Temple of Jesus’ day once stood). Many Israelites would travel hundreds of miles to Jerusalem for the Passover each year. While Jerusalem is a holy site it is not a perfect one. The city had a history of killing and torturing prophets such as Jeremiah, Zechariah, and Amos. The average Jew, however, did not see (or refused to see) Jerusalem in this way. To acknowledge Jerusalem’s tainted past would have been sacrilegious as Jerusalem was where the Temple was located. No one wants to revisit the dark past of any place of worship because for many it’s a place where they experience God and experience God in community.
Regardless of whether or not the Israelites acknowledge Jerusalem’s violence against her own prophets, Jesus does. In doing so you can hear the pain in his voice. He implores: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how I long to gather your children like a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!”
It’s easy for us who have 20/20 hindsight of history to judge those who didn’t believe Jesus when Jesus walked among them. People of Jerusalem: “How could you not believe him? He’s standing right before you in the flesh?” I think, however, that if Jesus stood among us today, we too would have a hard time believing him. This is because what kept the citizens of Jerusalem from believing in Jesus can keep us from believing in him today.
Greed and power had infiltrated Jerusalem. The Temple was supposed to be a place of prayer and worship, but we see later in Luke how Jesus overturns the tables of merchants in the courtyard of the Temple. The merchants were profiting off of the poor who just wanted to make a faithful sacrifice at the temple. In doing this, Jesus also incriminates the leaders of the Temple for allowing this to happen. The people who were supposed to be leaders and servants of God’s people are now oppressors of God’s people.
There’s also the matter of prophets being stoned. Stoning was meant for those who break God’s law. In this case, the irony was that God’s law was twisted and used to stop the very people God sent as messengers. Notice that it’s the leaders and the insiders of the religious community who are responsible for the corruption in Jerusalem. Those with authority used it for their own profit, whether it was for money or power, instead of taking care of God’s people, which is what they were supposed to do all along. Those who professed to be God’s people acted against God. Again, this can and does happen anywhere.
The Catholic church continues to come under fire with ever more emerging evidence of “cover-ups” protecting priests who abused those under their care. Within nondenominational churches, congregations have been torn apart in light of abuse and bullying of lay leaders and women in churches such as Mars Hill in Seattle or Hill Song New York. If you think our denomination, the PCUSA, is above it all, I just realized that every Presbytery (a governing body of PCUSA churches within a geographic area) of which I’ve been a member of in three different parts of the country, has had to deal with a church leader who abused their authority to coerce, bully and in the worse of cases abuse those who were meant to be under their care.
While all of these examples involve church leaders, all of us who profess faith in Jesus Christ need to constantly check in with ourselves. At the end of the day we all want to retain as much power as we can because having power means we have control. But as much as we try, we can’t control everything. In trying to do so, we can end up hurting ourselves and others along the way. This is why we need to always prayerfully discern whether or not we are following Jesus or following our own desire to remain in control. One doesn’t need to be in a position of leadership to put their desire for control over and against the call to love our neighbor. We all desire power because we all desire control.
I think this is why Christianity is hard. We are asked to constantly let go of control. The Pharisees and other temple leaders were unwilling to let go of their power and their reputations, which gave them control. Control over their status and over others. We struggle with the same thing. Lent is a great time to reflect upon what it is we are holding onto that we think gives us control, but actually doesn’t.
Christ constantly asks us to get out of our comfort zones by giving up a sense of control. Giving up control is scary because we risk allowing people to see that we actually don’t have it all together, or worse: we just might need to ask for help. Until we come to terms with the fact that we can’t do it all on our own we won’t see our need for God or our need for others.
Andy Doyle is a bishop in Texas. In a short Lenten devotional he writes: “‘52 percent of practicing Christians strongly agreed that the Bible teaches “God helps those who help themselves.’ It does not. It is an Ancient Greek saying not a Christian saying; though, many Christians believe it is. Popularized by figures such as Benjamin Franklin, but it’s not a Christian thought.” He goes onto say: “God in Christ Jesus does what we cannot earn, what we cannot trade, what we cannot do for ourselves. God saves when we cannot. This rejects the idea that people can do it all themselves, pull themselves up by the bootstraps, or achieve without others.” In reality we were made for God and others.
This is why Jesus says he longs to gather Jerusalem to him as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. Just as little chicks find security and protection under the wings of their mother we too will find the same in Jesus Christ. In Christ, we find rest from the rat race of trying to prove we’ve got it together, we don’t need any help and we can do it ourselves. In Christ, we find rest from the exhausting process of making ourselves appear more resilient than we really are. In Christ, we are assured that we are still loved and we are still worthy even when we aren’t in control or don’t have it all together. Christ knows we need him, but he wants us to know this for ourselves. Just as he implores Jerusalem to come back to him he implores us to do the same.
Those who raise chickens know that chicks have a greater chance of survival if they stay close to their mother. Not all chicks run to their mother in times of danger. Some become paralyzed by fear or try to save themselves from any lurking predators. A mother hen, however, is not fast enough to gather all of the chicks back into the shelter of her wings. The chicks have to stay close or return to the hen for protection.
Time and time again we stray away from God and therefore we easily forget who God is and who God says we are. We forget that Christ has determined our worth by willingly giving his life for us. The further we are from God the easier it is to fall back into the mindset of proving to others (and maybe even ourselves and God) that we’ve got it all together. We’ve got it all under control.
Despite Jerusalem’s (and our) unwillingness to accept refuge and security that only Jesus can offer, Jesus still willingly goes to Jerusalem to give his life on the cross. Nothing was going to stop Jesus from arriving at the cross – not even the most powerful people such as Herod or the Pharisees could get in his way. Our unwillingness to return to Christ does not undo what Jesus has accomplished on the cross. The resurrection has already happened.
The resurrection of Christ is always the last word. But this doesn’t mean words of repentance should not be said. If you haven’t done so already, take some time after worship to grab a ribbon and write what you need to surrender to Christ this Lenten season. In surrendering something to God we are admitting that we indeed need Christ’s help comfort and strength. We are admitting that we can’t do it alone. We are repenting. We can’t receive help until we’ve come to terms with the fact that we need help. We can’t receive comfort until we admit we’re in pain.
My hope for this Lenten season is we reflect upon our need for Christ. To reflect upon how Christ implores us to come back to him just as he implored Jeruslam to do the same. That our need for control is actually our need to be loved. When we are honest with God about this we will be assured once again that we are already loved, we have already been deemed worthy by what Christ did for all of us on the cross.