Running away from those wings

Second Sunday of Lent

February 21, 2016

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I found it a huge challenge this week to try to make sense of what’s going on in this gospel story we have today—until a colleague group helped me out a little bit.  I was struck by how curious it is that Jesus goes through this rapid mood swing.  And that troubled me. 

So let’s take a look.  In the first part of the story he’s confronted by some Pharisees who may or may not be well meaning.  The text doesn’t give us enough information to know.

He seems annoyed with them and brushes off warnings about Herod Antipas and what he intends to do to Jesus.  And so he responds and tells them to “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.” 

First of all he calls Herod a fox—which is actually pretty demeaning.  After all, the wild animal that the Jews admired most was the lion that lived in the desert.  They were big, strong, and fierce.  But Herod here is compared to a fox—small, cunning, crafty.  It’s an insult. 

Jesus goes on to describe his work in general terms—this day and the next he’s busy with exorcisms and healings.  That’s certainly what we’ve seen of him---oh, except for the teaching and wonder-working.  But Jesus—or the evangelist—leaves those things out here.  But then he goes on to talk about the “third day,” which is Scriptural code for the day of completion—or the day of reckoning.  On the third day he finishes.  He is killed…or he is risen…or he ascends to the Father.  It’s not clear.  But it IS clear that for the time being—today and tomorrow—he’s busy. 

And his reply also makes it clear that Herod has no power over him just now.  It’s not till perhaps the third day when Herod may be complicit in having him killed—and that doesn’t come till Jesus is ready. 

OK so up till now he is annoyed and sounding really irritable.

So what happens next?  It’s almost as if he turns in another direction both with his words and with his emotions.  Jesus pours forth this beautiful lament, “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!

Jesus is so sad—not annoyed anymore, it doesn’t seem—but sad.  The people refuse to come to him and be protected and loved, as a mother hen would protect and care for her chicks.  Jesus goes on to tell the people that the temple in Jerusalem is left to them—their house.  And he predicts that they won’t see him there in the city until he enters it and they recite the words of Psalm 118 to him in praise, “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.”

So it’s this mood change that troubled me about the passage this week.  Annoyed to sad.  I normally don’t think of Jesus as very moody, do you?  He, for me, is the epitome of steady dedication, even in the face of ruthless opposition.  He’s my epitome of effusive holiness.

So how do we understand this?

Well, one of my friends likened this mood swing to a mood swing that’s been recorded on You Tube.  It’s a scene from Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico.  He was outside a stadium and shaking hands and blessing the crowd, and generally in a jovial state of mind.  People tugged so hard on him that they pulled him over.  He toppled onto a young man in a wheelchair.  He kissed his head as he got up with the help of security people…but then he got really mad and yelled a little at the crowd.  He angrily told them, “Don’t be selfish!” in his Argentinian Spanish.

For Jesus, perhaps he was at the end of his rope and snapped when confronted by these Pharisees.  He got upset with the whole scene.  Maybe that opened a passageway deep into his soul and gave voice to some of the most touching disappointment we’ve ever heard from him.  “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under wings, and you were not wiling.”

 

You know, Lent is a time when we focus on being penitent or sorry for our sins.  We pray the Penitential Rite at the beginning of our Sunday celebrations of the Eucharist.  I know that many of us 21st century Christians are uncomfortable with the concept of sin and God keeping score somewhere on a heavenly clipboard. 

Perhaps it would be healthier for us to think of sin as all those times when we refused to be gathered to Jesus--or to God, if we use the bigger concept of the Godhead here. 

Refusing to walk in the ways God set for us and refusing to live as God’s own beloved children is always deleterious.  It blocks our ability to flourish. 

And it can ALSO be a terribly good teacher.

So here’s an idea:  think of a time when you willfully separated yourself from God’s ways.  Now think of that time as your teacher.  What might you have learned about your own behavior and the consequences you and maybe others suffered?  For everything we do—even the very unhealthy stuff—has the potential to teach us about how to live better into the future. 

This may be called “learning from our shadows” and it has great power to help us grow toward the light.  And our ability to learn from our mistakes and then turn toward the Good always flows from the store of forgiveness and infinite second chances that lodges in God. 

Or, as another Episcopal priest puts it, “Sometimes, the most gracious eras in our lives can come to us only after we have admitted defeat.”  [Barbara Crafton, “Let us Bless…” for February 21, 2016, via email]   These ‘most gracious eras’ come only after we’re gathered back to God and to ourselves.

We, very scattered and wayward children of God may resemble chickens more than we want to admit!  Amen.