Saturday, February 23, 2013

Jesus! Watch out!

Luke 13:31-35

How many times have we watched bad movies where the plot is so transparent that we as the audience know exactly what is going to happen to the hero of the story before it actually occurs?  Think about it.  It’s like the old cartoon image of the villain with the handle bar mustache laying the heroine on the train tracks.  Old Nefarious Nick has taken Vicki Virtue, and Young Johnny Justice has to go save her. Johnny gets on his swift steed and, no matter how close the timing is, Johnny will come and untie her from the railroad tracks and save the day.  Nefarious Nick is foiled and justice has returned to the valley, at least for this day.  This isn’t exactly what the story of Jesus is like, but I can see some parallels.  Jesus lives a life dedicated to ministry to the down trodden in the land which upsets the powerful and wealthy.  We can see right from the get go that this business is going to end in confrontation, but I think the real twist in the Jesus story is that he can clearly see not only coming confrontation but the outcome of that confrontation as well.

How many times in our lives do we as Christians want to live wrapped snugly in the memory of Jesus healing the sick, feeding the poor, and fighting injustice?  We love the stories and images of Jesus as a child in temple conversing with the elders, of Jesus seeing a sea of hungry people and feeding them, of Jesus telling a paralyzed man to get up and take his mat with him, and of Jesus walking with us on a road and breaking bread with us later at dinner.  We start to think that, yeah, this guy was an amazing caring human being and maybe we can be just like him.  We ask ourselves things like “What Would Jesus Do if he was in this situation?”  We like to think that these stories are simply a wonderful rule book for how we should live our lives.  But, what we tend to forget is what Jesus has done once and for all time – he died because we are sinful creatures who forget how to live in true relation to one another and with God.  Our own self interests start to come in the equation whenever we think about what would Jesus do.  Our concern moves from concern about who we can maybe help to how we are doing as helpers.  It becomes about us.

I think that this is exactly the kind of thing that those Pharisees were trying to do when they came to Jesus on that day.  Jesus had been going from town to town and village to village teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.  After Jesus makes his famous speech about how the first will be last and the last shall be first, some Pharisees came to Jesus and told him to get away because Herod was looking to kill Jesus.  Wait a minute.  Did the text just say that the Pharisees told Jesus to get away because Herod wanted to kill him?  That seems to be a real disconnect from the other stories we hear in the New Testament about the Pharisees.  In fact, more often than not, it is the Pharisees themselves who are doing the plotting and planning to kill Jesus.  So why are these particular Pharisees any different?  Well, I think that these particular Pharisees have witnessed the teachings and actions of Jesus in his ministry, and because of that, have come to see the great good that Jesus had done.  Yes!  Jesus has finally done it!  He has finally persuaded some of the people that what he is doing is right.  I can imagine them saying, “We finally have someone who can be an advocate and defender of injustice in the world.  Now all we have to do is keep him alive, because these teachings are causing quite a stir amongst the wealthy and powerful.”  If they can just hold on to him for a little while longer, maybe he will make a difference in the world.  These Pharisees are trying to desperately hold on to this Jesus who heals, feeds, and defends.  And you know, we are right alongside those Pharisees trying to cling on to the glory and majesty of Jesus’ ministry, but…

But, Jesus knows that this is not the way things are going to go.  He says as much when proclaims that he is “casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow and on the third day I finish my work.  Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed out side of Jerusalem.” Jesus knows that sin and brokenness are deeply ingrained into the human experience, and that the only way that our cycles of sin can be broken is through a radical act of love that takes place in the very city of Jerusalem.  What is heart breaking about this these few lines of text from Luke is that Jesus would like nothing better than if he could just be like a “hen [gathering] her brood under her wings.”  We would like to go along with this and have Jesus be our hen covering us with his wings, but Jesus knows that, because of our sinful nature, something radically different needs to happen in this world for anything to truly change.

It is exactly because Jesus knows that we, in the end, are not willing that is the amazing twist in the Jesus story.  Jesus knows and realizes what must be done and he does it.   Jesus sees that death and sin are realities and the only way to change that reality is to die and be raised up three days later.  And the Pharisees will know this is so, when they hear and experience that event in which sin and death loses its power when Jesus dies and the cross and is resurrected three days later.  When they hear that story and experience that story, they will be able to truly see who Jesus is and say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  This is so, because the fullness of who Jesus is can only be known when one takes into account the fullness of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. 

Now that we are in the midst of the Lenten season, realize that we are on a journey that explores who Jesus was, what Jesus did and who Jesus is.  The Lenten season is a journey in which we retell and re-experience the Jesus story with the knowledge that at the end of the journey the fullness of who Jesus is revealed in his death and subsequent resurrection three days later.  So, yes we can reflect and think about who Jesus was and the things that Jesus did.  We can even take the time to ponder what Jesus might do in the dilemmas we come across in our lives.  But when you ponder about what Jesus might do, also ponder and know that Jesus is alive and present with us to day in this world that we live.  The new reality which Jesus brings in to our lives tells us that our sins are forgiven and that death is no longer the final end point in our lives. 

Like the plot of a bad movie, we can see exactly how Jesus is going to end up and we so often want to scream out, “No! Don’t go in there!  You’ll be killed!  Stay with us where it is safe and where you can care for us our entire lives!”  But Jesus knows that he will be killed, and Jesus knows that staying safe from harm will do nothing change the reality of the world in which we live.

When we realize that sin and death no longer has hold over us, we can then see the fullness of who Jesus is present in our lives.  We see what Jesus is doing when take the time to do as he did and care for the hungry.  We see what Jesus is doing when we speak out against injustices in the world.  And we see what Jesus is doing when we come together as a community in worship and mission.  “What Would Jesus Do?” can be a very important question to ask ourselves when are at a loss to know what we should do next, but when you are asking yourself that question, think about what Jesus is doing in the world, because Jesus’ loving actions are just as active now as they were two thousand years ago.

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