Rev. Katherine Todd
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “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. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 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! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
In this passage from Luke, Jesus speaks for most of the passage. He’s responding to those who are telling him to flee for his life from Herod, but then his answer focuses less on Herod and more on Jerusalem, which he portrays as central to this salvation drama and his own story. In a foreshadowing manner, Jesus alludes to his death in Jerusalem, Jesus speaks to the significance of three days, and to those words of the chanting crowd when at last he will enter Jerusalem.
It’s as if he takes the opportunity of those advising him to flee to assure everyone that things will happen in the place and order in which they are intended, and that neither Herod, nor anyone else, can derail what will be.
It’s also as if Jesus maximizes this opportunity to paint a clearer and clearer picture of Jerusalem. Not only do they kill those God sends to them, Jesus says, but they refuse the comfort and protection of the most high, who only wants to gather them beneath the wings, and yet they are unwilling. This is a sad picture. And building off those final words of Jesus – the chants of blessing with which Jesus will be greeted on that Palm Sunday Jerusalem – how much more tragic is it, that these same ones chanting welcome and blessing would soon after be the same ones chanting “Crucify. Crucify!”
As with a child who is angry and hurt and yet cannot be encouraged, protected, or comforted, the people of Jerusalem long for the salvation of God and yet cannot see it or receive it, even when their life depends on it. They become the enemy of their own well-being. They become the obstacle to their own redemption. Tragedy, indeed!
This picture of Jerusalem as conflicted, reminds me of a parable in the writings of Medieval Anchoress, Julian of Norwich. Anchoresses were women who had retreated from the world to live a life of prayer and meditation, alone in a cell. Julian was an anchoress of The Church of St. Julien in Norwich. Often when these women would become anchoresses, they would literally be walled into their cells along the sides of churches, and a funeral mass would be held for them, signifying their death to the world.
Though we know very little about Julien, we know that she became deathly ill at age 30. To comfort her, a priest held out a crucifix before her, and as she teetered on the edge of death, she experienced 16 visions. Julian miraculously recovered from the brink of death, and though she describes herself as illiterate, she recorded these visions into what we now have as a collection called, “Showings.”
In this book, she tells of a parable of a servant and his lord. Listen to the parable.
In this parable, we hear in the Lord’s desire to comfort the ashamed and hurting servant, God’s desire to comfort us, even as we try to serve God faithfully yet fail. And this image of the servant, eager to please the Lord, yet fallen and hurting, unable to see the loving eyes of his Lord – I find this image so very moving.
How many times have we tried our best to follow God faithfully, and when we fail, we turn aside from God in shame and miss out on the loving gaze of our Lord, who still loves us infinitely, without stopping.
How much suffering do we experience, simply because we do not re-connect with God when we make a mistake?
How much pain do we experience because we do not see and receive God’s unfailing love?
And here, in these words of Jesus concerning Jerusalem, I see a similar situation: the city representing the heart of a people who have been chosen by God and cultivated by God to bring the light of the world into being. Here, we have a city called to be “a city on a hill” a “light to the nations,” and yet, their own clarity of vision is muddy and conflicted. Their own ability to see and receive God’s presence and comfort is obscured by their willful arrogance. Unlike the eager servant of the parable, they are not innocent, they have in some ways lost their way. Instead of perceiving the point of all the rules and all the rituals, they have come to see the law as lip-nus tests, measuring sticks, righteousness meters… They are lost, and they do not know it. They cry out, they worship, they proclaim God’s name, but then they reject God’s word to them, kill God’s ambassadors to them – refusing the blessing and comfort, healing and protection that God’s Word has always been intended to bring them.
And so they sit,
Seeking, but not finding
Looking, but not seeing…
And Jesus’ parables in Luke keep restating and restating this tragedy.
Christ comes to them anyway.
Even though they are lost and have missed the point.
Christ comes through them anyway.
Though they cannot see, they are seen.
Though they cannot love, they are loved…
And herein lies the Good News – that WHILE WE ARE SINNERS, Christ loves us anyway. WHILE WE WERE SINNERS, Christ died for us. WHILE WE ARE SINNERS, Christ reconciles us to God!
The good news!!
Each of us will fail – many, many times in this life.
And if we learn to look up,
To return to God,
To take shelter under the wings of our loving Lord,
We too can experience the loving mercy, unfailing love, and amazing grace of our Creator, Redeemer, and Friend.
Whenever we find ourselves down, may we always remember…
to look up.