Jerusalem… Jerusalem… that troubled city… From its beginning, it has been a place besieged by violence, torn apart by competing ideologies. Holding importance for three of world’s largest faith’s, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, it seems that Jerusalem has been from its inception, the center of the world, in a sense. “Jerusalem is particularly important to Luke. He mentions Jerusalem 90 times in Luke/Acts. In the rest of the New Testament, Jerusalem is mentioned only 49 times. For Luke, Jerusalem is the symbolic center of Judaic culture. As Joel Green remarks, Jerusalem ‘performs a world-ordering function for the world Luke portrays.’ It represents Israel as a whole” (Petty).
As Jesus anticipates approaching Jerusalem though, it is not a shiny, happy place (though his entrance will be marked with great fanfare and celebration!). Jesus instead laments: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” This does not sound like a good place… it does not seem like a place of life and love… this is God’s city? This sounds like a place of darkness.
And still, Jesus pushes on. Even when the Pharisees come and warn him about Herod actively seeking his death.
A couple of points on this. First, in the gospels, we generally associate the Pharisees as the “bad guys,” or at the least, opposed to Jesus’ mission. However, “Luke treats the Pharisees more positively than does Mark or Matthew. In Mark, the Pharisees and Herodians conspire together early (Mk 3:6). Matthew, for his part, issues a lengthy diatribe against the Pharisees (Mat 23)” (Petty). This isn’t to say that Luke doesn’t take the Pharisees to task, just not in a similar way. “In Luke, Pharisees invite Jesus to dinner (7:36, 11:37, 14:1). In Acts, some Pharisees are identified as ‘believers’ (Acts 15:5), and, of course, Acts takes a positive view of the Pharisee, Paul” (Petty).
The sincerity of the Pharisees in this text is really beside the point: were they honestly trying to save Jesus from Herod, telling him to go to a different area where he might still be on Herod’s “enemies list,” but at least be just outside his reach? Or were they simply using Herod as a smoking gun to get this troublesome Jesus out of their hair?
John Petty points out that, “Jesus and the Pharisees had quite a bit in common. The Pharisees were a reform party. They were not in favor of dishing off the practice of Judaism to the Temple alone. They were in favor of Jews living the Torah all the time in daily life. As God cared for creation 24/7, they would live the law 24/7. Jesus and the Pharisees shared a common devotion to God which, they both believed, could be lived out in daily life.” Of course, how this was lived out was where they split; the Pharisees devoted to the law, and Jesus, identifying with the prophetic tradition (Petty).
The second point is how Jesus responds to this threat from Herod. 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.’” In other words, Jesus knows he is going to die, “but it will have nothing to do with the threat of Herod. Rather, his death is the completion of his present ministry” (Shauf).
In fact, while Herod’s threat could be interpreted as being immediate (i.e. Herod has men coming to kill you right now!), “Jesus adds that he will be [casting out demons and performing cures] ‘today and tomorrow’” (Shauf). This only serves to emphasize the point that Herod has no control over Jesus.
Just a couple of days ago, Harper Lee passed away at the age of 89. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books of all time. The story about Scout and Jeb, and their father, Atticus’ defense of the black Tom Robinson, is one so quintessentially American, yet so painfully aware of how divided our country was, and continues to be.
Atticus Finch is one of my favorite characters in all of literature. He is firm, yet loving, a staunch advocate for justice, fair-minded, and incredibly courageous, agreeing to represent Tom Robinson, a black man, who has been accused of raping a white woman, a case that, in 1930’s Alabama, was most assuredly a losing one, something that took an enormous amount of courage.
David Lose identifies two types of courage. “One is the immediate and situational courage of the person who, in a moment of extreme need, summons the courage to face an imminent danger. This is the courage of the by-stander who pushes someone out of the way of oncoming traffic or jumps into a raging river to save someone struggling to swim at great risk to him or herself. Of course,” he goes on, “such courage is not actually just a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing but ultimately is a display of character, an accumulation of traits and beliefs, training and patterns of behavior that have been developed and exercised over the long span of life preparing one to act courageously in any given moment” (Lose).
He goes on to identify a “second kind of courage as well, this one displayed not simply in a single moment or act but in anticipating a significant, daunting, or even frightening challenge and not turning away from it but rather meeting it head on. This is also a matter of character- character that has emerged from a lifetime of facing fears and shouldering burdens and that is also being forged in the very moment of accepting challenges and responsibilities that one could avoid” (Lose).
This is the courage Jesus shows in the face of Herod’s threat. Yet what is truly striking, “is the absolutely critical role that vulnerability plays in this kind of courage. To anticipate challenge and suffering and not look away is, by definition, to make oneself vulnerable for the sake of others” (Lose).
During this Lenten season, we make much of Jesus’ journey to the cross, and whether we express it explicitly or implicitly, it is his courage and bravery in the face of certain death that we lift up. Our culture does not do well with vulnerability. We see vulnerability as weakness, as a sign that we are broken. Yet Christ shows that vulnerability is a vital part of courage and strength, not just a part of care, love, and concern. That is why our election cycles are filled with fiery bluster, and this year even with outright bullying, even though in any other arena we would be appalled. “Yet in this passage… Jesus demonstrates that vulnerability is essential to courage, [and it] stands at the core of the Christian life… [inviting] us to discover the peculiar strength of being open to the needs of those around us” (Lose).
In fact, the image that Jesus uses to describe his desire of how he longs to care for the people of Israel is surprisingly maternal: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” Not only is the hen a relatively powerless creature, but the image of a parent extends this idea of “unparalleled vulnerability” (Lose). “To be a parent,” David Lose writes, “is to be held hostage to fate and captive to destiny. There is no way you can protect your children from all the threats this life presents (nor should you!), and that not only leaves parents profoundly vulnerable but promises a level of suffering that you simply would not endure if you had not bound yourself so fully to your child” (Lose).
In this scripture lesson, Jesus is not simply acting courageously to put on a brave face, but he is embracing who is and “who he was called to be for the sake of those he loved, and thereby inviting us to be who we are called to be for the sake of those around us” (Lose).
Where do you feel most vulnerable? A relationship, a job, an illness… what is it you feel most vulnerable in? Remember that God is with you in these places, “and that through God’s grace [you] may discover in [you] a way to discover more fully who [you] have been called to be and connect more deeply with those around [you]” (Lose).
Harper Lee writes in To Kill a Mockingbird, a moment when Atticus is speaking to his daughter, Scout, telling her what courage is. “Real courage,” he says, “is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” This is the type of courage Atticus showed… this is the type of courage Jesus showed, though he knew that the end of the story was really only the beginning. Amen.