Sunday, February 28, 2010

Today's Sermon: Luke 13:31-35 “Fixing It”

The Pharisees weren’t particularly known for their love of Jesus. The gospels are full of stories painting the Pharisees, the religious leadership group of the time, as manipulative and evil men who actively disliked Jesus. For that matter, he didn’t much like them, and told them so in no uncertain terms. So why would the Pharisees go to Jesus and warn him that Herod wanted to kill him?

It doesn’t make much sense, does it? But political machinations are nothing new. We might ask ourselves what’s the politics of the situation? Who is jockeying for position? Who gets something out of this exchange?

Some commentators have suspected that the Pharisees were perfectly willing to have someone get rid of Jesus, but they didn’t want the responsibility for his death to fall on someone who was a Jewish governor. They didn’t want the Jewish leadership to be blamed. And so they told him, hoping that Jesus would flee Herod’s territory, and walk into the hands of the Romans, who were suspicious of Jesus’ political motives. Perhaps Pontius Pilate would get rid of Jesus, and then it would all be the Romans’ fault.

This bears no small resemblance to the kinds of politics we’ve seen in play in recent years on the local and national stage. State governors often punt a problem to the national government so they don’t have to take the blame for problems they can’t solve. And if the President is a different party than the governor, so much the better. Jockeying for political power, or for avoiding political fallout is nothing new - such machinations have been with us a long time.

But Jesus will not allow himself to be drawn into the Pharisees’ political problem. He is busy doing the work he was sent to do, caring for those who are in need of him. He knows what is coming, but he still does the work, even as he grieves that he is so little understood. He sends a message back to Herod through the Pharisees, who are possibly in league with Herod : “You go tell that fox, that untrustworthy and corrupt one, that I’m busy doing my work of healing and when I finish, then I will go to Jerusalem.”

Jerusalem is coming, inevitable and like a dark shadow. For him, Jerusalem is a corrupt and corrupted place, a place of death of the soul as it will be the place of the death of his body. But even as it becomes clear that the political powers will cause his death, and that his trip to Jerusalem is inevitable, he still longs to care for those in need. Others would turn their back on the city, turn and run as far and as fast as they can, but Jesus accepts that this is the path that he is on, even thought the outcome will be bad. And as he accepts it, he mourns those whom he will not be able to help, those whom he thinks he will leave behind.

That image, a sad and grieving Jesus mourning those in Jerusalem who do not hear him, is a powerful one. Anyone who has tiptoed into their child’s room at night, full of love and worry, wanting to make sure that nothing bad happens to them, knows that feeling. “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers its brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

That poignant lament speaks to all of us who have suffered over our children.

A woman I know, a waitress in a diner I used to frequent, had an adult daughter who is very troubled. This girl was addicted to drugs, lived with a string of abusive men, gave birth to three children by different fathers, who were taken away and put into foster care. My friend tried everything to help her daughter. She gave her money to get away from her abusers, paid for rehab several times, tried to get custody of her grandchildren but couldn’t because of poor health, put up her daughter when she needed a place to live….over and over again, she tried to save this girl from herself. Over and over again, the girl stole from her, took advantage of her mother’s love, lied….over and over, the mother wished that there was something she could do to fix her broken daughter. She wept many tears and prayed many prayers, but it did no good.

She was a good mother. She did everything she could. But in the end, the young woman died of an overdose. All her mother could do was mourn, and keep going by putting one foot in front of the other and doing the work she was meant to do, working in a restaurant, waiting tables. The people whom she served didn’t know of her personal tragedy. Perhaps they sensed a certain sadness in her, but they also sensed a certain determination, a gritty smile, and they appreciated how she took good care of them in her way, by bringing their food orders promptly, and rarely making a mistake.

Inside, though, she still wept, as Jesus wept, lamenting lost possibilities, lamenting his own coming death, lamenting the fact that the very people who should know their God and honor him had gone astray.

But even as he wept, he made a promise: if we honor him, saying “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” he will be with us.

There are two things that really strike me in this passage. The first has to do with suffering. Often, people say to me, “I don’t understand why my mother is suffering. She was such a good Christian.” Somehow, we have gotten the idea that Christians, being good people, get a bye on ever having bad things happen to them. “It’s not fair,” we cry. Good people are not supposed to have bad things happen to them. But where in the gospel does it ever say that? In point of fact, aren’t we told over and over again that following Jesus is hard and may cause us even more problems? And aren’t we told that our reward is not an easy life on earth, but eternal life with God?

Here’s the second thing I hear: the promise of this gospel passage is not that if we are good and follow Christ in all things, we will never suffer. No, the promise is that God loves us so much, wants to be with us so much, that even in this imperfect world, even among this imperfect people, God will still give us his Son to do the hard work of redeeming us. And that Son will weep at our imperfect hearing of what he has to say, but will still do the work, will still die on that cross, to save us, just so that, in the end, we will be with him and his Heavenly Father for all eternity.

Jesus will still walk toward Jerusalem, knowing what awaits him, something more horrible than any of us could stand, because his work is to bring us to a more perfect relationship with God.

My friend the waitress could not save her daughter, but she smiles at her customers and gives them good service. The pain she feels over what happened to her family has not gone away, but she has a larger obligation, and she fulfills that obligation with as much grace as she can muster. In her own way, she brings souls to Christ by being Christ in their eyes, whether they consciously recognize it or not. “I don’t know, Mary” she said to me one morning as I sipped hot coffee out of a thick ceramic mug. “It didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, but I got to get to work in the morning, you know? If somebody comes in, looks like he’s havin’ a hard start to the day, if I can smile and pour him a cup of coffee, baby him a little, make him smile, maybe that’s my good deed for the day. I can’t fix the big stuff, Lord knows that, but maybe I can fix the little stuff, and put him right before he goes out the door.”

None of us can put the world right. Even Jesus cried that he couldn’t fix it all. But his promise is that if we bless him and honor him, in our prayers and in helping fix the little stuff, we will know him, and we may even put someone right before they go out the door. That’s a goal for Lent and for every day. Fix the little stuff.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A good start to my day, Mary. Thanks for the good words. I could almost hear you while I read. Peace & Cheers