Second Sunday in Lent
- Lent 2.22 “Unwelcome Words” Luke 13:31-35
We heard, Wednesday, looking at our Old Testament lection for this morning how Jeremiah’s words to surrender to the Russian, er, the Babylonian army were most unwelcome words for which Israel wanted to kill Jeremiah. And you can understand that…
The counsel of surrender (to an admittedly superior military machine that will turn your country to rubble if you keep fighting, directly) is a difficult one for a proud people to heed. No one, (well, almost no one 🙂 praises the French for laying down their arms and “surrendering” to the Nazis in 1940, but, as we pointed out last Wednesday (in a sermon that got few likes 🙂 in hindsight, it seems a good choice, sparing the lovely cities of Paris and the French Riviera and Provence from destruction and saving many French lives. And the French Resistance turned out to be a highly effective, subversive, highly stealthy guerrilla movement that eventually undermined the Nazis quite effectively and got rid of them, though it took some time, but produced new kinds of heroes like Albert Camus (who still isn’t to everyone’s taste 😉
Jesus is in a similar predicament to Jeremiah’s this morning (which is why that Old Testament lection is paired with this Gospel; it’s done on purpose). Jesus laments that His words are most unwelcome, still, to His people—whom He’s been desiring to gather together, like a mother hen her chicks, under her wings, time out of mind, but Jerusalem has been most unwilling to follow Jesus and be gathered like cute, little baby chicks under mama’s wings…
And my question is: “Why!? Who wouldn’t want to follow Jesus, for Christ’s sake! I mean, He’s God! He’s surfer-dude cool. He tells the best Story. He works wonders. He can levitate and apparate and promises to teach us those (and many other!) extremely cool tricks, somewhere down the road! Who wouldn’t want to git on down that road after Him and follow to the End? I mean, I’m all in and have been for quite a while…”
But here’s why the little crew following Jesus on down the Golgotha Road is the right crowd, yet no crowding—and why there’s plenty of great spots left in His merry little company: if you thought the counsel of surrender was a downer and a killjoy, well…! Jesus’ counsel is more extreme. He calls us to follow Him down an even more Frenchified Road, where we don’t just surrender for a while to Nazis and Russians, but where we surrender to death!
Huh?! What? Jesus wants us to love Him to death, literally? You’re kidding right, like you always kid about how He wasn’t an American, right? Uhm. Well… “What!? You’re serious? And you’re still all in and up for IT? Are you crazy!? Avoiding death is the main reason to be a Christian, isn’t it?” Uhm. Well…
Jesus’ ideas on death are not exactly our conventional, modern wisdom on the thing. We need to back up and see how this whole conversation started…
Jesus has been talking with the Pharisees since vs. 22 of this chapter in Luke. He was going through the cities and villages [of Israel], teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem for the third and final Passover of His public ministry. Along the way, a guy asked Him: “Lord, are there few who are saved?” Which is a great question, right? I bet you want to know the answer!
Well, be careful what you wish for! It’s kind of a long answer to a simple Yes/No sorta question, but it’s one of my favorite parts of the Bible, which our short Gospel reading concludes, so I’m going to quote it all directly for you because I don’t think you can understand the words of our lection today without this crucial context…
This is how Jesus answered the man’s question: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us!’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets!’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.”
These are the words that make the Pharisees (who are all about big numbers and hate the suggestion their super-missional-piety will keep them out of Heaven!) come and say to Him, the first words of our Gospel lection, “Get out and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You.” Unwelcome words!
When Jesus basically says “yeah, few are saved—at least, as you’d define “few”, but hey; just like I call all times soon, I’d probably call 2 or 3 a lot.” That’s not what the Pharisees or Herod are willing to hear(!); not what they consider an acceptable haul of converts! What’s the point in becoming incarnate, suffering and dying and all for just a handful of lost sheep?! (somewhere else, Jesus puts the number at about 1/100, about where He put it when Elijah inquired, at about 7,000 out of a million)? You’re just wasting Your time and ours, Jesus!
And Jesus shoots back, with some heat: “Go, tell that fox, ‘Behold! I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I am perfected! [that’s literally what the Greek says, not “finish my course” but τελειουμαι which is literally “am perfected”!] Nevertheless [Jesus continues] I must journey today today, tomorrow, and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem.”
And there you get your answer as to why so few are willing to follow Jesus down this Via Dolorosa: Jesus says His death will perfect Him(!)—after three days rest in the tomb!! And that if you want to be perfect, then this is the way: deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me. Plunge headfirst and laughing into the holy rage calling your name, for whoever loses his/her life for My sake, will ever surely find IT.
You can see why Jesus’ efforts to gather a large brood of chicks to follow Him down this Road have met with little success [as the bean-counters of this world would define “success”]. It’s the death thing—even more unwelcome words than the surrender thing!
Two roads converge in our Lenten wood: the broad, easy way of worldly success; and the narrow, difficult mountain pass to Golgotha. Jesus would have us [like Robert Frost] take the road less traveled by, promising it will make all the difference…
Because a house without Jesus is truly desolate and desolating, dead and dull. But a house with the Crucified and Risen One is our true home, a party palace of joys and adventures unending. Oh, sure, yeah; the way there’s narrow and difficult. But isn’t every hero’s journey like this? Conventional victories were not inviting to Jacob. He wrestled the Angel at the ford of the Jabbok, and was “profoundly vanquished by ever greater things” as Rilke said. That magnificent defeat was Israel’s joy, delight; his perfection.
At His Table, now, Jesus welcomes us to eat and drink “into My remembrance”—and His knowing us will draw us after Him down the Road to perfection. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.