SERMON Lent 2C Luke 13 31 35
A fox can scramble over or dig under a 6 foot high fence. It can jump 3 feet in the air. It can even chew through chicken wire! They are the single greatest predator threat to backyard chicken farmers! As hobby chicken keeping has become more popular in recent years, the internet is full of ideas about how to protect your flock: instead of using chicken wire, make all of your fencing out of hardware cloth instead. And, make sure to bury that hardware cloth several inches below the ground, all the way around your chicken coop, to deter foxes from trying to dig under. Or better yet, get an electrified fence, or a really large dog to sound the alarm! Conventional wisdom says that chickens are essentially defenseless, and must be protected and sheltered at all costs by those who hope to keep them producing eggs for their families.
In our passage today, a group of Pharisees want to keep Jesus safe so that he can keep producing miracles for them. Jesus is about halfway through his march towards Jerusalem, where (as he has already told his followers) he will face rejection, suffering, and death. The Pharisees warn him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you!” It’s important to note here that Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee, has already executed John the Baptist for his faithful work as God’s prophet. This is a very real threat. But, instead of shaking in his boots or heeding these warnings and heading for cover, Jesus declares with defiance, “I have a message you can send to that weasel from me, Go and tell that fox, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.’”
Jesus sends word to Herod that he has life-changing, life-saving work to do right here and now, and he plans to carry on with his ministry every single day until he reaches Jerusalem. He’s headed toward Jerusalem, but he stops in each town and village along the way to comfort and heal and even raise the dead. His ministry to real people who are hurting is of the utmost importance to Jesus and nothing will deter or distract him from this ministry of healing. Jesus portrays himself as a broody, hen in this passage, loving and providing life-giving comfort and shelter and warmth for the people the same way a Mother provides for her chicks. Jesus laments that as Mother, his deep desire is to gather under his wings even those who reject his message and cause harm. Jesus does gather the suffering and marginalized to his chest, and even wishes the foxes of this world –like Herod- would accept the love he offers and be gathered under those same wings. The tragedy of the gospel, for Jesus, is not the fact that he is going to die, but rather it’s that so many reject his love and actively try to impede his mission to love the marginalized.
Jesus knows where he’s going and the danger that awaits him, and yet he chooses to walk toward Jerusalem anyway. Jesus knows that death on the cross is but the second to last stage of God’s mission for him. For on the third day he will complete his work. Neither death nor those who threaten death have the last word, for the last word will always be resurrected life. Jesus knows that death is coming, but so too is life everlasting, and the knowledge of that promise gives even Jesus the inner strength to press on defiantly in the face of the danger he faces.
Theologian Dr. David Lose writes, “Absent all the stories prior to Jesus’ arrival at Jerusalem, we might imagine that Jesus’ death is the story of one more tragic account of a senseless, unnecessary, even unjust death. But Jesus didn’t die accidentally. He died precisely because he gave attention to those the larger world deemed insignificant and proclaimed a God who embraced and loved all, not just a few. Similarly, Jesus’ resurrection is a story of the triumph of sacrificial love over death, hate, injustice, bigotry, and all that stands against the will of God to love, bless, and save the whole world.”
Jesus’ death was not the end of his works of healing and liberation, but his work was completed through his resurrection and continues to this very day, wherever Christians put their reputations and even lives on the line for those who are marginalized.
Jesus does not allow the foxes of this world to dictate or impede God’s action on behalf of humanity. Yes, there are scary and oppressive forces in our world, there are those who would prefer God’s message stay silent and the vulnerable stand undefended, but Jesus invites us as his church to participate in his ongoing work of performing cures and setting the captives free and standing up for what is just and faithful.
This Lent during adult faith formation, we will be remembering the lives and ministries of Harriet Tubman, Patrick of Ireland, Oscar Romero, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Each one of these saints of the church carried out Christ’s mission at different times and in different parts of the world, and each one of them risked their reputation, comfort, and bodily safety for the sake of sharing the message of Christ’s love for all people and standing up for the dignity of all human life. Oscar Romero and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were martyred as enemies of the state for proclaiming Christ’s love and justice and standing on behalf of the oppressed in El Salvador and Germany.
In a speech to the Catholic University of Belgium, on February 2, 1980, Romero said, “In less than three years, more than fifty priests have been attacked, threatened, calumniated. Six are already martyrs–they were murdered. Some have been tortured and others expelled [from the country]. Nuns have also been persecuted. The archdiocesan radio station and educational institutions that are Catholic or of a Christian inspiration have been attacked, threatened, intimidated, even bombed. Several parish communities have been raided. If all this has happened to persons who are the most evident representatives of the Church, you can guess what has happened to ordinary Christians, to the campesinos, catechists, lay ministers, and to the ecclesial base communities. There have been threats, arrests, tortures, murders, numbering in the hundreds and thousands…. But it is important to note why [the Church] has been persecuted. Not any and every priest has been persecuted, not any and every institution has been attacked. That part of the church has been attacked and persecuted that put itself on the side of the people and went to the people’s defense. Here again we find the same key to understanding the persecution of the church: the poor.”
Oscar Romero was martyred on March 24, 1980, while celebrating mass.
Neither death nor those who threatened death had the last word in Nazi Germany or El Salvador’s civil war. Through their inspiring examples of faithfulness to Jesus and his mission of love and justice for the vulnerable, the stories of Bonhoeffer and Romero live on as examples to all the faithful who have come after them.
Jesus’ resurrection completes his work, and gives us the strength and faith to continue his life-changing, life-saving mission in all times and places. No matter what threats we may face today or tomorrow, the promise that strengthened Jesus is the same promise that strengthens us: death will not be the end of our story, but our work is complete when we rise with Christ, Romero, Bonhoeffer, Tubman, Patrick, and all the saints. Amen.