Facing Jerusalem

This week’s Lectionary Gospel Passage:  Luke 13: 31-35:
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.’”

This time at the beginning of Lent is hard for us. We read the assigned lectionary Gospel passage for this week with much trepidation. If we were watching it on a big screen, this would be the time that we would begin to cover our eyes. It is because as we move into this season of Lent, this season of our journey to the cross, we begin to get a sense of what is about to happen. We want to yell to Jesus, “Go back…go back to where you were…go back to what you were doing before…go back and do it differently this time…be safe…be careful.” But we also know that it is too late. After all, how could it be done differently? Jesus is not known for being safe and careful.

The writer of the Gospel According to Luke gives us clues that tell us that the time for “going back” has lapsed. The passage begins “at that very hour”. Time has come together. The future has poured into what is now. Now is the time. It was apparent that Jesus knew that too. Jesus was looking beyond where he was, beyond these towns in which he was teaching and spreading the Good News, beyond Galilee. Jesus was looking ahead. He had to face it. He had to face Jerusalem.

I think that this is part of what this season of Lent calls us to do—to look beyond, to extend our vision, to see past those things that get in the way of being who God calls us to be. It means that we can no longer stay safe and secure and wrapped in the planned predictability of our lives. It means that the time has passed for us to stand looking longingly at the fertile Galilees of our lives with the calmed waves and the fruitful harvest. It is time. It is time to brave the wilderness, to begin our pilgrimage through the barren desert, and to finally, at this very hour, face our own Jerusalem.

You see, one thing that we need to get straight in reading this Scripture is that, with the exception of one boyhood trip with his parents, Jesus had not been to Jerusalem. Jesus’ ministry was in Galilee. In fact, most of his ministry sort of centered around a lake. (We actually call it the Sea of Galilee—sort of a misinterpretation. It’s really a large and very deep fresh water lake.) From the middle of this lake, you can look around to the cities that line its banks—Tiberias and Sephoris, the cities built by Herod Antipas, the ruins of the ancient city of Magdala, Bethsaida, Capernaum—and between the lake and the Mediterranean Sea was Cana and Nazareth. This was the area in which Jesus’ ministry began. Jesus was not commuting to work in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was still a long way off, through the wilderness and beyond the fertile area of Galilee.

And even here, Jesus was probably perceived as a threat by Herod. It would have been much easier for Herod to get rid of Jesus. After all, this was the Herod that had already killed John the Baptist (and getting rid of Jesus would probably have elevated Herod’s somewhat meager ranking as a ruler.) And Herod had his own vision working as he tried to lead the Galilean people to a new world—a world where Rome was the center and where the values were totally opposed by the teachings of Jesus. So, yes, Jesus was a threat.

There are differing notions as to what Jesus meant when he referred to Herod as a “fox”. In the Old Testament writings, the fox was often associated with destruction and Jewish dietary laws classified the jackal as “unclean.” To the first century Greeks, the fox was seen as clever but unprincipled. Whatever Jesus’ intended meaning was, it was clear that Jesus dismissed Herod Antipas as powerless to stop his mission to establish the Kingdom of God. As Jesus responded, he was going to do what he came to do and then he would be on his way. The mission was set. So with this Scripture, we begin to get a sense that Jesus is looking toward and facing Jerusalem.

Jesus is no longer merely “preparing” to go to Jerusalem. He is headed there. He has set his face toward the holy city. To Jesus, the danger was not in the Herods of the world but, rather, those things that got in the way of his mission. But he turns toward the city with regrets and heartache. And Jesus laments for Jerusalem.
In The Gospel According to Matthew, this lament is placed once Jesus is in Jerusalem. We have this image of Jesus standing on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem and lamenting for what could have been. But in the gospel by the writer known as Luke that we read today, the lament is part of Jesus’ Galilean experience. It is indeed a lament but rather than Jesus bemoaning what could have been, it is instead a challenge to the people to become a part of this mission, to “get their house in order”, so to speak, and to become a part of that new humanity that is of Jesus Christ. Jesus does not want Jerusalem to become a symbol of a city that rejects and kills the messengers of God; Jesus wants it to be the Holy City of God that it proclaims to be. After all, this is not an ordinary city. This is the city that claims that the presence of God is in its midst, right there in the temple in the heart of the city near Mt. Zion. And yet, this city, too, has fallen into a different cadence, marching to the beat of prosperity and security and a positioning of power toward those around it. This holy city, the city of the temple, the city that should know better, would be the one that when the time came, would reject Jesus. Jesus knew this. So he turns his face toward Jerusalem and begins the journey toward the cross.

And, once again, lest we somehow lapse into an understanding of Jerusalem’s rejection of Jesus as only attributed to the 1st century Jewish believers, we need to realize that we are part of it. Jesus was not rejected by a religion; Jesus was rejected by a culture and a society that thought that they were so right and so comfortable that they did not want to or have a need to change. Jesus was rejected by a culture and a way of life that is very much like our own.

But there’s another point to the Scripture. Even knowing the rejection waiting for him in Jerusalem, Jesus still expresses the wish to love and protect the people, gathering them together as a hen does her chicks. Jesus never stoops to their level. He never judges or rants and raves about what is right, or what is moral, or what is going to happen to them because they have rejected him. He is the perfect image of God—the loving parent, the mother hen, who more than anything else, just wants to love her children and desires for them that they feel that love.

So where do we come in? In this season of Lent, what does it mean for us to face Jerusalem? Well, my friends, we need to remember that Lent is about more than giving up chocolate. It is also about turning our face toward our Jerusalem. It’s about being honest when we look at our cities, our culture, our ways of living in this world and dealing with our fellow brothers and sisters, and, most of all, being honest with ourselves.
Think about it. Jesus did not back down, even in the midst of numerous warnings. Instead, he kept working toward the vision that God had for the world. The mission was more important than his own preservation. Risking himself, God brought the Kingdom of God into the beloved city of God. He gathered in the people of God and then with deep and profound lament, had to face the very real truth that they were not going to change—not yet. And so he just loved them.

Where is your Jerusalem? Where is your city that refuses to change? What is it that you need to face? What is it in your life that stands in the way of your knowing how very much God loves you? What is it in your life that stands in the way of your loving God enough to love God’s children—ALL of God’s children?

You see…long ago in the holy city of Jerusalem, we saw the face of Jesus. It was the face of a man who longed for and worked for change. But it was also the face of God, who came that we might have life and have it abundantly. In his book The Faces of Jesus, Frederick Buechner says that “take it or leave it, the face of Jesus is, if nothing else, at least a face we would know anywhere—a face that belongs to us somehow, our age, our culture; a face we somehow belong to. Like the faces of the people we love, it has become so familiar that unless we take pains we hardly see it at all. Take pains. See it for what it is and to see it whole, see it too for what it is just possible that it will become: the face of Jesus as the face of our own secret and innermost destiny: The face of Jesus is our face.”

That’s what Lent is about. It is more than reliving Jesus’ journey from the fertile waters of Galilee to the harsh and painful reality of the holy city of Jerusalem. Lent is instead about our own journey, our own pilgrimage from the Galilees of our life to that moment when we truly face Jerusalem. It is about clearing away those things that obstruct God’s vision for our lives, that tie us to our own way of being that we have constructed, and that get in the way of us realizing that when everything is said and done, it is all because God just wants to love us and wants us to feel that love. So, open your eyes, look toward Jerusalem so that you can finally say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

So, go…face Jerusalem this Lenten season!


Picture: Jerusalem, Israel (February, 2010)

A Holy Pilgrimage

Last week I returned from a wonderful journey through the Holy Land with a wonderful group of friends–some [not so] old and some brand new! It was my first time to experience Israel and I have already encountered how it so profoundly changes those who have the gift of that adventure. How can I ever read Scripture the same again? How can I ever read accounts of vast groups of people journeying through the desert or waves being calmed on the [Lake] of Galilee during a storm or Jesus traveling from town to town teaching and healing without seeing and hearing and touching what I have once again? I am profoundly and forever changed. How can I be part of a Palm Sunday processional without feeling the uneven pavement beneath my feet and the way it slopes at a somewhat precarious angle as it winds above the city of Jerusalem and ends at the Garden of Gethsemane? I am profoundly and forever changed. How can I ever take the bread or serve the cup without remembering the old city in which that last meal was held, without imagining Jesus and the disciples winding their way through it in the dark trying to reach a quiet place of prayer on that dark and desperate night. I am profoundly and forever changed. Thanks be to God!

One of the questions that we were asked was what made the difference between a “trip” and a “pilgrimage”. I have been thinking about that since I’ve been back as the memories and the feelings make their way deep into my being. I think that one difference is that a trip takes you to somewhere new and a pilgrimage takes you to somewhere that is already a part of you. A trip is temporary as you return to your same existence from which you left; a pilgrimage stays with you and becomes a part of you. A trip allows you to be someone you’re not, if only for awhile; but a pilgrimage…a pilgrimage pushes you into becoming who you are. This trip was definitely a pilgrimage. Oh, sure, I brought pictures (some of them I’ll try to post over the next couple of weeks) and souvenirs and various mementos. But more than anything, I brought a piece of who I am home.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. (Luke 4: 1-13)

This last Sunday, the lectionary Gospel passage was Jesus’ 40-day encounter in the wilderness. I’m pretty sure that Jesus was not just trying to “get away from it all”, as attractive as that may have been to someone who worked the hours he did! He was not escaping; he was becoming. He was on a pilgrimage to find out who God meant for him to be–to find out who he was. It is our quintessential model for this Lenten season. Lent is not merely a time of self-denial. It really has little to do with giving up chocolate, or soft drinks, or your nightly glass of wine. Lent is a pilgrimage, a holy pilgrimage. It is, of course, about clearing one’s life to make room for God to work. But, I think, more than anything else, Lent is about becoming who you are, who God intended you to be. It is about finding yourself and when one finds who he or she is truly meant to be, it is there that one will finally know God in the way that God desires to be known.

In this Lenten season, I wish you a Holy Pilgrimage…Go…become who God means for you to be. It is there that you will finally know that you are home.

Peace on the Journey,


Picture: Judean Wilderness, Israel (February, 2010)