Sunday, February 28, 2010

Go tell that fox for me ...

THOUGHTS DELIVERED ON SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 28th, 2010. The Second Sunday in Lent.

Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.

An interesting opening gambit for this morning’s gospel! A clear and present danger to Jesus and his disciples – from the puppet-King, Herod Antipas.

One could expect the threatening tone of the reading to improve after that, but it does not. It continues, and then ends with a lament – a cry of despair over Jerusalem.

What makes this Gospel passage one of the most appealing sections of Luke’s Gospel is its honesty and earthiness. It also dispels many of the falsehoods that surround what was actually an often positive relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees.

And in today's scene Jesus is not aloof and apart from these people– but in and among them, and not afraid to publicly cuss and insult the unpopular provincial King.

The Pharisees were not always opponents of Jesus. It seems that many were his friends and supporters – even though they often found his ideas worrying. As, sometimes, do we!

Consider the evidence: On several occasions Jesus was the guest in the homes of Pharisees. There was Nicodemus, the secret disciple, who came to Jesus by night. He was a Pharisee. Also Joseph of Arimathea (who gave his family tomb that Jesus might be buried) – he was a senior Pharisee.

In the early days of the Church there were many Pharisees among the early Christians. Gamaliel, a Pharisee, defended the apostles – because of the possibility that their work might be from God.

He issued that spectacular defense of Simon Peter and others before the Sanhedrin, the clerical High Court in Jerusalem:

Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God." His speech persuaded them.

And we end up with the apostle Paul who, as a convert to Christianity, addressed some Pharisees, saying: “I am (note the present tense) a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees.”

So let’s put away this black and white picture of the religious scene in those days. It simply didn’t exist as many imagined it to have existed – and the importance of this Gospel story is that it blurs the religious boundaries we assume were clear, but actually were far from clearly defined, if they were defined at all.

Jesus responds to the warning: Go and tell that fox for me......

This is one of the unadulterated unique sayings of Jesus! How do we know this? Because it is too rude a saying to be the work of Early Church writers!

The image of a fox implies untrustworthiness and cunning. It is also a violent metaphor. The fox is a destructive predator. A killing machine. Ask me how I know. (Growing up my family farmed chickens.) The fox is one of the few animals that kill for pleasure. As Herod Antipas did on many an occasion.

Also under Torah, Jewish Law, the fox was an unclean animal. Again, given the Jews’ hatred of the king placed over them by the Romans this is a most appropriate comparison.

Jesus treated Herod’s threat with contempt and with the clear statement that he still had work to do. He had to go to Jerusalem – the city that would eventually crucify him.

We have to ask the question: Is there anything in this particular Gospel reading that is helpful to us? Not an easy question to answer. There is no real teaching here. Neither is there any great statement of faith or theology. There is a hint of prophecy, but that is all.

One thing this story does is redefine Jerusalem for many. Redefine the image of holy Zion set on a hill top shining in the sun’s rays.

It is a necessary re-definition. Perhaps for some of us. The modern pilgrim is too busy treading the Via Dolorosa, buying souvenirs and reading the New Testament on street corners to see the real Jerusalem – with its 3000 year old divisions, corruptions, love of power and violence.

Jerusalem was and always has been a tragic, violent and repressive city. Depending who was in power, Jerusalem has always killed prophets whatever their faith, Jew, Christian and Moslem. Those who told the truth, those who took the side of the poor and the oppressed and those who challenged the status quo or brought new vision and teaching. It continues to kill them to this day.

But the gospel is not about Jerusalem alone – it is primarily about Jesus, his humanity and his intent.

Just a few weeks ago we heard the gospel story of Jesus being transfigured on a mountain top before three of his disciples. It was a glorious image, filled with the presence of God. But now we have left the mountain top and are walking the all-too-human streets with Jesus. Mixing it up, as it were, with all manner of people, and not being afraid to criticize not only the secular rulers of the day, but also the city over which they ruled.

We need this image, this story to balance out our understanding of Jesus, and to remind us that Lent, this and every Lent, is about intention - making that journey to Jerusalem.

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