I have a friend—a very good friend. She’s very low maintenance as a person and as a friend. Except when it comes to her hair. She takes exquisite care of it. Every morning she takes time to tame it and you could lose a hand if you dared to touch it. Because she is über conscientious about her hair she is also über vigilant about the things that could wreak havoc with her standards. The only time we’ve come close to a fight is when I ducked under her umbrella during an unexpected rain shower. “Have I taught you nothing? Didn’t you check the weather this morning and see that it was going to rain? Where is your umbrella?!” My friend not only knows what the weather will do from hour to hour but also from day to day. She reads the signs if you will, because to not do so can result in a ruined do. How much more ruination would there be to miss God’s signs?
We human beings are quite adept at reading signs. We read our weather reports, our economic forecasts, the morning’s traffic patterns, even the gestures of love that can indicate a budding romance. This is something we can do and we’re pretty good at it. Most of the time.
The people in today’s Gospel reading apparently were not and it wasn’t like forgetting to bring an umbrella. These were people that had been following Jesus around, or at least had been following the stories about him, and knew that he’d healed the blind, deaf, lame, and diseased. He’d cast out demons and raised the dead. He’d miraculously fed thousands and calmed the storm. He’d preached good news to the poor and justice for the oppressed. Something was happening that they’d never seen before. But they were missing it.
Today’s passage is a hard one. Jesus is angry and stressed. He says he hasn’t come to bring peace but rather division. He speaks not only words of reproof but also of judgment and it is tempting to think, “Whoa, who is this angry judgmental Jesus and what have you done with Jesus lover of my soul?”
I am reading two books right now by Richard Rohr, a Franciscan monk and scholar. I love what he has to say because he is so clear about what true spirituality is. He speaks eloquently about the difference between knowing the data and facts about God and experiencing an encounter with God. He cites that it is crucially important to have a good approach to Scripture and spirituality and offers this mantra to help lay the right foundation:
Your image of God creates you.
Your image of God creates you.
Your image of God creates you.
This resonates as true for me and so I think it is very important to take a stark look at this angry, stressed out, judgmental Jesus.
The first thing I want to be clear about is that I am not trying to explain away or sugar coat the image we have today. Jesus did get angry, (remember the little incident of overturning tables in the Temple) and he did experience stress as well as the other derivative of that root, distress, (remember his prayer in the Garden asking that the cup be passed from him). As for judgment, we cannot deny or gloss over that either. Jesus as the embodiment of God is deeply invested in things being right and holy. For God, nothing less will be good enough.
So the first thing to acknowledge is that this isn’t a different Jesus. This is our Jesus in a different moment—a moment when he sees the end of his journey, the cross. He has invested his heart, life, energy, and time into getting people to understand that God is with them and that the Kingdom is at hand, but they’re just not getting it.
He hasn’t changed. He still cares about justice and the state of people’s lives. He still embodies God’s passion and desire for the world to be redeemed. He still wants to save people from the evil within and without. He still wants them to live love-filled, meaningful, and abundant lives.
It’s just like the story in Isaiah (5:1-7): God did everything in order for his people to flourish. He gave them the best, he protected and watched over them expecting that to bear the fruit of justice and righteousness in their lives. Instead He got bloodshed and cries of distress.
This passage in Luke shows us Jesus in his most human form. He is stressed by the coming crucifixion and he’s discouraged and disappointed that all he’s done and given is not being understood and received. Many of you know exactly what that’s like—you’ve given all you have, and done the absolute best you could possibly do for someone you love, and they just go on the way they are anyway. It’s wrenching and heartbreaking.
The words of Jesus sound threatening and judgmental but he’s really just stating the way things are. When we miss the signs, we miss the blessing.
Look, God coming to earth clothed in flesh is astonishing. Jesus, as a representative of God’s deep love and desire for us, dying on a cross to save us is incomprehensible. Being made God’s children and heirs of his kingdom is revolutionary. Jesus is completely counter-cultural and the world will never be the same.
If you want proof, take a look at some of his sayings: the first shall be last, the meek shall inherit the earth, in order to have life we must die, to inherit the kingdom we must become like little children. He demotes the powers and authorities of our world in favor of the one true Authority. He raises up the lowly and stands in solidarity with the overlooked and oppressed.
Because Jesus came, died, and rose again, nothing will ever be the same. It’s not supposed to be. We’re not supposed to be. To go on ignoring this reality is like being let out of prison and refusing to leave the cell. It’s being given all you need in abundance but letting your neighbor starve to death. It’s knowing that we are forgiven of everything unreservedly, great or small, and then seeking revenge for the wrong done to us.
Today’s gospel is filled with the dire consequences of missing the signs; of not paying attention. The price is high because God has given us the best; God has invested all of his love into giving us lives worth living. God has made God’s self vulnerable to disappointment and heartache.
The Collect for today, which we did not use but will pray in a minute, reminds us of the sign we’ve been given that the kingdom has come and the world is irrevocably changed. It is the sign hanging on the wall behind me. It is the symbol for the reality that we are saved from sin and saved for goodness. It is the reminder and invitation to follow in the steps of Jesus and live into his redeeming work in our lives. Let us pay attention to what God has done in Jesus and to the ongoing work of the Spirit in our lives, church, and world.
Let us pray.
Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.