As we hear how Jesus is not to be admired, or even accepted, as a prophet, a speaker of the truth of the times, in his home town, how Jesus desires this were not so! He yearns to alter the course of history and stop Jerusalem and its appointment with destiny. He laments, he wishes undone, he wants to spread a blanket of comfort over the painful outcome he knows will ensue. The story made me wonder if those moments happen to us as well and how would we respond to “those things done and undone.”
Again Luke reminds us that even those who know Jesus well could not see the son of a local carpenter as the agent of change. While Jesus, reluctantly accepts the fact that there will be many obstacles and even resistance to God’s message of redemption, his hometown friends and family almost scoff at the effrontery of his efforts.
Imagine for a moment the desire in Jesus ‘heart to have his family and friends hear and incorporate his words into their hearts.
You would think that he might have realized that you can’t go home again and be the new person you have become and expect total acceptance. We can all remember going home after time away, a semester at school, a summer job in another state, and we return triumphant in our new knowledge, confidence and skills that will dazzle those poor folks who still live in East Podunk and have never seen Paris. Try as we might to be modest and not boast about how terrific a person we are now with all of our sophistication, no one is the least bit impressed. In fact, in my experience people just looked through me and acted as if I had never left or even changed one atom despite new hairdo, clothing and pretentious accent. Come on we know you, you still can’t ride a bike or throw a snowball to save your life, get over yourself.
A glimmer of hope appears when some kindly Pharisees warn Jesus of Herod’s intent to kill him. Now the frustrations around his rejection from his old friends rises up and he offers a challenge to the old Fox (Herod ), who if you recall, had already killed John the Baptist, so he was not someone to mess with and upset. He was connected , as they say. Herod also envisioned himself as a lion, strong and all powerful. What does Jesus do to that image? Reduces him to a sly sneak after smaller game. A fox looking for an innocent hen.
Jesus announces instead the determination of his ministry of healing. You go tell the Fox what I am doing and when I will be done. There is a finite time to his mission just as there is a finite time for his removal from the scene. But that has to play out in Jerusalem, not Nazareth.
Oh Jerusalem. The city that kills its prophets. What a horrible epithet for a city. Try putting that line in your tourism literature. Yet God’s mercy lies in the wish that Jesus has, to gather them all under his wing as a hen gathers her chicks and protect them from themselves as much as a predator. Yet they were not willing.
Jesus’ cry for what he truly wishes he could do is not just about the specifics of Jerusalem, but about how all of us through the ages act against our own best interest and God’s desire for us. How often do I lament that I am not doing what I should be to reach out in help.
Recently I was on the subway in NYC heading downtown. At one of the busier stations, a couple got onto the already crowded car and introduced themselves as just needing a handout so that they could survive the cold night. Now I am not naïve, I know the conventional wisdom and what to do in these situations. Had we the time, we would take that couple shopping for what they truly need to insure that they eat and have some hope. Just dropping money into an extended woolen cap assures us of little. Over time we have come to accept with reluctance that this kind of problem is beyond our abilities in many ways. But I still felt I should have done something beyond thinking about it. Is it enough to be Mary and not Martha as the children learned about today?
Mary who seats at the feet of Jesus to hear his message and love, and busy Martha who lives her life in chores and the unfairness she feels about her lot in life. My suggestion to the children was that our lives are a blend of the two sisters, at times one, at times the other, yin and yang, light and dark, sweet and sour, all needed in the swirl of life.
If we can see injustice and lament it, we can admit the possibility of change through God’s grace. So we can be Mary and sit here in church and prayerfully listen for God’s hopes for us, prepare our hearts to be his servants. Then we can be Martha and act on his word and be agents for change. Sometimes that takes the form of writing checks for Haiti or giving donations to worthy causes and sometimes it takes the form of actually doing something like Barb Dobilas’ trip to a mission in Nicaragua or your donating food to Patricia in prison, sight unseen. These more tangible expressions of hope can result in real changes unlike the larger uncertain tossing of money into a woolen hat on the subway.
In this season of penitence, we are invited to reflect on what was and might be, and maybe turn our laments into plans of action. For my birthday I was given a blessing bowl with tiny scraps of paper to fill out with a daily or weekly blessing to be read at a later date when things looks glum. It reminded of an experience on a Kairos weekend at Taconic prison.
On the last night of the retreat we encouraged each inmate to identify someone whom they held in a state of unforgiveness, including themselves. We gave each of them a slip of rice paper and a red marker to write down those names, then come forward in prayer to seek repentance with those named dropping the paper in a bowl of water. As each slip of paper hit the water, it dissolved into a milky swirl of red ink. Gone, absorbed by God and through his grace no longer part of this world or one’s heart. Forgiveness entered into that place instead . It was a powerful image.
In our story Jesus cries out in sadness about what he truly wishes for the city he knows will also reject him . He gives us an image of maternal comfort that is odd. Jesus gives us the hen. An unusual choice for Jesus to make, all young are protected by their mothers, lions, lambs, goats, not just chickens. And yet, this is Jesus, rejected by his hometown because he doesn’t follow a straight line and meet you where you expect him to be. He always turns things upside down, the first shall be last, the servant shall be the master, the meek shall inherit, the chicken will outwit that fox.
Yet under His wings, we would be huddled together, warm, safe and near God’s heart. One of the first signs we get as we pull up to our daughter’s house to see Miss Julia and the boys, is screams of delight and then wide open arms anxious to hug and be hugged. Little arms that can only go around our knees and hang on tight. Little hearts that trust that somehow our love and warmth will keep away the fox. If only Jerusalem had abandoned their plans and huddled under the wings of God even for a short time how different it might have been.
So do we see God trying to draw us closer to him and his desires for us and do we see ourselves running away toward possible dangers?
Mercifully we do not have to be Jerusalem. We can be Mary and Martha and blend our hope and desires into action and love. Often the only thing that we can do to right a wrong is not great orations or policy changes, or enact laws, but sit down with a willing heart, open our arms wide to a hurting person and hug them close. It might not alter the situation but God’s grace and love will be felt for a time. Our hearts lose some of their granite, and hope enters in. Strong arms embracing you can work wonders. Our son, though not a big man, has the tightest clench on the planet and his thin sisters grimace through their smiles as he crushes them with his love.
This Lent is time to imagine what we can do in God’s name for ourselves and for others that might not be part of our original plan. The desire for change is the only door that God needs to step in and fill our hearts with love and power.
So I am going to try to find my own fox and let him know that I have work to do and I will continue with my ministry until I am done. Mary and Martha are coming with me.