Lent II, Year C
Lk 13:31-35 or Lk 9:28-36
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir." But the word of the LORD came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir." He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness. Then he said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess." But he said, "O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?" He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
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.’"
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"–not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Our text, if interpreted ‘mythologically’, will ultimately lead down the path of anti-Semitism or Supercessionism. We will not travel that ill-fated path. What the text reveals is that there is a connection between human sacrifice and politics and religion. What is revealed is the anthropological nature of violence.
In the city of peace of the God of peace, there will occur an ultimate sacrifice, a human sacrifice. It will not be singular but part of a chain going back through the prophets. Since the dawn of civilization, politics and religion have been the two major contributors to human sacrifice. Here, in the city named ‘Peace’ will occur the great tragedy of the elimination of the rabbi Jesus, who had something to say about this God of peace. His message and life of peace is too great a light shining in the dark corners of the politics and religion of violence. His life of peace reveals to the city of peace what real peace is all about. And it is not about the false peace generated by victimage.
But the city which is holy conspires with its unholy political administration. Religion and politics join hands on the fate of this one. This is not an indictment on Judaism. It must not be seen as such. It is simply asserting that among the powers that were, there was collusion. Don’t we have enough of this in our own modern history? Haven’t the ‘times of the gentiles’ produced plenty of examples of powers that have gone bad? It was no different back then. It may have been that had righteous rulers ruled Jerusalem they would have affirmed Jesus’ life and teaching. But the house of Annas was not a righteous house, nor was the administration of Pontius Pilate very good (e.g., would Petronius, legate of Syria in the early 40’s, have handled the situation as Pilate did?). Neither the Essenes nor the Pharisees would have disagreed with this. Sometimes political and religious administrations go sour, sometimes they collude. This was such a time.
The situation is really no different today. Unholy powers conspire to create scapegoats that they hope will dissipate the mimetic rivalry enveloping humanity. And the whole point of the gospel is that God, the abba, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, is not like that. And like Jesus, we Christians are called to bear witness to this, in our spirituality as well as our theology. For behind it all is the generous love of the forgiving, wonderful, loving God, who has always loved us and who always will.
What will become of the ‘city of peace?’ We are among those who pray for the peace of Jerusalem. We pray for peace for each person in Jerusalem because they are human, all created in the image of God. Just as God ‘is no respecter of persons’ so we will not discriminate either. Our prayers are for all, each and every one.
It is not for us today to discriminate between the players on the side of good and the players on the side of evil. Cultural violence has taken root in both. The current ‘war on terror’ is just the latest in a long series of dualistic conflicts and the sheer number of potential flash points on the globe is remarkable. We are finding that violence begets retribution and we are finding it out the hard way. No matter what side you take, there is another side, everybody has a side. Every person believes their side is right and true and just. So the cycle of retribution and honor, peace and security continues to churn out its victims from the ancient days until now.
Things have not changed all that much.
This is the why Jesus’ lament is so powerful: his desire, his heart’s desire, was to nurture the people of the ‘city of peace.’ He loved this people, this city. He still does. If we Gentiles interpret a text like this in an anti-Semitic fashion and blame ‘Jews’ for the death of Jesus, instead of religious and political Powers, we will have done exactly what Jesus says Jerusalem had done to others and would do to him. We thus prove ourselves no less guilty and culpable in the death of Jesus.
No one said Lent was easy.
Some observations from “Luke’s Use of Matthew” (p. 207)
“The inevitability of Jesus’ violent death stemming from his prophetic ministry is a major theme that is incorporated into the Lukan Travel Narrative. The journey to Jerusalem stands under diving guidance and necessity and will culminate in Jesus’ death, burial, and vindication (cf. Lk 9:21-27, 43b-45, 51-56; 13:33-35; 17:24-25 and 18:31-33). This understanding of the final journey is part of the larger theme in Luke-Acts that sees the whole event of the appearance of Jesus and the founding of the Church as the fulfillment of the divine will, being the fulfillment of the hope of the prophets.
Lk 13:31-33. Luke continued with a reference to a death-threat from Herod. The purpose of this tangential interruption may have been to provide an introduction to the powerful “Lament over Jerusalem,” with its reference to “killing the prophets…sent to you,” which was anticipated in Lk 13:28 “all the prophets.” In any case, Lk 13:31-33 has no parallel to anything in Mt. These verses cast the Pharisees in a somewhat favorable light, in that they warn Jesus to flee before Herod catches him.
Lk 13:34-35. The “Lament over Jerusalem” echoes other references to Jerusalem (Lk 13:4 and esp. Lk 13:33). The passage itself comes from Mt’s description of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Mt 23:37-39), which Luke will not use in his later parallel context (cf. Lk 20:47-21:1). Luke has rather moved this prophecy to this earlier point in the Lukan story (Lk 13:35/Mt 23:39), so that the prophecy will be fulfilled within the Lukan narrative (Lk 19:38). If this prophecy is fulfilled at all, it must be fulfilled beyond the narrative in Mt. We remember here that Luke has already used Mt 23:1-36 within Lk 11:37-52. So Luke was maintaining Mt’s order here (Lk 13:34-35/Mt 23:37-39) with his use of the balance of Mt 23.
As I hear this lament over the city of Jerusalem, I remember a day when the basketball team from our seminary was flying into Chicago to play the folks from Seabury-Western. What I remember most vividly, as we approached O’Hare, was the dome of brown that sat like a translucent (but only slightly) lid over the buildings, obscuring much and discoloring everything.
Once we’d landed, and once we’d traveled into the city, the dome of smog became invisible, but I could remember what it looked like. Even though I’d come from New York, where the ozone could wring streams of tears from your eyes, I was always conscious of the muck I was breathing.
Well, not always. We were there for several days, and by the time we left, I’d forgotten. I only remembered when our return flight got far enough away that I could see the clearer air again.
These words of Jesus are to me the words of one who loves the children living in this bucket of smog, but who pauses at a sufficient distance from my city to see the filth before plunging in himself.
Mimesis, scapegoating, whatever you’d like to call it, these things are nearly invisible to us in our own setting. We may be able to perceive them more clearly when we have a little distance, but we almost never view our own place and time with that kind of detachment. They poison us, and we do not know it. They lead us to kill those who come to us from outside to tell us about our own poisonous environment, and we never see the connection.
Hear the love in Jesus’ voice as his plane descends into the brown air, his eyes watering not from smog, but from sadness. We are the people of Jerusalem. Jesus cries for us. He sees the poison of our world, and he enters anyhow.