Lent II

– I wrote the sermon I am about to give before the attack on the NZ Mosque…As I was re-reading the Gospel for today, this image of the hen gathering her chicks under her wings hit me. When God gathers us under God’s wings, it’s not about us standing under the same banner, it is about how God wants us to be close to God’s heart and close to one another. How much our divisions, the hate we have and the violence we use against each other must grieve God! Let’s keep in our prayers all the victims and families of victims – along with all those who are victims of discrimination. Pray also for the repentance and conversion of their attackers.

– Suffering is on our minds these weeks…If our readings in Lent were a movie, we would see the cross at the horizon coming into clearer focus as we make our way through the season / “forward tracking effect”. Last week, we were told that Satan departed Jesus “until an opportune time”, today we are clearly informed that Herod wanted to kill Jesus (Herod Antipas / son of Herod the great – who also wanted to kill Jesus as a baby). Here again, it’s like in a movie, or in a tragedy = the main character is in danger and the danger is coming closer, the trap tightens and we start seeing that there would be no escape possible for Jesus, there were very powerful people who wanted him dead.

– We sometimes hear this saying that if you make someone mad, you probably have done something right…Not so sure about that!! If someone is mad at us, it is more likely that we have done something wrong! But in Jesus’s case, if you upset somebody who has more power than you, it probably means that you start being powerful too!Jesus was powerful as a preacher and a miracle doer but he also gave power to powerless people. He said to the Pharisees: “I am casting out demons and performing cures” (and will continue to do so…). It’s interesting to notice that Jesus wasn’t just “doing good”, he did not only helped the poor, by helping them he gave them power, Jesus brought power back into balance in his society, and so he was doing something disturbing (Herod hated it to the point of wanting him dead).

– In the way we generally imagine things though, we often see Jesus only as somebody meek and humble who loved everybody, and we don’t understand why suddenly very bad people crucified him out of the blue. Well, I read recently an article by a professor at a seminary who challenges his students to think about Jesus as not being “innocent” / as having actually done something (even if it was something right). This professor says that there was a reason for Jesus to be put to death. Jesus’s condemnation is something we should see coming in the Gospel!

– If we’re honest reading Scriptures, we have to admit that Jesus was certainly meek and humble, but he was not a people pleaser, and actually, he was trouble! Good trouble, but trouble nonetheless. He was not an activist / an agitator (unlike the zealots he never affiliated with) but he put into question and disturbed the political and religious powers: Herod of course, but we know that the Pharisees didn’t like Jesus either. In our story today, it is unclear if the Pharisees were really trying to help Jesus or if they were accomplices with Herod – trying to trick Jesus, pushing him away from Galilee to send him to Jerusalem where the Romans had the actual power to put him to death. (Or maybe it was Herod manipulating everybody? – it could be the reason why Jesus called him “a fox”)

– At any rate, the question is for us today: As followers of Jesus, are we looking to be “good Christians”, to “do good” or, beyond that, are we also good trouble / trouble for those who abuse their power? We think about Christians as needing to stay away from politics / not mixing religion and politics, but in the Gospel, Jesus clashes with politics and religion. Our faith is incarnated, our faith happens in the real world. In our society, we have the freedom to worship (or to not worship) but it does not mean faith is to be kept behind close doors. Jesus is an outdoorsy kind of God / very public God. We cannot use the non establishment of religion as an excuse to remain silent, our faith should question society and the choices we make as a society. Jesus was non violent and welcomed everyone, but his way of living, what he preached and his care for the powerless shined light on the injustices of his time. We are called to do the same. It’s not about being partisan, thinking we need to belong to this or that party to be “the real Christians”…Actually, if we belong to a political party, maybe we are not so called to spend our time criticizing the other side of the aisle…maybe we are called to remind our own party of what we believe in…As Christians, what we are are called to do is ask questions (in words and deeds) in the name of our faith / question our country but also our family, our friends, even our church!

– We have to remember that Jesus was not neutral…He was on the side of the poor, vulnerable. His life was not only about being kind and loving (as we often would like to think), his life was about giving power to those who had none and so, as we see today in the Gospel, Jesus also had to resist and show courage, he had to be faithful to what he believed in, continuing to do the work, being on his way even if he could see the cross at the horizon…

– It’s interesting that Jesus compared himself to a mother hen. The mother hen can protect her chicks when she is attacked, but ultimately she is defeated by the fox. This image tells us that there is more to life than individual survival, even animals can give their lives for others in a protective and sacrificial love. Unlike “the Herods” whose goal in life was only to assert their power,Jesus gave his life to defend the defenseless. We also are called to live beyond our own survival. It’s not only about “physical” survival, it’s about living beyond our selfishness. But do we wake up in the morning thinking about our own goals or do we think about how we can help others, even at “some cost to ourselves” as we say in the Sunday school prayer? Jesus constantly showed the example of sacrificial love…

How do we do that? Sacrificial love? Does not sound like a very exciting kind of love. But I think Abraham in our 1st reading shows us a good example of what sacrifices are. For Abraham, it is not about renouncing to his desires – it is about puttinghis desires into God’s hands. The animal sacrifice he offers is just a symbol of the sacrifice of his heart: he abandons his desire of a child to God, instead of trying to “cut corners” with his servant. And so, we too are called to let God do God’s work trusting that, like the mother hen, God has our best interests at heart. God knows that Abraham’s deepest desire is for a legitimate heir with his wife and God will give him this child. Our sacrifice is not bargaining (I give you something so you give me something in return), it is about renouncing to think we know better. Foxes like Herod try to trick their way into getting what they want, manipulating their own little worlds, but we are called to step back and to let God act. It’s the most difficult sacrifice: Renouncing to be God…This is what the cross is all about.

When we love sacrificially, we acknowledge that there is only so much suffering God can spare us. The cross cannot be avoided when we renounce the fox’s ways: We are vulnerable in this world when we refuse tricks, violence, lies…Yet, God’s way is to do the right thing – as Jesus did – in spite of the consequences. We will suffer inevitably. But Jesus never promised us to be winners in this world. We are not asked to win in this world, we are asked to question and change our world(s) (big and small), as Jesus did: to make room for God and for God’s kingdom.

– Because indeed, sacrifice is necessary but the cross is not an end – it’s not because the cross is the horizon that it is ultimate. Jesus’s ultimate goal has never been the cross! The goal is communion, joy and abundant life. Sacrifices open doors to abundant life (leave room for God to act / often we stand in God’s way). Paul: “Don’t live as an enemy of the cross and you will receive glory”. Resurrection is the goal, not death!

– Lent: What do I need to sacrifice? Not to bargain with God, but to enable God to fill us and to use so we can do God’s work in this world / bring a change in the world as Jesus did?

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