Archive for opposition

Willing Brood

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2019 by timtrue

Luke 13:31-35

1.

Today, Jesus calls Herod a fox. I wonder what picture Jesus had in mind.

Aesop tells of a fox wandering through a vineyard on a hot day. This fox looked up and, lo, just there, he spied a voluptuous bunch of delicious-looking, juicy, perfectly ripe grapes.

So he took a running leap, but they were just out of reach. He tried again—and failed again. And again. And again! Until, finally, he gave up the idea altogether, saying, “Ah, well, they’re sure to be sour anyway.”

Another time, Mr. Fox was just sauntering along when he saw a crow swoop down and grab something out of a kitchen window. Acting nonchalant, as foxes do, but nonetheless deeply curious, he sidled up close to the crow’s perch and discovered that what Miss Crow had grabbed was a beautiful and good-smelling chunk of cheese.

So he shouted up to the crow, “Ahoy there, beautiful Miss Crow, is it true what I hear: that you have the most melodious voice of all the birds in the aviary kingdom? Why, just yesterday my neighbor Pig went on and on about the glories of your euphonious and lyrical abilities. Can’t I hear just one little smidgen? Maybe a few bars of Adele?”

And with such fine and flattering words the crow became more and more puffed up, stood taller and taller, until finally she opened her mouth to answer Fox’s request.

But she didn’t even finish singing out one word before Mr. Fox interrupted her saying, with a mouth full of delicious cheese, “I’ve heard quite enough, thank you”; and was on his way.

And yet another time Mr. Fox accidentally fell into a well.

But Mr. Fox is wily. He’s clever. He’s cunning.

So, along comes Old Man Billy Goat. Mr. Fox puts on his game face and calls up out of the well, “Billy, Billy, is that you I hear?”

And a moment later, yes, Old Billy peers into the well and says, “Why, Fox, whatever are you doing in that well?”

“Oh,” Fox replies, “this well is known far and wide as having the best, wettest, and most thirst-quenching water in all of the known world. Don’t you know? In fact, why don’t you come down and join me for a drink?”

“I should like that very much, thank you,” Goat answers. And lickety-split he jumps in to join Fox.

A few minutes later Fox looks at Old Billy and says, with his most nonplussed expression, “Um, I just thought of something. How are we supposed to get out of here?”

And just as Goat processes their dilemma but not a moment longer, Fox suggests, “Hey, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you stand with your front legs against the wall and I’ll climb up your back. Then, once, I’ve reached the top, I’ll reach in and pull you out by the horns.”

“Um, yeah,” Billy agrees.

And just like that, Fox is out and free. But before he leaves he looks back in the well at Old Billy and says, “Come to think of it, I’m not really strong enough to pull you up and out. Guess you should have looked before you leapt!”

So, I wonder: is this the picture Jesus has in mind today when he calls Herod a fox? Wily? Cunning? Shrewd? And also untrustworthy? Duplicitous? To use a modern buzzword, Narcissistic?

2.

But then Jesus likens himself to a mother hen.

Which leads me to enlarge my image; for what happens when a fox breaks into a henhouse?

Isn’t it mayhem? A sudden explosion of fowl fear! Of avian anxiety! Of poultry panic!

But, now, enlarging still, what if a mother hen is hovering over her brood when that fox breaks into the henhouse?

There’s still mayhem all right! A cackling cacophony! But the difference here is that the mother hen is making none of it.

She’s not in it for the moment. Unlike the fox, she’s not concerned only for herself, shrewdly strategizing what she can get out of the deal for herself. Rather, her concern is for her children.

If the fox wanted to, he could simply step in and make a kill without resistance. She’s resolute. She’s calm, quiet, unflinching in the face of fear, for the sake of her children . . . kind of like Jesus during his trial, sentencing, and execution: Resolute; Calm; Quiet; Unflinching; For our sakes.

But here’s the part I find most incredible. When a fox breaks into a henhouse, it’s most often not the quiet, resolute mother hen that the fox kills. The fox instinctively pursues movement and noise.

Was Herod really after Jesus? Surely there were other, noisier hens in the henhouse!

You know, I don’t think this image is about Jesus’ trial, sentencing, and execution. After all, Herod, that fox, was not the one who tried Jesus. That was Pilate.

3.

So just what do we make of today’s Gospel?

Some Pharisees come to Jesus, saying, “You better get away from here. Herod wants to kill you.”

Really? Throughout the Gospels, Pharisees are mentioned as Jesus’ opponents. Does Herod really want to kill Jesus? And if so, would Jesus’ opponents really suddenly care for him enough to warn him of this? Or, maybe, are they just making it up, colluding, to scare Jesus away?

On the other hand, Jesus is in fact a political threat to Herod.

This isn’t Herod the Great we’re talking about, the one the Wise Men from the East visited on their way to the Christ child. No, this is Herod Antipas, Herod the Great’s son, called the Tetrarch because he was granted Roman authority to rule over just one-fourth of his father’s domain—a puppet of Rome.

He was a ruler of sorts, but weak, something like a County Supervisor of a county bordering Washington, D. C.—and what is a County Supervisor compared to someone with federal jurisdiction?

And now people are talking a lot about this man Jesus. In fact, Jesus has gained quite a following throughout Galilee, Herod’s domain.

Roman appointment is one thing; popular acclamation is quite another!

So, yes, the political threat is real. Maybe Herod, that fox, was after Jesus’ life.

Or maybe at least he wants to push Jesus out of his domain and into Jerusalem, the federal domain, Pilate’s jurisdiction. Yeah, let Pilate deal with him!

Whatever the case, this is a politically charged passage!

And it’s kind of playful—something I tried to communicate above through fables and henhouses.

And best of all, Jesus calls a leading politician a name: Fox! So this gives us the green light to call politicians we don’t like names, right?

4.

But so far we still haven’t arrived at the main point.

What is today’s Gospel all about? Jesus’ crucifixion? His ministry? God’s care for us, his disciples? Our political liberties? What’s the main point?

Well, let’s step back and look at all the pieces.

It’s a politically charged passage. Herod is a fox. Jesus is a mother hen. Opponents threaten Jesus. And Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem—outside of Herod’s jurisdiction—where he knows already that he will be killed.

And in this context Jesus launches into a lament about Jerusalem. He, the mother hen, longs to gather his chicks under his protection and care; but he cannot because they are unwilling!

Just who, then, are these unwilling chicks?

This is the key that opens the main-point door!

Jesus does not say they are the children of Israel. Jesus does not say the Gentiles. Jesus does not say the Romans. Jesus does not say the Samaritans.

Neither does Jesus say the patrons, clients, tax gatherers, prostitutes, cynics, stoics, wealthy, poor, sick, or healthy.

He says, simply, the children of Jerusalem.

This includes the children of Israel, the Gentiles, the Romans, and the Samaritans; the rich, poor, sick, and healthy; the Pharisees, Herodians, Pontius Pilate, and everyone in between. This includes his friends, yes; but much more importantly, his political enemies! This includes everyone who lived in this politically charged, federal city in 30 CE.

“O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I have longed to gather your children together . . . and you were unwilling!”

What’s the main point of today’s Gospel? Today we call it inclusivity.

The way of the world is domination, like a fox breaking into a henhouse.

The way of Jesus, by contrast, is love for the whole brood of humanity. Every one of us, no matter who we are!

Jesus’ love—which is self-sacrificing and other-serving;

Jesus’ love—which was enacted ultimately on the cross in Jerusalem;

Jesus’ loves—which extends to all races, creeds, genders, sexualities, political party affiliations, factions;

Jesus’ love—which beckons us continually, though we remain unwilling;

This is the love we are called to live; the love we are called to receive!

Run to it. Flock to it. Gather under it.

Be willing.

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2017 by timtrue

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Matthew 22:34-46

1.

Just yesterday—or was it the day before?—Jesus turned the literal tables over in the Temple courts.

Which led to challenges from the Temple leaders about authority: Tell us, they demanded, by what and whose authority are you doing these things?

Which led to a series of parables from Jesus about what the kingdom of God is like: a vineyard planted by a landowner, he said, or a wedding banquet given by a king; tax collectors and prostitutes will enter it ahead of the religious leaders.

Which in turn led to a series of three debates: about taxes; about the resurrection; about the law of God.

Don’t make too much of politics, Jesus says; Caesar is neither Satan nor God.

God is not the God of the dead, he states; but of the living.

It’s not about the law, he declares; but love.

And, by the way, since I have your attention, why does David call his own descendant Lord?

And with this question he turns over another table—a mental table this time.

Since entering Jerusalem, Jesus has faced continuous opposition. Through it all—in his metaphors, parables, and debates—he brilliantly has overturned tables literal and figurative!

But here, with this third debate—did you catch it?—the verbal opposition comes to an abrupt halt. The last verse from today’s passage says, “No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.”

In terms of drama, here the scene ends. In the next scene Jesus will spend some exclusive time with his disciples before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. The conspiracy against him will continue to develop; but quietly now, secretly, in the shadows, in whispered arguments in dark corridors; and it will become greedy, self-serving, treacherous. Here, now, the house lights have dimmed; the stage hands are rearranging the props.

Obviously, with this abrupt halt in the Passion play, Jesus has made his point. Obviously, after Jesus answers the lawyer’s question with love, he has turned another table on his opponents, a final table, with this stuff about David and the Messiah. Obviously!

He’s brilliant. He’s dialectically and rhetorically unstoppable. And thus no one will dare to attempt to trap him verbally again!

But—wait a minute!—I don’t know about you but I’m confused.

It may have been obvious to them, in Jesus’ day; but not to me! Just what in the world was it? What table did Jesus just overturn here? What point did Jesus just make, exactly, to put such a decisive end to the debates?

He pointed out to them that the greatest commandment is love; but then he turned their attention to the Messiah being both David’s son and David’s Lord.

I get the part about David’s son: the Messiah is some kind of king. Also, I get the part about David’s Lord: the Messiah’s kingship will far surpass David’s in some spiritual way. But how is this stuff about David and the Messiah connected to love? To channel Tina Turner, what’s love got to do with it?

2.

This is a riddle, for sure. Nevertheless, today’s Gospel confronts us with it. Shouldn’t we therefore try to figure it out? Here’s my take:

Jesus was demanding a change in perspective.

Now, let me explain.

The religious leaders’ established perspective was of God as supreme King.

To be sure, many scriptural metaphors liken God to a king.

As a mighty king, God delivered Moses and the people of Israel from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh. God is called king throughout the psalms. King David is called a man after God’s own heart. Even Jesus sometimes uses a king in his own parables: A king decided to throw a wedding banquet; and so on.

But there are other divine metaphors throughout the scriptures too, many and manifold, which liken God to other things: a father, a mother giving birth, a lover, a friend, fire, light, wind; and the list goes on.

God is like that. God is unexplainable, like a benevolent king who puts a stop to injustice and oppression; yet also like a lover, intimate and personal.

We try to explain; but, really, how can words convey God at all?

Now, it is a wonderful thing when a benevolent king exercises justice on behalf of his people.

But, to carry out this metaphor a little farther, a king is mostly removed from his subjects:

  • He has his palace up and away from the common people
  • He is largely aloof, detached from the experiences of daily peasant life
  • He must establish and maintain order over his subjects, order that comes through rules, regulations, and taxes
  • He must make judgments when laws are not kept
  • (And, for what it’s worth, he is male)

The trouble comes when people view God through one lens at the exclusion of others.

When people view God only as supreme King, God becomes mostly removed from them, up and away in his palace in heaven, aloof, away from the day-to-day experiences of his people. God is understood to establish order over his people through rules, regulations, and taxes—aka obligatory tithes. When his people sin against him, God presides as judge over them.

And now, the original metaphor—all that stuff about benevolence; or putting an end to injustice and oppression—has been largely forgotten.

Moreover, when the people viewing God through this lens happen to be leaders, as were Jesus’ opponents, they act accordingly, appointing themselves as spiritual kings over their “subjects.”

But the kingdom of heaven, Jesus teaches, is like a wedding banquet. It’s a king who is the host, sure; but he is there in the midst of the festivities, mingling with the guests, sharing, laughing, and dining with them; even with tax collectors and prostitutes!

Jesus is confronting his opponents with their need to change perspective.

Jesus’ opponents viewed God as king; but Jesus told them not to make too much of politics.

Jesus’ opponents viewed God as ruling from on high, far away and largely separate from the lives of his people; but God is God of the living, Jesus said, dwelling with and among the people as they dwell with God.

Jesus’ opponents viewed God as maintaining order by the rules and regulations of the Torah; but the greatest commandment is love, Jesus declared.

The Messiah, David’s Lord, will not rule and reign as David’s son—he will not rule as supreme King, far off in his high palace, removed from the daily experiences of his peasant subjects.

Rather, God is love. God is relationship. Like a friend and lover, God dwells among us and in each of us.

God is upending the hierarchical, dominating systems of the world that breed injustice, fear, and judgment—systems political, social, and religious.

It seems to me, then, that in all his confrontations with the Jewish religious leaders since entering Jerusalem a few days ago, Jesus is proclaiming a largely forgotten yet very real side of God. It’s not the side they’ve all been looking at for so many centuries; not the side from which they’ve inferred hierarchy, fear, judgment, rules, and regulations—but the other side, the overturned side, the side that reveals God as friend and lover.

Thus: Jesus was demanding a change in perspective.

But this change was so radical that it would upend his opponents’ entire system of spiritual domination and control. It was a threat to their established religion. He was a threat to them. As far as they were concerned, the debating—not to mention his life—had to come to an abrupt and decisive end.

The curtain drops; the lights dim; the scene ends.

3.

Now, I don’t know about you, but all this makes me a little uncomfortable. For, doesn’t the modern Christian church, by and large, continue to view God as king rather than as friend and lover?

To view God as king is to view him (male image) as a distant, powerful being; who spoke and thereby brought the sun, moon, stars, planets, trees, plants, animals, and us humans into existence. He continues to operate in our world, but aloof, as sovereign judge from his throne far away in heaven.

This view makes sin and guilt focal points of our faith.

Theological concepts like repentance, redemption, liberation, and salvation are all defined by sin: sin is what we repent from; it’s what we are redeemed, liberated, and saved from. Yet none of us is able to meet the requirements of God’s law; none of us measures up—yielding no small amount of guilt.

And so we who are the church end up acting like the God we image. Far too often we appoint ourselves as judges over the world around us, keeping track of broken moral laws, feeling guilty and ashamed ourselves.

That’s the message the world has heard anyway; and it’s an old, tired message.

But God is a friend; and does a real friend make rules and regulations to be obeyed or else? But God is a lover; and does an ideal lover want his beloved to feel guilty?

Think about just how radical this turning of the tables is! Jesus is telling us today that God is not all about law and record-keeping and sin and judgment. Rather, God is love.

What does this perspective do to sin?

It’s still there, sure: sin is part and parcel of the human condition. But it is no longer an all-encompassing, guilt-inducing focal point of our faith. It no longer defines and constrains concepts like repentance, redemption, liberation, and salvation.

No longer do we stand condemned, as if stuck in a jail cell awaiting a judge’s sentence. Instead, we are merely estranged from the lover who seeks to win us back, who knows us personally, and who cares for us intimately.

God is our friend and lover.

This is the message Jesus proclaimed to the world so long ago;

This is the message which confronted the religious establishment;

And this is the message we are called to proclaim today.