Lent 2C, 2010
Luke 13: 31-35
A Liturgy is also available
BEING ‘LIVING STONES’ OF COMPASSION
Within the national life of the Uniting Church in Australia
there is a very special young people’s mission program in place,
called “Interns in Mission”.
After one such program with the Middle East Council of Churches,
a Palestinian Christian shared these comments with one of the participants:
“Thank you for coming to visit the ‘living stones’, and not just the dead stones, the holy places, the archaeological sites. Most Christian pilgrims bypass us. We are invisible. We are at best dirty, dangerous Arabs.
“They say ‘how wonderful it is to walk where Jesus walked’. I say it is more wonderful to walk with the people with whom Jesus walked. I have been walking where Jesus walked for the last 50 years. It’s a big deal! But, the purpose is not to walk where he walked, but to walk how he walked” (From Tell the tourists).
On the other hand a colleague on a chat site I visit, posted this comment this week:
"I remember a rollicking ride in a coach along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. There was a rapidly rising hill on the right with some stone ruins on it. Our tour guide announced that the ruins on the right were all that was left of the inn of the good Samaritan. Without invitation, the majority of the passengers, including some Americans from the deep south, moved over to the right-hand windows and began snapping away with their cameras. The tour guide stepped back and laughed his head off" (GCrawford. Insights chat line).
Meanwhile another colleague, this time a member of the Presbyterian Church
is preparing for a meeting of the General Assembly.
That meeting will consider a report from the
Special Committee to Prepare a Comprehensive Study Focused on Israel/Palestine.
According to early drafts:
“… it affirms historic PC(USA) positions - an immediate cessation of violence by both sides, an immediate freeze on the construction and expansion of Israeli settlements on occupied territory, the relocation of Israel’s ‘separation barrier’ to the internationally recognized 1967 border, a shared status for Jerusalem, equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and immediate resumption of negotiations toward a two-state solution”.
The report also calls on the US government to end
its acquiescence in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, and to
“employ the strategic use of influence and the withholding of financial and military aid in order to enforce Israel’s compliance with international law and peacemaking efforts.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a statement saying that the
“adoption of this poisonous document by the Presbyterian Church will be nothing short of a declaration of war on Israel and her supporters.”
The statement from the Wiesenthal Center got results.
This past week during meetings in Louisville, Presbyterian leaders
were flooded with over 2,700 emails protesting this committee and its report,
even as the report has yet to be completed (JShuck. Shuck&Jive blog site Feb. 2010).
The first story requires us to embody compassion.
The second story requires us to end silly superstitions.
The third story requires us to continually work for justice especially when the other is unable to speak for themselves.
One of the really important things to come out of the historical Jesus studies
over the last 100 years, is the rediscovery and the recognition of
• the utter Jewishness of Jesus, and
• the way the gospel storytellers tend to present a Greekish Jesus
rather than a Jewish Jesus.
Jesus, and those our tradition call 'the disciples of Jesus' during his lifetime,
and the communities that formed soon after his death, have a clear identity.
They are groups of Palestinian Jews within Judaism
under the Roman Empire.
And there is little to no evidence
that Jesus had any conscious intention
of founding a new religious institution
either superseding Judaism or existing alongside it.
So, I want to suggest,
we can never really appreciate the depth of feeling
a Jew like Jesus had for Jerusalem.
No earthly place was more precious.
And no place brought out Jesus’ sense of compassion more, than Jerusalem.
The storyteller Luke reminds us of this.
All told, Luke mentions Jerusalem 90 times in the stories that carry his name.
While all the other New Testament writers combined,
mention it only 49 times.
So it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Luke sees the place as important.
Jerusalem is the dwelling place of God,
the place where God’s glory shall be revealed.
But... Jerusalem is also the place where God is betrayed
by those who hate the good and love what is evil.
Barbara Brown Taylor’s comment sums it up well:
“Nothing that happens in Jerusalem is insignificant. When Jerusalem obeys God, the world spins peacefully on its axis. When Jerusalem ignores God, the whole planet wobbles” (B B Taylor/Religion-online Web site 2004).
Even in our time, Jerusalem remains important.
Just before Christmas last year (2009) a group of Palestinian Christian leaders
issued what they called the "Kairos Palestine Document" which included this clause:
"Jerusalem is the heart of our reality. It is, at the same time, symbol of peace and sign of conflict. While the separation wall divides Palestinian neighbourhoods, Jerusalem continues to be emptied of its Palestinian citizens, Christians and Muslims. Their identity cards are confiscated, which means the loss of their right to reside in Jerusalem. Their homes are demolished or expropriated. Jerusalem, city of reconciliation, has become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a source of struggle rather than peace" (WCC web site, 2009).
So let me offer a couple of brief comments with this as context.
My first comment which I invite you to reflect on, is,
it seems clear Luke’s Jesus lived in the context of danger.
Danger, because of what he was saying.
Danger, because he was probably being grouped together
with zealots and other political agitators, by the powers that be - the Empire.
Danger, because, it is claimed, Herod Antipas
was never backward in coming forward to deal
“decisively with the leader of a religious movement whom he perceived as undermining the authority of his government...” (Funk. 1993:349).
And that danger is emphasised in Jerusalem - the centre of power.
It also seems, according to Bill Loader for instance,
that the warning given to Luke’s Jesus by some of the Pharisees,
indicates that engaging in acts of compassion and caring
which restores dignity to people,
can have wide ranging implications: both personal and communal.
Loader sets it up like this:
“Why should Herod worry about such a ‘nice person’? Because Jesus’ vision went beyond the individual to a transformed society. That had social and political implications. Both dimensions matter...” (WLoader Web site 2004)
My second comment is this:
let’s not lose sight of the strong feminine side in this Lucan story.
'How often have I desired to gather your children together
as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,
and you were not willing!
I feel Luke is really digging deep into the Wisdom tradition of Judaism here.
The observation has been made that there is hardly a more feminine picture
of Jesus available in the gospels tradition,
than the vivid picture of a hen rounding up her chickens
and fluffing her feathers protectively over them.
She has ‘no razor-sharp teeth, no claws, no steroid muscles’.
All she has is her willingness to shield her chicks with her own body.
Such is Luke’s picture of the compassion of Jesus.
Now I am certainly no expert in all of this, but I have read
that in Jewish literature, ‘Wisdom’ (always feminine) was pictured
as God’s treasured companion...
Again, perhaps Bill Loader’s comment will be helpful:
“Behind the image of the hen is the image of Wisdom and behind that is an image of God, the compassionate and caring mother. Jesus embodies that” (WLoader 2004 Web site).
Maybe this is what Luke is challenging his small community to be.
And us, too, as we overhear this story many generations later:
Indeed, I reckon that’s all we can do!
Funk, R. W.; R. W Hoover. (ed) 1993. The Five Gospels. The search for the authentic words of Jesus. New York. Macmillan Publishing.