a Sermon for Lent 2C
Text: Luke 13:31-35
A friend asked my Dad for a recommendation years ago. He was hoping to go to Jerusalem with a school exchange program. My Mom, in learning of this plan, wondered aloud “Why?” It sounded pretty awesome to me, so I couldn’t understand what her problem with it was. I asked her to explain.
“It is so dangerous there,” she said.
We had learned a little bit about Israel and its relationship with the Palestinians in school. I was aware that there was occasional violence, not unlike the violence in Ireland at the time. Yet, I really had no idea why she was so worried.
Of course, it makes a certain sense now. The perpetual presence of automatic weapons, the erratic and spontaneous expressions of conflict. The fence.
There in the center, is Jerusalem, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.” A city of comfort and tragedy. A city of constant disappointment. A city stained with the blood of innocents for countless generations. The city of David, the Temple, and the crucifixion.
When Jesus bemoans the holy city, He does so knowing it doesn’t have to be this way. People don’t have to be this way.
We remember that there was no Temple before Solomon and no Jerusalem before David. In David, Jerusalem was the new capital of a newly united kingdom and would serve as a great symbol of unity. A unity that would disappear with his son’s death. A unity that would never be reestablished.
The division would be great. Generation after generation obsessed with power and politics, condemned to separate lives.
As a character in the story, Jerusalem speaks to that eternal image of the unity that GOD wants and the division we perpetuate.
A division made plain by Jesus’s walk to Jerusalem, the victory of the earthly powers in killing Him, and in the surprising reversal in which Jesus proves this way of violence of victimizing is the way of ignorance. In trying to protect their faith, the Temple authorities continue the condemnation of Jerusalem.
A lesson we haven’t learned. A lesson about protecting our faith, responding out of fear, resorting to earthly violence, becoming Jerusalem.
Jerusalem need not be that city. And perhaps Jesus need not have died there. But it is that dual identity that helps lead us to GOD’s interest: a city of unity and division. A city that has at its core the power to unite and divided embedded. The power to turn us all to witness the Kingdom as one or keep the Kingdom far from us in our separate camps.
A power that is still there.
A different friend visited Jerusalem a few years ago. He was surprised, not by the division, but in the striking different lives lived on opposite sides of the fence. And it was the complete opposite of his expectations. How the Israeli territory was driven by fear, control, and occupation, treating all of its citizens and guests with suspicion. How the perpetual reminders of authority and violence oppressed the character of its people. However, when he crossed into Palestine, the people, living in greater poverty and subject to the sudden seizure of their property, were kind, generous, and happy. For all their reason to fear for survival, the Palestinians seem to live with more joy than their Israeli counterparts. In the same city. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills.”
And Jesus names a new way—the old way—being gathered together as a mother’s children.
Empire is Not Inevitable
Our country’s original motto, before we changed it during the Red Scare, e pluribus unum, means “out of many, one.” And like Jerusalem, our DNA is infused with the power of unity and division.
Just as Jesus’s death warrant was written when he spoke against Rome and the Temple authorities, our many martyrs would be killed for the powerful. From King to Romero, speaking out on behalf of the weak against the powerful gets people killed by the powerful. Yet, these deaths need not be inevitable. The fingerprints of empire coat our lives with division and discord. And yet the fingerprints of GOD enliven us with love and unity.
Unity is just as inevitable. It is the way of Jesus and the Kingdom. It is the way of righteousness and hope. It is part of our nature and our identity.
In this season of Lent, marked by a call to embrace the Kingdom, reconcile the divided, and show mercy, may we reject the way of division—the way of the Jerusalem that is condemned to kill its prophets and GOD’s immigrants. And may we embrace the way of unity—the Kingdom way of generosity and Sabbath journey. May we become one.