Theme When the world does not understand Christ
Sentence Rend your hearts and not your garments; turn back to the Lord your God who is gracious and compassionate, long-suffering and abounding in love. (Joel 2:13) [NZPB, p. 575]
Collect Almighty God,
Give your people grace to withstand
The temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil,
And with pure hearts and minds to follow you,
The only true God;
Through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen. [NZPB, p. 575]
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Anyone reading this week's gospel reading should be quite dramatic when reading Jesus' words "Go and tell that fox for me ..." with special emphasis on the word "fox". If it makes Jesus sound angry, all the better. I think he was angry about Herod. Probably also about Jerusalem. Here is Jesus at his most raw state: as any human being would be when their life is threatened and the city they love most is rejecting their help.
In other words, as we walk with Jesus through Lent, under Luke's guidance, on the way to the cross in Jerusalem, we have to face the fact that this was no walk in the park. Jesus was a fugitive from injustice yet he kept up with his intentions: to present himself in Jerusalem as the only fit place for a prophet to be killed. Jerusalem was not a safe place for Jesus, yet he loved Jerusalem and longed like a hen gathering her brood under her wings to gather her children together. But Jerusalem was "not willing" (13:34). This great city rejected God advancing in love to her through Jesus Christ.
What are we to make of this passage with its dark shadows and raw emotions?
Let's come to that question by looking at the other passages. In Philippians Paul urges his readers onwards in imitating himself, his own life lived in imitation of Christ. That Christ he eagerly looks forward to, as he will transform the earthly circumstances of our lives - the ones that cause so much trouble - so that our bodies may be conformed to "the body of his glory" (3:21). To this end they are to stand firm (4:1). The alternative is (sadly) apparent in some lives, those who live "as enemies of the cross of Christ" exemplified, among other things, by their minds being set on "earthly things" (4:18, 19). Paul has an understanding of Christ's suffering, of what the walk to Jerusalem cost Christ. He cannot bear to now be against Christ (as he once was) because the suffering Christ experienced on the cross means that life can be different for Paul, and for all of us. So Paul is a friend of the cross of Christ because the crucified Christ has befriended him.
Psalm 27 speaks to you, me, Paul and Jesus when we face opposition:
"The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?"
Whom indeed shall we fear when we live in the strength and confidence the psalmist, likely David, shows in this lovely psalm - lovely in its yearning to see God's face. What is the purpose of Jerusalem as the city of God? To be the place where we meet God. Why is Jesus so distressed over Jerusalem? Because it has become the opposite of what God intended it to be Why must Jesus die there? To open the way for people to meet God face to face!
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 takes us back to the beginning of Israel: a childless Abram is promised that his childlessness is no impediment to becoming the father of a great nation. What does Abram do?
"And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness."
The psalmist does not give in to fear. Abram does not give in to reasonable doubts. Paul looks ahead to a new day and so stands firm in the present day.
Our gospel takes us to Jesus at a low moment on a difficult journey. The surrounding readings take us to great heroes of the faith, to Abram, David and Paul, and show us ways in which we can face low moments in our walk with Christ.