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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Lent 03/17/2019

Last week’s gospel story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness ended with the devil departing from Jesus “until an opportune time.”  I don’t think it’s a stretch to see this week’s gospel as representing such an “opportune time,” and thus seeing it as a continuation of the temptation story.  I did take on the role of the devil in last week’s sermon but I can’t say that I really know exactly how the devil goes about his business, but I suspect that his most frequent method involves working indirectly through other people.  It might be through people known to be bad, in today’s gospel for example, someone like King Herod, but being clever, the devil might also work through people who are thought to be good, people like the Pharisees who are also featured in this text.

Herod is one of the Bible’s quintessential villains although actually there’s more than one Herod; they were kind of a family dynasty.  The Herod that was around at the time of Jesus’ birth was Herod the Great; the one referenced in this text is his son Herod Antipas, but it doesn’t really matter.  It’s a case of the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, like father like son. 

Most significantly, both father and son were ruthless in their pursuit and elimination of any threats to their power, pursuit and elimination of anyone who might be seen as a rabble rouser, anyone who might want to upset the peaceful order of things and challenge Roman rule. 

Jesus was perceived as such a threat.  That’s why Herod the Great orchestrated the slaughter of the innocents when he heard from the Wise Men that a new king of the Jews had been born.  That’s why his son Antipas was fearful many years later when he heard about what Jesus was up to and about the crowds that were attending to him.

In today’s reading though, it’s the Pharisees who call Jesus’ attention to Herod’s ill intent saying to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”  It’s a little bit surprising because you know that the Pharisees weren’t exactly fans of Jesus.  They were the well respected religious insiders and are mostly portrayed as feeling threatened by Jesus and being offended by some of his actions. Violation of the Sabbath was a major point of conflict as the Pharisees always seemed to be there to catch Jesus doing healings on the Sabbath, healing representing work that was forbidden on the Sabbath, but they were also after him for his violation of boundaries, his association with those thought to be sinful and unclean.

The question then is, what was the motivation of the Pharisees in issuing this warning?  On the surface they seem to be trying to help Jesus, but that doesn’t make sense with their conduct toward him up having been consistently hostile up until this point; one would have expected them to take the opposite approach and try to direct Jesus into Herod’s hands so that Herod could eliminate him as a threat.

Or…it could be that their motivation was to use the threat of Herod to try and scare Jesus away, to try and get him to go back to the Galilean countryside where he came from and not go to Jerusalem where he could really cause problems.  In more remote regions at best he would be a minor celebrity and a minor irritant but the real religious and political leaders wouldn’t have to worry too much about him.  It’s a solution that would satisfy both the Pharisees and King Herod.

That may have been what the Pharisees were doing as they cautioned Jesus, but if so they were perhaps unwittingly acting as the devil’s advocates.  Keeping Jesus out of Jerusalem would serve the interests of the Pharisees and King Herod, but more importantly, if Jesus doesn’t go to Jerusalem, he can’t be who God wants him to be just like he couldn’t be who God wanted him to be if he gave in to any of the wilderness temptations. That serves the interest of the devil and that’s why I think this story can be understood as representing an “opportune time,” an extension of the temptation story. 

An important piece of the background here is that fact that Luke has this story situated as part of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.  At this point Jesus knows where he is going and will not be dissuaded even knowing that the likes of Herod are out to get him, because… a prophet must be on his way.

So, unintimidated, Jesus mocks Herod and tells the Pharisees to tell that fox  that he would continue to cast out demons and perform cures not just because such things are signs of his power and authority but because they also embody the good news of the gospel as those healed are restored to the fullness of life in their community.  It’s all part of Jesus’ challenge to the status quo, his threat to the power and authority of those who thought they had power and authority.  But a prophet must be on his way.

This is a journey text; it’s part of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, and my guess is that’s why it’s gospel for Lent as Lent is often thought of as a forty day journey.  I have several books upstairs with the title “Lenten Journey” so it is a common metaphor.   Being on a journey though implies that you know where you’re going, you know where you’re headed even if you don’t know everything that will happen along the way or what will happen when you get there. 

Jesus knew where he was going; as it said several chapters earlier “He set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  What is less certain is what he knew about what would happen when he got there.  What seems clear from today’s story and others though, is that he knew there was danger, serious danger from the likes of Herod.  Still, despite temptations to do otherwise, Jesus knew this was a journey he had to complete…for us and for our salvation.  Temptations along the way were part of the journey, but they wouldn’t stop him.

We’re not on the same kind of journey as Jesus but we’re now ten days into our forty day Lenten journey.  Do we know where we’re going?  Do we know what’s going to happen along the way?  Do we know what’s going to happen when we get there?  We’re not headed for Jerusalem like Jesus, we don’t have that in common, but like him we could say that we’re headed for the cross and we do know what that meant for him, but what does it mean for us?  The cross is the most common symbol of Christianity but a lot of the time we probably don’t think too much about what it means but what it means is worth thinking about during Lent or any other time for that matter. 

Martin Luther’s theology is very much centered on the cross as the paradoxical revelation of God’s love for us.  In the context of Lent, the cross does represent the end of the journey even if it isn’t the end of the story for Jesus or for us.  But…faith in the fact that the cross is God’s way of restoring our broken relationship is central to who we are as Christians.  For Luther, we don’t have to understand how this happens, we just have to have faith that it does happen and that the love of God is both hidden and revealed in the cross.

However we approach Lent, what we know is that we’re headed toward the cross but the reason for the journey is to move toward a closer relationship with the crucified Christ who died for us.  The purpose of Lent isn’t just to consider sin and mortality although that’s part of it; but such consideration is understood a way to grow in faith, to grow in thanksgiving for the gift of grace we’ve been given through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  As Lutherans, headed toward the cross, we’re also headed toward grace.

Knowing where you are going is an important part of the journey but paying attention along the way is important too.  Jesus models that for us too.  His face is set toward Jerusalem; he knows where he’s going but it’s not tunnel vision.  The way Luke tells the story, along the way Jesus pays attention to those he encounters.  As today’s text says he continues to cast out demons and perform cures, but he also continues to teach and along the way we get what are arguably some of his most important teachings, things like the Lord’s Prayer, the parable of the Good Samaritan and the parable of the Prodigal Son.  He was attentive to the journey, not just the destination.

As we journey through Lent, such attentiveness is important for us too and   Lenten disciplines are intended as a way to encourage such attentiveness.  Worship though is another important means of attentiveness as, for example, we pay attention to the readings we encounter every week to see how they help to lead us to the cross.  Worship is a way to stay attentive.  Prayer is another means of attentiveness and our mid-week evening prayer services (when we can hold them) provide another opportunity, another weekly marker and reminder of where we’re headed.

As was the case for Jesus, temptations to stray from our Lenten journey will be there; with all of us, the tempter will take advantage of opportune times.  But…staying attentive and staying focused on the cross and on Jesus will make the tempter’s work much more difficult.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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