“Listen – Paradox & Satire”
Luke 13: 31-35, March 17th, 2019
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Second Sunday of Lent
“In today’s reading from the gospel according to Luke, chapter thirteen, verses thirty-one thru thirty-five, we hear Jesus responding with a strongly worded charge to listen!”
31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
“In our listening, have we heard both paradox and the satire in Jesus’ words?”
“Listen – Paradox & Satire”
Oftentimes, when we want to fix something, we first must tear it apart, or totally dismantle it, before we can undertake a repair. Imagine going to someone for help fixing, say… your computer. And the technician says to you after examining it: “in order to fix it I will need to remove most of the software, all of your files and totally rearrange everything on it.” Your response is utter “alarm” at such a drastic solution. Well, sometimes this is what is needed to make it function properly. The basic computer itself is still solid, you are told, yet, we just need to go back to the basics and put things back together in a different order based on different priorities. In the case of a computer we sometimes need to decide if it is to be used primarily for work or play. Oftentimes it can not be done both ways, despite what the computer salesperson told us. This line of thinking applies to a vast array of things, not just a simple computer.
Jesus, in-essence, came to the world to fix what was wrong with humankinds understanding of God and what it means to follow in God’s teachings. In order to do so, some tearing down needed to take place before a new foundation could be laid out. In order to break through to an empire, a social structure which was built up on godless principles, Jesus relied on a rather harshly worded satire and paradoxical challenge to the doubled edge words of some Pharisees, whom were telling Jesus to “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” /Luke 13: 31b/ Jesus is clearly preparing himself for what is to come and was pointedly telling these religious leaders that no one, not even Herod, with his evil intent would stop Jesus from fulfilling his destiny. A contributor from “The People’s New Testament,” a Bible Commentary, speaks of the treachery coming from Herod and the religious elite at the time. “Herod’s most marked characteristic was unscrupulous cunning. Jesus uses the term to indicate that he understood the scheme. It was an artifice, (a ploy, a trick) of Herod and the Pharisees to get him away. Herod was afraid to kill him, (he was afraid of killing Jesus) on account of his popularity.” /B.W. Johnson/
Jesus was rising to the occasion with a bit of sarcasm as the irony, the absurdity of the situation was filled with contradiction. “Jesus longs to comfort those who would reject him.” /Ruth Anne Reese/ Yet, we know from their hardened hearts that this was not to be. Clearly it was not only their hearts that were closed, their hearing and eyesight was impaired as well. Based on the numerous references to the marvelous things Jesus was doing for the people at the time, only a blind closed minded person could have missed it! Therefore, the harsh sarcasm and paradoxical metaphors Jesus used were appropriate for the situation! Prayerfully, if we had been there that day, Jesus would not have needed to speak with us in the same manner.
What is important to note, as we ponder the implications of this encounter which Jesus had with these men, is that he encouraged them to Listen! Implying, of course, they had not been listening. This is a paradox of course. For certainly the Pharisees were able to hear. Listening is not the same as hearing. You are all hearing my voice, yet how many of you are listening? That is the question! They were hearing Jesus, but, apparently, not listening. Let’s be clear here. Listening oftentimes implies taking in the audible words of another and understanding the full meaning of what is being said. If they had been listening with a heart felt understanding of Jesus and his implied love for ‘all’ of the children of God, their response would have been different. If you are hearing my words today and scoff at what I am saying there are only two possibilities. It may be my fault, if I am doing a poor job of communicating the message to you. On the other hand, if your heart is not open to the understanding of who Jesus is, the Son of God, the Messiah, our Savior, then you could possibly miss the point of this discussion. If that is you, please, don’t scoff at this, at lease consider investigating and looking at the possibility that this could be the day you open your heart to a new level of understanding thereby allowing the love of God to flow into you more abundantly!
When I took on my new position as Senior Pastor twenty-two years ago, back in 1997, in Middletown, New York, it was my first position as the solo, full time Pastor. I had occasion to call on the pastor who had served the church for a decade some thirty years prior to my being there. He was retired living in Pennsylvania. We talked and chatted on the phone for a good while. One of the key points he wanted to communicate to me was a very basic understanding of ministry. He said to me: “Tim, always remember, it is all about transformation, transforming lives and helping others.” I don’t recall exactly how I responded to him, as we talked for a good long time. Yet, those words ring loud in my heart from time to time. Over the years I often wonder, did I just hear his words, or did I listen with an open heart to his wise and uplifting words. I think it was both and. As we have all learned by now, at least I pray we have learned this, pastors are only human.
We could turn a cold heart to our reading today, saying simply that Jesus was overly harsh with the Pharisees. Perhaps, you are driven and are trying to dig into the character of the man Jesus and why he was lashing out at those men that day. Or perhaps, you and I, we could set aside his humanness and look for the deeper meaning contained in the conversation. The human man, Jesus, had the heart of a pastor. That may seem like an understatement, but it speaks to the fundamental statement which came from the long-retired pastor I spoke to years ago. I am sorry I have forgotten his name. It seems to be lost in that log jam of names in my over crowed memory banks. But his words about transformation and helping others rings loudly in my heart. Apparently, I was truly listening to him. When I speak of someone having the heart of pastor, I am speaking about someone, like Jesus, whom truly cares about others. If you are able to, if you can step out of your own cocoon which insulates you from the needs of others, then perhaps you may have the heart of a pastor as well. The real test of course is this: can you selflessly give of yourself for the sake of another. Are you willing to compassionately seek to help someone transform their lives, without expectation of something in return?
The Pharisees, whom were doing Herod’s bidding, were focused on what Jesus was doing and how he was doing it rather than why. This line of thought comes from my study of the New Beginnings packet which will be discussed with you at the upcoming meeting after our service on March 31st. They truly are asking us to consider rethinking how we view things. Especially the what, the how, and most importantly – the why. What Jesus had managed to do as he went about his ministry, while healing the sick, helping the blind to see and the crippled to walk, while raising the dead, was draw vast crowds to come hear and see him. Those crowds scared old King Herod! How did Jesus excite the crowds? He did it with his charismatic personality for sure, but he also did it through his humble manner of offering to everyone his selfless concern for their wellbeing. Jesus was sharing the love of God freely with all whom came to see and hear him. All this disturbed the religious elite because they were more concerned with their own wellbeing than with the needs of their people, whom they were charged with caring for. Because of their selfishness they had missed the ‘why’ of what Jesus was doing. They were looking at the whole story from the wrong point of view!
If we step back from this one moment in the ministry of Jesus, we may be able to get a better perspective of the ministry of Jesus, which we are called to emulate! Once we understand why Jesus did what he did, everything becomes crystal clear! This clarity shifts all of the pictures, the choices, and decisions, which stem from a perspective of how and what we do! We are talking about transformation! We are talking about changing lives. We are talking about reaching out and helping others! Jesus wasn’t about getting into a negative debate with a couple of religious leaders. What Jesus was about that day was not driven by the structure of the Temple or the prestige of his position, nor was he driven by worldly things like a fancy home or ornate robes. If we look to the teachings of Jesus and step back and carefully look at the full ministry of Jesus, we will see an entirely different picture. Jesus was basically, tell those Pharisees that he was too busy doing what he needed to get done to worry about King Herod.
Today, is the second Sunday in Lent. Easter is a month away. What we are called to do during Lent is to reclaim our understanding of what Jesus is all about! What was his mission? What then, is our mission? What has God called us to be and to do? What is our focus? What ought our focus to be? If we truly are disciples of Christ, then his mission needs to be ours. In our tradition and understanding of being disciples, we are all called to follow in the example of Jesus and thus we are all called to the priesthood of all believers. A few weeks back we read from the gospel of Luke when Jesus opened the scroll containing the writings of the prophet Isaiah. After he finished the reading; Then Jesus began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” /Isaiah 4:21/ Thus Jesus has told us this is his ministry, his mission. “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;” /Isaiah 61:1-11/ In Jesus’ footsteps we are called to follow; this is why we are here.