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Deborah Beach Giordano
© February 22, 2016
as told by Deborah
Then there was the time when some Pharisees came to warn Jesus, “You’d better get out of here, because Herod wants to kill you.”
Jesus nodded, “Go and tell that fox that I said, ‘Listen, today and tomorrow I’m casting out demons and healing the sick, and on the third day I’ll be done. Just today and tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it isn’t right for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’”
Jesus looked out across the horizon toward the city, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” he sighed, “the city that kills its prophets and crushes those who are sent to it! How many times I have longed to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her brood under her wings — but you wouldn’t have it. And now look at the place!”
He shook his head, “I’m telling you, though: the next time you see me, you will rise up and say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in God’s name.’ ”
A Throwaway Parable?
In his heartfelt desire for the welfare of the people of Jerusalem, Jesus offers the tender, folksy image of a hen protecting her chicks. It’s one of those throwaway parables; the meaning so apparently obvious that we fail to give it a second thought. When troubles arise, take shelter in God; pray and have faith that the Lord will provide. We’ve heard that advice before. Ho hum.
But I wonder.
His words follow a lament about the violent nature of the citizens, and a yearning to gather together all of them — whom he calls “children.” Jesus seems to consider all of the people of Jerusalem as members of one family: a single flock, if you will.
And that’s an interesting notion — especially considering the kind of place it was in those days.
Jerusalem the Golden
Jerusalem was not “the city of the Jews,” if by that we imagine it as a sort of first century variation of New York’s East Side: filled with kosher delis and discount tailors and people who talk like Woody Allen. Although it held special significance for the Jews — and there were many who resided there, Jerusalem was a diverse, cosmopolitan city.
It was a pilgrimage site which, in modern terms, means it was a tourist city. A constant influx of visitors fueled the economy, providing a steady business for the hoteliers, wine merchants, souvenir sellers, tax collectors, pickpockets and prostitutes. Caravans delivered figs, nuts, and olive oil, and news from far away. Herod’s building projects brought in carpenters and masons and goldsmiths from throughout the land, while Roman soldiers and bureaucrats tried to hold an uneasy peace over all.
First century Jerusalem was a busy, bustling place, its streets filled with the endless ebb and flow of foreigners and locals, the strange and the familiar. Rather than just the East Side, we should look to the whole of New York City for the closest comparison.
(Not) Gathered Together
What a flock that would be! Gathered together, the rich and the poor, the old and the young, the hopeful and the broken, the junkies and panhandlers, the wicked and the well-intentioned — people of every race and nation.
That’s really something to think about. All of those “children” sheltered, loved, embraced by God. All of those children recognizing that they were one family, one flock. Imagine if we all believed (and behaved as if) that were true….
And, as Jesus said of Jerusalem’s divided population: look at the situation we’ve created by acting as though that it isn’t true.
With each new day our world slides deeper into the morass of cynicism and division. This is particularly apparent in the U.S. presidential campaigns — but can be seen in other aspects of our lives, as well. Hostility, contempt, and fear of “the other” fills the airwaves and ethernet, our offices, schools, cities, and streets.
If you wonder why you feel inexplicably tired, listless, and numb, those are symptoms of emotional exhaustion. We grow weary from the endless assaults on our spirits. The diffuse, all-encompassing anger and outrage that comes at us from all directions is like a shower of poison-tipped arrows. Our collective soul is grieving and bleeding.
Our hearts hurt for one another, whether we realize it or not.
While it is tempting to blame the media, it is we the people who insist on taking sides; drawing battle lines, declaring an all-out war against our “enemies” — disparaging their motives, their character, and their intellect. As harmful as it is, the greater danger in this pattern of hatred and condemnation is that we will develop a taste for blood: that we will have so well-learned this attitude of shunning and sneering and setting-aside, that it will become a way of life.
In our insularity and anger we will all become outsiders; self-exiled from the flock.
There is another important aspect of this Gospel passage that has been largely overlooked. In it Jesus tells his listeners that he has to go to Jerusalem because that’s “the rightful place for a prophet to die” — thereby identifying himself as a prophet.
As Christians we are tempted to downplay this remark because, after all, Jesus is really the Messiah, the Chosen One, Son of God, Lord Christ, Redeemer. Not just another old prophet. (Which shows you how much we know!) But when Jesus calls himself a prophet, that is actually A Very Big Deal. To be a prophet is to be God’s spokesman, giving a human voice to the mind of God. A prophet’s speaks God’s thoughts out loud.
It is immediately after proclaiming himself to be God’s spokes-man that Jesus utters his passionate cry to Jerusalem. He speaks of a deep longing to comfort all those in the scrambling, squabbling city; to gather them together in safety … if only they would.
Here, in this moment, with these words, God’s nature is revealed: a loving, compassionate concern for all people — without conditions, without restrictions, without limits. And we hear, too, the heartbreak of rejection; the divine grief over our refusal to cooperate: our unwillingness to love as we are loved, our inability to see one another as children of one family, one flock.
May our ears be opened to our Lord Jesus’ words and our hearts be filled with holy love.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
This Week’s Suggested Spiritual Exercise
Who is “us” and “them,” in Jesus’ sight?
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