By: Eleanor Wellford, Priest Associate
Right off the bat…right in the beginning, I sense something strange about this morning’s gospel. Luke wrote that “Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’” (Luke 13:31). It wasn’t what Herod was planning to do that was so strange since he or a member of his family had been threatening to kill Jesus ever since he was a baby.
It was WHO delivered the message that was strange. The Pharisees, or the very people who had been trying to trick Jesus, or trip him up, or make him look foolish, were suddenly being friendly to him in their warning about what Herod was planning to do.
Apparently, Jesus didn’t think that the messengers or the message was all that strange. He was used to such threats and knew that “that fox”, Herod, couldn’t kill him. That was the fate that awaited him in Jerusalem and he wasn’t there yet. And until he was there, he still had work to do.
I’m always amazed at how Jesus knew what that work was and was able to keep his focus on his mission and ministry. It couldn’t have been easy with all the pushback he got. And think of all the times he was misunderstood – even by the people closest to him. Despite all of that, he seemed to have few if any doubts about what he wanted to do or who he wanted to be – when he grew up.
I’m still trying to figure that out! Dr. Vic Maloy, who is (was) our Forum speaker today and will be for the next two weeks (has and) will address that very issue and introduce the concept of becoming an “elder” which is not the same as simply being older.
It means growing into a stage of our lives when we begin to understand who we are; (pause) and how what we do lays the groundwork for who we are becoming. It’s a time in our lives when we can see how our experiences have helped to shape and strengthen our faith which we can share with those in our family, church or community who haven’t gotten there yet. It’s a whole new way – a healthy and exciting way – to look at aging.
It seems to me that Jesus was an elder before he was even a teenager. He was, as we might describe it today, an “old soul” in that he was wise beyond his years and had an uncanny understanding of human nature.
Unfortunately, that caused trouble for him wherever he went – which might be why he didn’t stay in any one place for long. He was always on the move – staying one step ahead of the civil and religious authorities. And now, we hear from Luke that Jesus was on the move to Jerusalem.
His journey there is what gives these strangely disjointed 5 verses of Luke’s gospel some direction and purpose since there’s no narrative or story to do that for us. The passage begins with Jesus in Galilee – which was part of Herod’s so-called Kingdom and where power was only an illusion, grounded in ego.
The passage ends with Jesus’ saying that he will be recognized as the one who comes in the name of the Lord, revealing God’s Kingdom of Heaven where power is real and grounded in love.
And then there’s Jerusalem – looming large in the middle of it all – the city of political and religious unrest – “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.”
Jesus would be no exception; yet he was bound and determined to get there. Nothing and no one could stop him – not Herod, not the Pharisees, not even the knowledge of the fate that awaited him there. What gave Jesus the strength to make that journey?
Something happened a few weeks ago that unexpectedly gave me some insight into that question. It happened on a Friday afternoon in Little St. Mary’s with maybe only a handful of people gathered around the altar table. It was there that I had the privilege of blessing a beautiful baby boy who was being cared for by surrogate parents who are members St. Mary’s.
The baby was just 8 days old and was so sleepy and snuggly and sweet that I just wanted to keep holding him and watching his tiny little face and arms and hands. I didn’t want to give him back after I had blessed him. But I did – reluctantly.
And when I did, I saw immediately how attached the surrogate Mother had become to this gift of a child; yet she and her husband would only be keeping him a few days more before having to turn him over to his adoptive family.
Already I was feeling her sadness which is why I had to ask how she was able to let go of each precious child that came into her life. She said that despite how many times she and her husband had been surrogate parents, letting go hadn’t gotten any easier. Their hearts still broke every time they had to say goodbye.
Then I asked her how they could keep setting themselves up for such pain. What gave them the strength to do that?
There was a moment of silence before she quietly answered that question. She said that they both had FAITH that God was part of the plan and placement of each child – and that’s how they got through it time and time again.
Of course it was faith! Why did I even have to ask? It’s always about faith when we are willing to do something out of love that may cause us so much pain. It’s the same faith – faith in carrying out God’s purpose – that gave Jesus the strength and determination to continue his journey to Jerusalem – even if it meant that he would suffer and die there.
I don’t think faith like that comes easily. I think it takes experiences of love and loss and suffering and healing to break open our hearts and be guided by faith – a faith that allows us to face old fears, to break down old barriers and attachments and free us up to live and love like never before.
Isn’t that the faith we want when we grow up? Isn’t that the faith that we want shaping us as we become elders? It’s what spiritual writer Joan Chittister wrote about in her book The Gift of Years. It’s faith “that God who created us, who grew us to full stature, is not finished with us yet” (pg. 212) – is not done with us and is right beside us, loving us and blessing us along the way.