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March 4, 2007 (Second Sunday in Lent)—“Priest and Prophet”
Interim Pastor Steven Jensen
As we think about our Gospel reading for today, it seems apparent that Jesus was aware he was nearing the end of his ministry—and his life. What would you do if you knew that you could change the course of events by turning a blind eye, by keeping the truth to yourself, by ignoring God’s voice within? What would you do if you knew that your time was coming to a rapid end? Would you spend your remaining time with family, do the things you always wanted to do but never got around to, go into a deep depression—or expend yourself totally and completely for others?
The Pharisees, concerned for the course of events that seem to be playing out and friendly towards Jesus, tell him that for his own safety he must get away from Jerusalem and stop saying things that upset Herod, the Sanhedrin, and the faithful in the Holy City. In essence they tell him that it is okay to be a priest, but not a prophet. After all, look at the history of Jerusalem. Jeremiah, for example prophesied against Jerusalem because of its wickedness. They snap back, “You’re not supposed to do that here.” Jerusalem was sacred, beyond criticism, off-base to a prophet’s rantings—even if his words were the truth. No criticism allowed. We are Abraham’s descendents. No criticism allowed. We are the chosen of God. No criticism allowed.
For the people, Jerusalem is the city of cities. It is the holy of holies, the place where God dwells, the site of the temple of the Most High.
For Jesus, it was a different Jerusalem. It was a city, a people that had lost its way. What they had become was so sad, it brought the Son of God to tears. Out of love for them and in obedience to the One who sent him, it forced him to tell the truth about Jerusalem.
Jerusalem worshiped God and in His name killed the prophets, stoned the people whom God had sent to awaken them and turn them around and back to him. God had sent people to serve them, to rescue them, to love them. And now he sends his Son. If only they would listen to him....
But they reject him. They reject his call to repentance, to love. They reject his acts of mercy, kindness, and healing. They reject his new understanding of a God who no longer requires their sacrifices, but a relationship. They reject his fulfillment of scripture as the Messiah, the one promised to Adam and Eve and to all who have sinned since.
But the one they reject does not reject those who reject. He accepts them anyway. He loves them anyway. He asks God to forgive those who torture and nail him to a cross as he pours out his blood and dies for them. And when he rises as he promised on the third day, he rises for them.
Despite knowing that he could save his own life and have many more years to heal and preach and teach if he simply toned down his rhetoric, Jesus said things that made people comfortable; Jesus pressed the issue. Jesus had already wrestled with the Devil and proven that God’s will would guide him and his decisions. As powerful as humans thought they were, God would ultimately triumph. With that faith and trust in the Father, he challenged Herod to do his best to squelch the Good News and the voice of the one who brings it.
Despite the clear mission God has given him, Jesus does not take delight in criticizing; he is compelled to tell the truth. His prophesying requires both courage and love. How different that is from Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor who scrutinized the faith of others when he himself had no faith.
One of most dreadful sins of Christians is that we too often act like Lucy in the Peanuts cartoons. We are too quick to open our mouths and give lectures to others, to judge and condemn others. We think we are doing the proper and right thing by giving them our sage advice. “You shouldn’t have done that. You should have known better. You’re getting what you deserve.” Sometimes people need to hear the truth, to get good teaching. But sometimes what people really need is a hug. Hugs, too, speak volumes.
Yet offering an embrace is much more risky than lecturing. With lecturing, we can keep our distance from other people. If they reject our wise counsel, they’ve merely rejected our wise counsel. When we get close enough to people to really care, to offer an embrace as a gesture of love, and that is rejected, it is much more painful. They are rejecting us! “I’m too big for hugs,” says a child. “Don’t touch me,” says a partner or spouse.
How do we discern the difference as we attempt to relate to people and wrestle with what is right as opposed to what is convenient or less difficult? Perhaps one of the motives of the Pharisees who came to Jesus was avoiding conflict. How often do we pray that a trouble-maker in our neighborhood, work place, home, or church would simply go away rather than talk with them about it?
We are called “the priesthood of all believers.” I believe we are also called to be “the prophets of all believers.” Both roles—priest and prophet—are expected of disciples, although the former is often more rewarding than the latter.
Christ did not get nose-to-nose and point his finger at the demon-possessed man, telling him he should not have gotten involved with that kind of stuff. Jesus did not stand on a hill overlooking Jerusalem and say he was concerned about them—and keep on walking. He did not play the “If you don’t like me, the heck with you” game.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem,”he sighs. Because of you it is necessary for me to go not just today, but tomorrow, and the third day to Jerusalem. There is a “divine must” that hangs over Jesus’ mission. It is not God’s will for Jesus to escape the confrontation in Jerusalem. It is God’s will that Jesus not only continue to speak God’s truth to God’s people, but that he pay the price for their self-centeredness, their rebellion, their sin.
Pastor Paul Harms once said that Jesus’ determined path to the cross shows us “the intensity of God’s love, only because of the intensity of God’s wanting to give us mercy, only because God unceasingly desires to gather us children together under [her] wings, only because God sees what our life is like, what it will be like without God, what our life could be like with him. There’s a fierceness about God’s mercy. There’s a fierceness about Christ.”
Jesus made God’s Word his home, his compass, his fire, his source of love. He invites us to make God’s Word our home. Some people, like those in Jerusalem that day, live elsewhere than in his Word. Some people have no home for their lives. Some people simply exist. For many, life is consciousness marked by date of birth and date of death. In between, they grab all the gusto they can get.
But as Jesus faces this fork in the road of his life on earth, he demonstrates for us that God’s Word has power. God’s Word gives life.
We do not know the length of our days. We only know that God has given us this day with its challenges and opportunities. We can squander it, or we can use it to God’s glory. We, too, will face many forks in the road when we are given the easy path or the hazardous path that leads to our own cross.
God in Christ has taken away the sting and finality of death. Jesus shows us what is possible when our fear of death gives way to trust in the Father who raises the dead and gives new and eternal life in paradise.
We, too, have the assurance that God will be with us, God will give us the strength and courage to follow his will if we but ask. If we allow God’s Spirit within us, he will give us the words and the love to live and to speak his truth.
Go out from here today as both priest and prophet. In the Spirit of God, be His instruments of reconciliation, hope, and peace.
Copyright © 2007 Steven Jensen
Comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org