Thursday, February 18, 2016

Vigil with the Word: Year C, Second Sunday in Lent

It's not a mother hen, but its close enough!
A.Kumm-Hanson, NYC, 2014

The texts for the Second Sunday in Lent are:

Genesis 15:1-12,17-18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

I have chosen to focus my commentary this week on the Gospel text.

Luke 13:31-35

 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ 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. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” 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! 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.” ’

Most of the texts during the season of Lent are those leading up to the events of the passion in Jerusalem. Jesus seems to be exasperated in this text.  He is busy healing people and casting out demons and restoring people to life, and the Pharisees are running him out of town. He knows that he is on the way to Jerusalem, he knows what awaits him there, his followers, or the people of God at large, do not yet know. In this text, Jesus is lamenting the willfulness of the people of Jerusalem. A community that “kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.” A community who cannot hear hard truths and lashes out in anger. Jesus states that he wants to “gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” and that the community at Jerusalem is still unwilling to be gathered.

I love this imagery.  A mother hen, feathers puffed up and wings spread over a flock of chicks, is delightful. It is nurturing, it is a promise of warmth and protection. It is a sort of promise of “I will bear with you through hard things, through hearing the hard truth about the world and yourselves, and I will bear with you until the end of days.”

And yet, the people of Jerusalem rebel from this promise of care.  Because of the pain of acknowledging the reality of death, brokenness and sin, is far too great, they would rather “kill the messenger.”  We are really no different when we hear some piece of news that reminds us of our mortality.  The most human of responses is to deny, out of self-preservation, news about our death. 

I have been seeing a ton of people lately who have been admitted onto hospice services just hours or days before their death. Who themselves struggle to come to terms with death, and whose families vehemently deny the inevitable process of aging and death and broker prayer deals with God. I also see families in extreme suffering in the hospital, whose loved ones have exhausted every possible avenue of modern medicine in an effort to stave off death, and who bargain with God to stop this mortal inevitability. These kinds of deaths are the most difficult to bear witness to, and they break my heart.

I wonder how living, aging, and dying might change if we nestled into the bosom of a mother-hen God who nurtures us and tends us as the world rages around. We cannot deny that our bodies will fail us, some due to trauma or cancer, some due to age, but that death is not the end, but merely a stop on the way.

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