“The Road to Jerusalem: First Steps” March 17, 2019
“The Road to Jerusalem: First Steps”
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18/ Philippians 33:17-4:1
Courage – you say the word and all kinds of things come to mind. We talk about it, write books about it, and all agree there isn’t enough of it in the world. We have a lot of names for this magnificent quality; names like bravery, pluck, fearlessness, backbone, hutzpah, salt, resolve, guts, fortitude, and the list goes on. I might mention that if the word “guts” is a little too crass for the company you keep, you might want to use “Intestinal fortitude” instead. It means pretty much the same thing but sounds a bit more academic. Anyhow, it’s safe to say that no matter what we think about it or what we call it, courage is basically the ability to do something that would normally scare you half to death.
The reason I even bring up the subject of courage is because our scripture readings for today all seem to deal with some folks who are, well…scared. Abram, who later is known as father Abraham, is troubled – troubled that his legacy and his inheritance will all be left with the head of the household, a servant, because it was obvious that Abraham and his wife were never going to have children. But God promised him as many offspring as there are stars in the sky and it put his fears to rest. Later, Paul is telling his church in Philippi not to lose heart, to keep their eyes on those who live as disciples of Christ, to stand firm. Paul has taken plenty of hard knocks for preaching salvation in Christ. He is hoping to be the example, to bolster their faith, to inspire some courage.
Then, in the gospel text from Luke 13, we find the Pharisees, of all people, all shook up because word is on the street that Herod is looking to have Jesus killed. (vs 31) reads, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” Well, alright, then. Sounds like it’s time to move on. Now, there are those that speculate that the Pharisees were just trying to get Jesus out of town with the knowledge that Herod wouldn’t have Jesus killed in front of all his followers. That would be bad politics. It would be better to get him isolated and away from the population before you did the dirty deed. It’s possible, I suppose, but that’s not the point. The point is that Jesus didn’t want to be bothered with the whole silly affair and surprises us all by saying, “Go tell that fox I’ve no time for him right now. Today and tomorrow I’m busy clearing out the demons and healing the sick; the 3rd day I’m wrapping things up. Besides, it’s not proper for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.” Pretty gutsy move, wouldn’t you say? But it feels good. It feels good to hear Jesus sass a ruler who was very capable of killing whoever he pleased. It feels good to hear Jesus, the Prince of Peace, openly defy one of most evil rulers of all time. It feels good that this prophet, this person who calls himself the son of God and the son of man – it feels good to see him showing a little moxie, some grit, some spunk. It feels good because this is something we can sink our teeth into, this is the Jesus we want to be like: a Jesus of courage. There’s only one problem: Jesus is not being courageous here. Not at all. The fact of the matter is that Jesus is a big chicken.
Now, before you all start making moves to bounce me out on my ear for saying that, let me explain how it is that I have come to that conclusion. You know, we spend a lot of time studying the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. From the words of the prophets we had a pretty good idea what was to come. The writings of the Apostles have given us a clear picture of what God would have us to be through the life and teachings of Christ. The writings of Paul give us an understanding of the importance of good theology; of knowing the heart of God through Christ. Scripture is mysterious and funny, it’s powerful and playful, and it’s enlightening and confounding all at the same time. Right now, in this period before we celebrate the resurrection of the Son of God, it is different. Have you noticed that from the moment that Jesus announced they were heading to Jerusalem, things changed? His disciples tried to talk him out of it – he had ruffled too many feathers, made too many enemies. Best not to push our luck. But it was clear what had to be done. My point is that the gospel accounts of Christ during this time on the Road to Jerusalem are unique. They are, in a sense, the final exclamation point at the end of his earthly ministry. They are more intense, more poignant, and above all, unforgettable. What I treasure most about Christ in this time is that it is here that we get a good look at the humanity of Christ. Here was a man who was traveling to his death, but unlike us he had no fear of death. Yet, the humanity in him mourned for us- we who had tasted his glory and believed as well as we who had chose to turn away. It was with a breaking heart that he said (vs 34) Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often have I wanted to gather your people like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that. You didn’t want that, and it breaks my heart.
Did you know that the root for the word “courage” is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earlier forms, the word “courage” had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant “to speak one’s mind by telling all of one’s heart.” So that being said, I guess you could say that Jesus had a lot more courage than we imagined.
For the next few weeks, we will be following Christ and the disciples on the road to Jerusalem. As we do, I’m hoping to pay special attention to the humanity, the heart, of Christ. And if some of that happens to rub off on us along the way, we may find our hearts and our minds are a whole lot more agreeable than they have been in the past. A new kind of courage on the Road to Jerusalem.
Amen & Shalom