Lent II
Lk 13:31-35

Like many of you, my wife and I have journeyed across the country a number of times. When I was in graduate school for seven years, we drive from Hartford to Chicago and back four times a year. After we moved to Stamford we took our kids to California and back. Later we drove from Darien across Canada and back. Fortunately, Faye likes to drive.

Several years’ back my sons bought us a Garmin GPS. This is an electronic gizmo that helps us navigate our travels without having to dig out maps. When we got off track, the voice in the Garmin would say, “Recalculating.”

As you know, Faye and I have a subscription to the New York Philharmonic concerts at Lincoln Center in NYC. We have been going to them for about ten years. It is always a worthwhile trip, for the music of Brahms, Beethoven and Bach is transcendent and lifts us to a new understanding of the beauty of sound and of life beyond ourselves.

Although Faye is thoroughly familiar with Manhattan, twice this season we have gotten lost. We got caught up in routes that were not taking us where we wanted to go and we couldn’t figure out how to find our way. So we got out the Garmin, plugged it in and followed directions. When we disobeyed, there was the admonition, “Recalculating.” As our frustration mounted, we wanted to smash the Garmin, and its self certain orders.

The first time we got lost, we finally arrived at Lincoln Center, but it was too late. All the parking spaces were taken! There was “no room at the inn.” The second time we got lost, we finally made it to Lincoln Center with time to spare, but we were seated at our table by a disapproving host. We acknowledged our wretchedness and then enjoyed a wonderful concert of Brahms, including excerpts from his requiem. At the end of our trip we returned home and marveled at how blessed we were. Our journey, our pilgrimage, was completed – for a while.

Now most of you know that I think in terms of metaphors. The story of Faye and my trips is a very human story. It deals with reality and human nature. It is similar to the story of the life and journey of Israel. Jesus was very familiar with the history of the Jews. He knew about the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus understood the flight to Egypt and the exile there. He was familiar with the forty years in the wilderness under Moses. The people were formed by that experience and given the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. The people yearned to have a solid, close relationship to God, to do that which was righteous and pleasing in His sight. Over and over they strayed, worshipping a golden calf in the wilderness, or practicing injustice to others and to themselves. The people finally brought forth kings and after David’s rule, divided into two entities: Israel and Judah. Eventually there was a second captivity, when most of the Jews were taken to Babylonia, only to return to a country that need to rebuild its temple under a prophet, Nehemiah. Over and over the Jews were brought back to their senses and to their roots by a voice, “recalculating.” Strong, charismatic leaders and prophets arose, recalculating the trajectory of God’s people: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Malachi, Elijah and Elisha called the people back to their true faith and practices as followers of Yahweh, Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  

Over time, the “recalculating” was done not only by the prophets but also by various schools, or groups. The priests, the Levites and the scribes focused on the importance of the Temple. Families, or clans, had a fairly firm monopoly on the business that was carried on in its courtyards. Sacrifice was important, as was the Torah, or Book of Law, which was hidden behind a high shroud. During the exiles synagogues sprang up. These were houses of worship, which concentrated upon understanding the scriptures and applying their strictures to everyday life. Basically there were two schools of interpreters. On the one hand there were the Sadducees who tended toward a strict, literal interpretation. (Think Republicans). On the other hand there were the Pharisees, who sought to be more accommodating to the demands of the work-a-day world. (Think Democrats). Both groups of rabbis were sincere and fought hard to maintain their interpretations and control of the synagogues. A third group, not connected to the synagogues, were influential families, or clans, such as the house of Herod. (Some were Hasmoneans.) They ran the religious community for Pilate, who was the Roman governor. Each group did a lot of “recalculating” in order to make sense of their lives and to set the folkways (habits) and mores (laws) of society. As usual, things got “complicated.”

Six hundred years after the last prophet, onto the stage of history lurched Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. He denounced just about everybody and proclaimed that the people had failed to recognize how to live in accordance with God’s will and purpose. John preached repentance of the sins of the people and recognized Jesus as the long anticipated Messiah, foreshadowed in the preaching of the prophets (i.e. Isaiah, Elisha and Elijah). For his “recalculating” efforts, John was beheaded.
Now all of this is background, or prologue, for today’s Gospel passage from Luke.  Jesus has been presented in Luke from the beginning as part of God’s plan for redemption. In the stories up to this point, Jesus is revealed as teacher, healer, rabbi, prophet, wonderworker and the long anticipated savior. His life embodied the struggles of Israel and He taught the Beatitudes and interpreted the Ten Commandments. He is not yet clearly articulated as the sacrificial lamb on the gibbet of the cross.

His authority and teaching put Him in direct conflict with each of the religious groups that I have mentioned: Sadducees, Pharisees, priests and Herod’s supporters. Like John the Baptist, Jesus has utter scorn for the hypocrisy of the various groups and the failure of the religious leaders to see that a new era is upon them. The Kingdom of God is unfolding. God is shifting from declaration of the Law and the role of charismatic kings and leaders to a revelation that is cosmic and sacrificial in nature.

Many of the people are beginning to understand this. Even some of the Pharisees are listening to Him. (Pharisaism was not monolithic.) A Pharisee came to warn Jesus that Herod was out to kill Jesus. A very fed up Jesus replies, “Go and tell that fox, ‘ behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day (soon) I finish my course.’ In other words, Jesus points to Elijah’s and Elisha’s predictions as to the nature of the coming Messiah. As a Jew, Herod should recognize this.

At this point Jesus laments over Jerusalem. “For it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken.” Jesus articulates God’s grief in the failure of the people and its leaders to hearkens unto the prophets and to live in accordance with the Kingdom of God: in accordance with God’s will and purpose. All of the “recalculating” of the prophets and those sent by God to aid or save the people have come to scorn and death. Like a mother with wayward children, God would gather all of his people under His wings to protect them, if only they would allow him so to do.

Jesus will leave and not return until what we call Palm Sunday, when the people will say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

On this second Sunday in Lent, consider your journeys, your pilgrimages, the unfolding of your lives. Think of the times when you needed course corrections. Think of times when someone called out to you and you did hearken. Think of the times when you have been too caught up in defending and arguing and criticizing and analyzing to listen to the yearning of your soul. Think of the times when you have failed to listen to the voice of God speaking in your hearts.

Consider the times when you thought you knew what you were doing and where you were going, only to realize you were lost and needed help and guidance. Consider the times when you found it, or recognized it, or received it from someone else. (I call those someone “elses” “angels.”) Consider the things that you have left undone and the things that you ought to have done. Consider the times when you listened to the voice of God through others or through prayer and have made the corrections that have brought you to a fine meal – the bread and wine of the Mass. The sacramental meal of the liturgy of the Mass feeds the soul, inspires our hope and opens us to the grace of God- a God who seeks to gather us under His wings, even as might a mother hen.

This Lent do some “recalculating.” Pay attention to what you know is positive, worthwhile, creative and re-creative. In your “recalculating” bring your family, loved ones or friends to the altar of God, where they can acknowledge their sin and weakness and where they can hear words of forgiveness and hope – where they can receive the body and blood of Christ, who died on the cross for me and for you. Let God do a little “recalculating” with you, and perhaps you with those whom you also love. Amen. -Fr. Gage