Last week, we left Jesus, or the devil left Jesus at the top of the temple, tempted to cast himself down into Jerusalem and wait upon the angels to save him from a cruel death. He was tempted to abandon his mission and end it before it had even begun, with a sign and a signal of his power to summon the forces of heaven, and a sign and a signal of his capitulation to the expectations of the world and the devil, his conformation to the ways of the worldly wise, which would, despite its groundbreaking, breathtaking spectacle, change nothing.
Jesus rejected that temptation, he brushed the devil aside in words you can count on your fingers, words you can count on: Do not test the Lord your God.
Interestingly, in the gospel of John, there is no story of the temptations. The classical three-pronged attack of the devil in the wilderness that we heard about last week is missing, leading some commentators to speculate that the original stories of the temptations came from the people with whom Jesus interacts, the people who demand signs and wonders, and the people who attempt to turn Jesus from his mission, and turn him away from his destination, his destiny one might say, in Jerusalem [The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9: The Gospel of Luke, The Gospel of John (Abingdon Press, 1995), p. 97]. People like the Pharisees of this morning’s gospel, who do in fact sound like echoes of last week’s tempter, who warn Jesus away from Jerusalem, because Herod, they say, is looking for an excuse, a way to kill him.
Jesus pays no more heed to the blandishments of the king, sent via the rumor mill and its willing grist, the Pharisees, than he did to the devil.
“Tell that fox I’m busy,” he said. “I am busy casting out demons and performing cures. I am busy in the mission field and down among the people. I am too busy to die today. Tomorrow doesn’t look great for it, either.”
It’s kind of the opposite of the temple temptation, and it’s kind of the same thing. Jesus would not compromise on his mission or its methods, for the devil, for the king, for his friends, for anyone. He would not be turned from his journey.
Lent is a season of penitence; we understand that. We know how often we are tempted and, unlike Jesus, are imperfect in our responses to those temptings. We are sorry for our sins; we repent, and we ask god’s forgiveness. But we also ask God’s help to do better.
Penitence, or repentance, is not just about grovelling in our shame; it is not about staying in the dirt, the dust and ashes of our sin. Repentance is to turn, to face in a new direction. As Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem, so we turn towards the city of God, the heavenly city on a hill, where we are called and where we belong.
We are pilgrims on a journey till we get there.
Abram journeyed out of Ur because God called him, and even when the road was hard and he couldn’t see the way forward, God reassured him, and Abram trusted God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.
We are citizens, says St Paul, of heaven. We are on a pilgrimage into a world where God’s kingdom is come, God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Our citizenship belongs there, and we are restless until we find our home.
We are travelling with Jesus towards Jerusalem, the holy city where God longs to gather us under motherly wings, where God broods over us.
And yet we live in a world of brokenness; the foxes are loose in the henhouse. Jerusalem turned away from God’s care, refused to be gathered, to be sheltered, to be saved. Still it is the city which represents our hopes for a peaceful future together as children of one God, as well as the frustrations of our present reality, fractured and fighting.
Repentance is not only about dust and ashes. It is about the cities that we build out of the ruins of our broken promises of peace. It is about doing God’s will here, on earth, not waiting until we get to heaven.
Jesus was too busy praying to listen to the devil, and he was too busy casting out demons and performing cures to listen to that old fox Herod and his threats.
What are we too busy doing to be tempted this Lent?
This week, our neighbours in Chardon try to make sense of an unwanted anniversary. As they do so, the young man who shot his classmates is still awaiting assessment to see if he should stand trial. Families and friends still grieve the dead, and the injured and the innocent bystanders bear the scars of that morning. It happened just down the road. In the past two weeks, other schools in the area have received at least two threats which required anxious attention.
The foxes are loose in the henhouse. Our chicks, our children are being formed by fear; too many feel that spreading fear is the only way for them to get attention, and because of our fear they have access to too many instruments of fear, too many weapons, for their own safety. We don’t need Herod, these days, to make mayhem amongst the innocents.
Will you pray for our youth, for the casting out of the demons that beset them? Will you work to cast out the weapons of destruction that tempt those who hear their whispers?
Will you help perform cures, standing up for those who need health care, who need the support of our legislators to give them access to the services that many of us already enjoy?
Will you help cast out hunger, or cure the loneliness of someone who needs you?
Will you gather in the shadow of the wings of a loving God, who broods over us all?
Jesus was too busy with his own work to bother with the blandishments of Herod or of the devil. Can we say the same?
For every time we pray, “thy kingdom come,” can we take a step towards it?
The victory that Jesus demonstrates today is the victory of determination over intimidation, of hope over fear, of mission over misery, of hens over foxes. It is a victory greatly to be desired, and gratefully to be received.
“What,” asks the Psalmist, “What if I had not believed that I should see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!”
But we have seen it, in the faith of Abram and the faithfulness of God’s promise to him; and we have seen it in the face of Jesus Christ. This Lent, gathered together as chicks in the warm wings of their mother, we will fear no evil, if we are busy growing in love.