OT – Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Ps – 27
Epistle – Philippians 3:17-4:1
Gospel – Luke 13:31-35
Now that we’re well on our way in our Lenten journey to the Cross, I find at times it’s difficult to maintain my focus. Self-denial, repentance, suffering. But why? There’s no doubt that Christ was determined, and knew exactly what he was about on his way to the Cross. In the Gospel for this Sunday our Lord gives the Pharisees a message to pass along to Herod, who apparently wants to kill him: “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’”
“I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following.” But why does he go on? Why does our Lord insist on going through Jerusalem, which loves to kill its prophets? One can talk all day about obedience, duty, and sacrifice, but frankly, these fail to motivate me to “go on my way” with Christ. I recognize his goodness, but I’m not exactly inspired to follow.
But then I recall a line about our Lord in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which bids us to look to gain a more complete picture of Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12.2). He didn’t suffer and die simply to save others, simply out of a sense of duty and obligation, but for the joy he knew awaited him on the other side. The joy of his own transformation, the joy of having accomplished a great work, the joy of being joined by many friends, the joy of glorifying the Father. The suffering of Christ is the means to an end, and his ultimate goal is that “God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15.28).
“Joy” is an idea I can get behind. Joy is even something I would suffer to obtain. No pain, no gain. When seen in the right light, it seems to me that the great question that drives Lent is, “what do you really want?” At the end of our Gospel for Ash Wednesday, right at the beginning of Lent, Christ confronts us with this same principle: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6.21).
Here we are, well into Lent, and mercifully, we’re reminded of this question again. The violence implied in our Gospel is accompanied by a wonderful pair of Promises in today’s Old Testament lesson and Epistle. First, we recall the famous promise given to Abraham, that his descendants would outnumber the stars in the sky, and that they would possess a homeland of their own, a place of rest and plenty. And in our Epistle this same promise is transposed to the key of the Gospel as we’re reminded that “our commonwealth is in heaven,” and that at the end our bodies will be changed “to be like his glorious body, by the power, which enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
With such joy set before us, perhaps I too can “go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following,” and follow Christ even unto Jerusalem, which loves to kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to her.
The Rev. Jeremy W. Bergstrom, St. Christopher's in Dallas