Almighty God, you show to those who are in error the light of your truth, that they may return to the way of righteousness: grant to all those who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion, that they may reject those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Almighty God, by the prayer and discipline of Lent may we enter into the mystery of Christ’s sufferings, and by following in his Way come to share in his glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Almighty God, you see that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
These things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Then he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’ But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.’ He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.’
Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?
2 When the wicked, even my enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh,
they stumbled and fell.
3 Though a host encamp against me, my heart shall not be afraid,
and though there rise up war against me, yet will I put my trust in him.
4 One thing have I asked of the Lord and that alone I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
5 To behold the fair beauty of the Lord
and to seek his will in his temple.
6 For in the day of trouble he shall hide me in his shelter;
in the secret place of his dwelling shall he hide me and set me high upon a rock.
7 And now shall he lift up my head
above my enemies round about me;
8 Therefore will I offer in his dwelling an oblation with great gladness;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.
9 Hear my voice, O Lord, when I call;
have mercy upon me and answer me.
10 My heart tells of your word, ‘Seek my face.’
Your face, Lord, will I seek.
11 Hide not your face from me,
nor cast your servant away in displeasure.
12 You have been my helper;
leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.
13 Though my father and my mother forsake me,
the Lord will take me up.
14 Teach me your way, O Lord;
lead me on a level path, because of those who lie in wait for me.
15 Deliver me not into the will of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen up against me, and those who breathe out violence.
16 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
17 Wait for the Lord; be strong and he shall comfort your heart;
wait patiently for the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
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.”’
Luke 13: 31–35
Sermon on Second Sunday of Lent
“… 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. …’”
I think this is a very odd incident, don’t you? Throughout history, the Pharisees and the Sadducees have been vilified as “the bad guys”, haven’t they? Why have they now come to Jesus and warned him about Herod’s murderous plan? This gives the lie to the usual picture of this group of people, doesn’t it? Why would they warn Jesus, if they were at odds with him? It would be even more unlikely if they were mortal enemies.
The wider context of our reading confirms that conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. In verses before and after our reading, there are explicit statements about the antagonism between them. So why do we have this story about this cooperation? Why would the Pharisees warn Jesus about a plot against him?
We can take a cynical view about this incident and say that the Pharisees did not want to be implicated in the murder of Jesus by “that old fox”. This is quite understandable, isn’t it? Who wants to be part of vile treachery? I know that I don’t want to be a part of the machinations of friends and acquaintances against others. People are too willing to do anything to get their own way. We can see this selfish dimension in so many events all around us, can’t we?
I think there is another way to look at this incident, a more charitable one. Perhaps it shows the confused nature of human experience. Do people really want to see the destruction of their opponents? Do we really want to see the people with whom we disagree to be eliminated completely in such a drastic way?
This incident proves that Shakespearean truth which states “conscience doth make cowards of us all”. The Pharisees are listening to their conscience, and they do not want to follow Herod in his plot against Jesus.
I think this story confirms that some Pharisees actually did listen to their conscience, but more than that, some Pharisees actually also listened to what Jesus had to say. (You may remember that Jesus did go to a Pharisee’s house and that Nicodemus was “a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin mentioned in three places in the Gospel of John.”) So shouldn’t it be possible that in spite of everything we think we believe, we might do something out of our everyday, ordinary character? Isn’t it possible that the Pharisees might in this one instance have done something which was antithetical to what they had professed at other times?
We have all behaved in this way, haven’t we? Saying one thing and doing another. I have done it myself, so it does not surprise me that others do so. For instance, I may call my brother scurrilous names and yet profess my love for him at every other moment in my life. I can contradict myself, just like the Pharisees have done in this instance in the life of Jesus which Luke records.
So just why has Luke remembered this event and told us about it? Where did such a story come from? Whom did Luke intend this story to reach? These are interesting literary questions, aren’t they? There are a lot of other questions when we consider the overall content of this episode. We don’t know the audience or the source of these verses, so it is difficult to place it in a context, and we all know how important context is for everything, don’t we?! NT scholars tackle all these sorts of questions, questions which are not at the heart of my Sunday morning’s rambling normally. But let’s consider them for a moment to put our minds on a track to understand just what Jesus says to Herod.
Here we have Jesus speaking to a group of people who, at best, are ambivalent towards him and he is clearly telling this crowd what he is doing amongst them.
‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen[, Herod,] I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.”’
This is a conscious statement of who Jesus knows he is. Jesus is telling everyone that he is doing prophetic work. Jesus proclaims to Herod, the Pharisees and everyone down through history just what his mission is – and he is doing this by miracles. In fact, the preacher says Jesus is speaking to us. What of these words? Casting out demons and performing miraculous cures are the things people touched by God have done in the history of Israel, and amongst the heathen, gods have performed such miracles. Jesus is making an explicit statement about his place in the world and it is up to us to understand his place in heaven.
But this is not an eternally available offer. Just like all the sales in the shops and online, this offer is time sensitive and limited. Jesus is offering all this proof to Herod for only three days. Then his work is done. – Three days only! That is quite something, isn’t it? We christians think of what Jesus offers on the cross as an eternal event, don’t we? We think that we can turn to Jesus at any time, now or later. But Jesus tells Herod that he has to choose immediately, within three days, then he will be gone, like everything in our experience.
I think there is something else going on here. Here Jesus is foreshadowing what will happen very soon. We know from the context of the Gospel that Jesus is going into Jerusalem. Here we are, reading this story at the beginning of Lent. As christians we should be able to figure this out, shouldn’t we? He is going to the cross on Calvary. We need to be conscious of what Jesus knows of his own prophetic mission – that with all the other prophets of God, his life will end in Jerusalem. He will expound the message from the Lord, but will any hear?
There is an urgency here in this little episode from Jesus’ life as Luke tells it. We must decide about this prophetic Jesus right soon. We cannot delay. We cannot be ambivalent like the Pharisees. We must see the good Jesus has done, for the possessed and the incurable – for every one of us. We are being enabled to believe here and now. We cannot put it off any longer, the time limit is short, and Herod, that fellow who danced around his swimming pool in Jesus Christ Superstar, while awaiting a miracle, has to decide immediately about Jesus. We need to decide about our faith. We cannot secrete ourselves off into a den to hide from faith with that old fox. We now know what is real. Jesus has told Herod and so he has told us as well through these words Luke remembers and puts down in the gospel. We have to act here and now.