Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Lent II - Ian Boxall

The Senior Tutor, Ian Boxall, preached at the Mass on the Second Sunday of Lent. The gospel was Luke 13:31-35:

Foxes and chickens are not a good combination. So when the two come together in today’s gospel, we know that things don’t bode well. ‘Go and tell that fox,” Jesus says of Herod Antipas, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.” But then, almost in the next breath, as if deliberately to provoke the fox, Jesus calls himself a mother-hen, longing to gather the children of Jerusalem like chicks under her wings. Herod the fox has an eye on this particular hen. Yet Jesus knows that it will not be the fox that gets the mother-hen in the end. His destiny is not to stay in Galilee, where Herod rules, but to head for Jerusalem, where the prophet must suffer. And Jerusalem will be the goal of our Lenten journey in a few weeks’ time.

But already, at this early stage in the journey, Jerusalem is uppermost in Jesus’ thoughts. Even today, it is difficult to stand on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city, and not find Jesus’ words springing spontaneously to your lips: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.’ One is overwhelmed by the fact that so holy a city is as unholy as they come. Over the centuries, it has been built up and razed to the ground by the shedding of blood; again and again, the prophets have pleaded with its people to return to the Lord; it has seen conquest and humiliation – at the hands of Israelites and pagans, Muslims and Christians alike. Jesus himself was moved to tears when he finally arrived in sight of the city.

For Jesus knows, while he is still on the journey, that, although the mother-hen has escaped the clutches of the fox, she will be rejected by her chicks in Jerusalem. If ever there was a city that should have heeded the prophets and recognised the time of the Lord’s coming, it was Jerusalem. If not even the holy city of Jerusalem could see the things that make for peace, then what hope is there for the rest of the world?

And yet, paradoxically, our gospel tells us that rejection of the Messiah in Jerusalem is part of the divine plan: ‘I must be on my way, today, tomorrow and on the third day,’ says Jesus; ‘it is necessary’. Not because a sadistic God has, with some masterstroke of fox-like cunning, duped the people of Jerusalem into rejecting his Son; but because the mission of the Son is the kind of mission that the world cannot understand, and will only provoke hostility, rejection and death.

But lest we are tempted to feel self-satisfied, perhaps we should ask ourselves why we hear this gospel in Lent. Does our own city fare any better than the city of Jerusalem? More importantly, let’s not forget that the chicks who refused the wing of the mother hen were God’s own people. So perhaps we should ask ourselves whether we chickens gathered in this place pass the test any better? After all, the Gospel goes against the grain of all that common sense and human intuition teaches us. The notion that the Christ fulfils his destiny by dying, that the mother-hen protects her chicks by allowing herself to be killed, is hard even for us. And this season of Lent, which teaches us that the following of Jesus means denying ourselves and losing our life, is a difficult one. Wouldn’t we really prefer the tried and tested security of the hen-house to sheltering in the wings of a hen who is about to be slaughtered?

One of the most moving views of Jerusalem today is seen through a window, from the inside of the Church of Dominus Flevit, the church commemorating Jesus weeping over the city. Framed within that panoramic view, you can see the golden Dome of the Rock, the site of the Temple, but also, in the background, the grey dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the place where Jesus died and rose again. But in the centre of the window, the lens as it were through which one sees the whole city, is a chalice. And looking through the chalice containing Christ’s blood, at that tragic, blood-stained city of Jerusalem, and through Jerusalem into the blood-stained world, the vision of peace, however fleetingly, becomes a possibility. Words of scripture come to mind, words speaking about the breaking down of the dividing wall of hostility, of Christ making peace by the blood of his cross; offering the possibility that the mother hen may eventually gather her scattered children under her wings.