Today’s Gospel lesson is one that is a little slippery at first hearing. It sounds an awful lot like Jesus spouting off and rambling on with a series of disconnected ideas.
“Tell the “old fox” to get lost, I must go on my way….,”
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing, but you would not.”
The whole thing is a bit confusing. What it is the point of all these thoughts thrown together like this?
It wasn’t until I met a man by the name of Herman that I began to understand this lesson. Let me tell you about Herman.
I met him a few years ago, while serving a parish in Lincoln, NE. He was then well into his 80’s and had a bad case of Asthma which kept him pretty much home bound.
That is, if you could call the old trailer where he lived a home. It was just outside of town on a small acreage. It was a trailer he apparently shared with a variety of small rodents from the little deposits left scattered around on the dingy carpeted floor. From appearances outside, I would have bet even money that he had more occupants of the larger varmit variety living underneath as well.
I will forever remember the scene the first time we met. I came to the door and he called from within inviting me to come on in.
There he sat, a large fellow, in a big blue chair that I never once saw him leave.
Behind him on the wall was a framed picture of FDR with a newspaper clipping of some sort that I couldn’t read from a distance, and an American Legion calendar
The trailer (as I said) was beyond imaginable in terms of hygiene and general repair, but I had been told beforehand that it was not for lack of funds. He simply refused any kind of assistance in the area of housekeeping or other help.
As I got to know Herman, I found out a few things about him. Herman was a Danish immigrant and still spoke with an accent and subscribed to a couple of Danish language newspapers and magazines that were always within an easy reach of his chair.
The riddle of the American Legion calendar was solved as he told me that he and his brother had come over to this country just before World War II to avoid the war gathering in Europe.
After America entered the war, he readily volunteered for service.
When he volunteered, he told the enlistment officer that he was fluent in German, Danish, and spoke a little Dutch, and that he was skilled as a carpenter and craftsman of wood.
The army in its infinite wisdom, assigned him duty loading and unloading cargo at a supply depot down in Texas.
Following his time in the service he returned to Lincoln and went to work in construction and cabinet making. In fact, he revealed to me that he had built some of the nicest homes in the area, which just peaked my curiosity more about why he would now live in this filthy pressboard and tin monstrosity.
One day after we’d talked about all the usual stuff, I asked him why he chose to live out here. Not anything about the conditions of the place, just why here?
That was mistake.
It was like tripping a land mine, although there wasn’t any anger in his voice, just sheer determination.
He raised up in his chair and proceeded to tell me the whole story of how years ago the city had tried to tell him he couldn’t live out here, but that (pointing now to FDR behind him) America was supposed to be a place of freedom where you can make whatever you want of yourself, and (Now pointing to the newspaper clipping) years ago he had won and convinced the city that this was his land and he could live here as he pleased.
I had stumbled into Herman’s core values with my question.
He had a ready speech all prepared, whether he realized it or not. A speech about what he was willing to go to the wall for, and he gave me a little glimpse into his determination.
You see, I would never have dreamt that the occupant of that ramshackle trailer, mild old Herman, could have ever taken on the city of Lincoln Nebraska and won.
Nothing about the circumstances in which he now lived made him look like the winner of much of anything. But there were convictions deeply held, beliefs not to be trifled with, and a power of determination that would not be denied.
Old Herman helps me understand Jesus today.
This Gospel lesson that at first sounds like a random stringing together of things is really Jesus’ response to the Pharisees who have tripped the land mine of Jesus determination. In suggesting that Jesus not go near Jerusalem they get a glimpse into Jesus’ own determination to do what must be done at any cost.
When the Pharisees issue the warning that Herod is out to get him, he spits back, “Tell that old Fox Herod, I’m on my way…”
All the rest of his comments are the “prepared speech” about what is near and dear to him….the casting out of demons, the weeping over Jerusalem, all of it is just a glimpse into the determination that Jesus has —to do whatever it takes to finish the task. Even, if it means going to Jerusalem to die.
He will not be put off by the pharisees.
He will not be dissuaded by Herod and all his political clout.
Nothing will stand in his way of Jesus completing the work that must be done. And that is in a very real sense good news for us.
When Jesus shows that kind of resolve toward his destiny, that’s a very good indicator of the kind of resolve he will also show in relationship with us.
More specifically, in relationship to you.
Jesus, you see, weeps over Jerusalem and over its people.
Despite what they have done and what they are about to do, he longs to have them as his own.
Even those he does not yet know by name, the ones he hasn’t met. He weeps for them. Wants to gather them up under his wings.
And that means you and me.
Oh, I know there are times that I can’t believe that anyone would want me that much. The things I do, the things I’ve done. Yuck!
How un-loveable I can be a times.
How difficult and stubborn and stupid.
Why would anyone want to be connected up with me?
Oh, how you must weep for me Jesus, and how I would so readily push you away, you and all the others.
How good to know, to be given a glimpse of your determination.
How good to hear that even though I cannot rely upon my own resources, my own reason or strength to come to you, to believe in you, –I can rely upon your determination to find me and to gather me to yourself, and to love me!
It is good news to catch such a glimpse into what drives Jesus, for the single-minded determination that God in Christ Jesus holds to fulfilling his destiny is the same single-minded determination that he has to include you in that destiny.
Nothing will stand in his way.
Nothing will dissuade him from finding you, from coming to you, from loving you and giving you all the gifts of Grace that he has come to share!
And even though nothing about this looks like winning, nothing about cross and crucifixion, death and suffering, looks like victory any more than a ramshackle trailer looked like winning to me, there is more at work in this than the circumstances of the story.
There is in this Passion revealed God’s convictions!
There is in the actions of Jesus God’s belief in the goodness of what God has created revealed.
In the decision to go to Jerusalem there is God’s own determination revealed, to let nothing stop Jesus from reclaiming creation, reclaiming you, as his own.
Beloved in the Lord, hear today how much God longs for you!
Look into the tear wet eyes of Jesus and see there not only his compassion and desire, but his determination to have you with him, and cling to that.
Trust in that glimpse of Jesus’ determination when you cannot trust yourself. For with a savior of such determination, who or what can stand against you?