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 that “old fox”…
I must go on my way…,
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets….how I longed to gather your children, but you would not.
It feels a bit like these sayings were thrown together by the author, swept up and put in this place because he didn’t quite know where else they should go.
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 another parish. 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 where he lived a home. He lived just outside of town in an old mobile trailer house on a small acreage. It was a trailer that he shared with a variety of rodents that lived in, with and under the place.
I will forever remember the scene the first time we met. I came to the door of the trailer and knocked. From within I heard a voice instruct me to just come on in.
There he sat, a large fellow, in a big blue chair that I never once saw him leave. He had everything he needed organized around him. Television remote, papers, a urinal bottle that had seen a lot of re-use.
Behind him on the wall was a framed picture of FDR with a newspaper clipping of some sort that I never actually got a chance to read, and an American Legion calendar
The trailer was beyond imaginable in terms of hygiene and general repair. The kitchen sink and counter were filled with used dishes awaiting a washing. The threadbare carpet on the floor was scattered with crumbs, detrious of the other “house residents.” There was that odor of human habitation whose hygiene was lacking. It was a sad sort of situation, but I had been told beforehand that it was not for lack of funds, but rather because he refused any kind of assistance in the area of housekeeping or other help.
As I got to know him in my monthly Communion visits, I found out a few things about him.
Herman was a Danish immigrant and still spoke with an accent after all these years. He subscribed to a couple of Danish language newspapers and magazines that were always within an easy reach of his big blue chair, and knew what was going on in “the old country.”
The riddle of the American Legion calendar was solved as he told me that he and his brother had come over to this country as young men just before World War II to avoid the war that was gathering in Europe. After emigrating here to America, they both entered the war readily volunteering for service after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
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. Therefore, the army (in its infinite wisdom) promptly assigned him after basic training to duty loading and unloading cargo at a supply depot down in Texas for the duration of the war.
Following his time in the service he returned to Lincoln NE and went to work in construction and cabinet making. In fact, he revealed to me that he had built some of the most prestigious homes in the area, which just peaked my curiosity as to why he would now live in this filthy pressboard and tin monstrosity.
And one day after a few visits, when we’d talked about all the usual safe stuff of the weather, sports teams and what was happening in Denmark, I asked him why he chose to live out here. I didn’t say anything about the conditions of the place, — just why here and in a trailer when he had been a Master Carpenter?
He raised up in his chair for the first time since I’d met him, not in anger but in a defiant mood that showed sheer determination and passion. His eyes went wet with stinging tears as he recounted his story.
He proceeded to tell me how years before the city had come out here and tried to tell him he couldn’t live out here. It was some dispute about zoning and the trailer. But he had fought back, (now pointing to the picture of FDR behind him.)
True, he could live anywhere he wanted. He had enough resources to buy a fine house and live comfortably in a neighborhood. But that was not the point.
“America” he said, “was supposed to be a place of freedom where you can make whatever you want of yourself, and (Now pointing to the clipping) years ago I had to fight to be what I wanted out here, and I won! I convinced them that this was my land and I could live here as I pleased.”
I learned something that day.
I had tripped into Herman’s core values, and he had a ready speech all prepared, whether he realized it or not. It was a speech about what he was willing to go to the wall for, and he gave me a little glimpse into his determination and sense of purpose.
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 and won.
Nothing about the circumstances in which he now lived made him look like the winner of anything. But there were more than the circumstances of where he lived going on in the story of his life. There were the convictions deeply held, the beliefs not to be trifled with, and a power of determination that drove him.
So Herman helps me understand Jesus today, and this Gospel lesson that at first sounds like a random stringing together of phrases. Those well intentioned Pharisees who are trying to save Jesus from inevitable conflict have in fact stumbled into the core belief of Jesus in suggesting that Jesus not go near Jerusalem. This lesson is essentially a glimpse into Jesus’ 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…” And all the rest of it, the “prepared speech” is 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 laid before him by a Father who he knows is “well pleased” with him; even, if it means going to Jerusalem to die.
Jesus 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 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 that God shows toward relationship with us, more specifically, in relationship to you!
Jesus, you see, weeps over Jerusalem, over its people. Despite what they have done, and what they will do to him soon, 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.
All of them – including you and me.
Oh, I know there are times that I can’t believe that anyone would want me. The things I do, the things I’ve done. Yuck! How unloveable I can be a times!
How difficult and stubborn and stupid I can be!
Why would anyone want to be connected with me? Care about what happens to me?
Oh, how you must weep for me Jesus. I who would so readily push you away, you and all others.
How good to then to be reminded here, to be given a glimpse here 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, 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 God has to include you in that destiny.
Nothing will stand in God’s way.
Nothing will dissuade God from finding you, from coming to you, from loving you and giving you all the gifts of Grace that God in Christ Jesus has come to share!
And even though Jesus is making his way to a cross and crucifixion–, an inglorious death, — even though nothing about this looks like winning, there is more at work than the circumstances of the story. There is revealed in this passion of Jesus’ response a glimpse into God’s convictions.
God believes in the goodness of what God has created.
God is determined to let nothing stop God’s self from reclaiming it, from reclaiming you, as God’s 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 this passion of Jesus when you cannot trust yourself, for with a savior of such determination, who or what can stand against you?