Sunday, February 21, 2016

May I speak in the name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen

Today is the second Sunday of the Holy and penitential season of Lent. Our Gospel reading today shows us how our Lord refuses to be turned from his path, the one leading to Jerusalem and his Passion, when the the Pharisees warn him to flee, because King Herod wants to kill him. But before we consider how unwavering Jesus us when it comes to his mission on this earth, let us first consider some other matters relating to this episode.

First, we might wonder why would Pharisees seek to not only help Jesus, but help him in such a way that would save his life? Were they not enemies of Jesus? Did they not also seek his life? Surely then they would have been delighted that Herod wanted to kill Jesus. Indeed, we might have expected them to try and delay the Messiah so that the King's soldiers might catch up with him and execute him. But instead they warn him to flee.

The seeming lack of logic here has caused some to consider that the Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus. Enemies don't warn enemies that they are in mortal danger; and so the Pharisees must have been lying to Jesus. Perhaps because they want him out of their territory; perhaps because they cannot kill him themselves they want him out of the way, hiding from this king who was well known to kill those who were inconvenient to him; and a man in hiding is as silenced as one who is dead, even though not as permanently.

But against that thought, the idea that these men are liars, goes the fact that Jesus treats their warning seriously. We know from many other places in the gospels that Christ always saw through all the traps and tricks of his enemies; he could read the hearts of men and knew their secret thoughts. If these Pharisees were lying to him, he would have known it; and I think we can be sure that Jesus would not be slow to call them out on their trickery.

So I think we can accept that the warning of these men was genuine. And that should teach us an important lesson. It is not safe to generalise about a group of people based on the actions of some of its members. Yes we have many examples of the Pharisees showing themselves as enemies of our Lord; and we have many examples of Jesus condemning the actions of Pharisees. But from that we cannot conclude that all Pharisees were wicked and that he condemned all the actions of them all. Only some hated him; those whose wicked actions or foolish teachings he pointed out. But others were good men who found wisdom in what the Lord had to say; as is demonstrated here when they try to save his life.

So Herod indeed sought the life of Christ; which bring us to another question to ponder: why? After all, do we not read in St Luke's account of our Lord's passion that Herod was glad when Pilate sent Jesus to him, for he had long wished to see him because he hoped to see him work some miracle? However, we must also consider that when Herod had John the Baptist in prison he visited him frequently, for he liked to hear him talk. And liking to hear what John had to say did not prevent Herod from having his head cut off. And we also know that Herod feared that Jesus was John raised from the dead. And if he had reason to kill John for calling his marriage to Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, condemned by Scripture as incestuous, then he had more reason to kill Jesus; for Jesus taught that to marry someone who was divorced was adultery.

Given that, it only follows that he should want Jesus dead. That he didn't kill Jesus when Pilate sent him to him should not surprise; he was not king of Judea and had no authority in Jerusalem. But having had his chance to talk to Jesus, he sent him back to Pilate who did have that power … a power that the Roman governor exercised. Perhaps that is why the Jewish king and the Roman Politician thereafter became friends … Pilate had given Herod exactly what he wanted from his actions.

But whether the Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus or this was a genuine warning, the important thing here is the reaction of Jesus: he will not be frightened from his mission. The threat of death will not dissuade him his preaching the word of God; or his Journey to Jerusalem … which, as his reply to the Pharisees shows, he knows full well will end in his death – it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.

Which brings us back to where we began and raises the question of why will Christ not flee death, but rather willingly walks toward it? And the answer is that he knows that it is by his death that all men may have eternal life. And even his perfect foreknowledge of all that will happen to him – his arrest, farce of a trial, his scourging the pillar and his crowning with thorns, his condemnation to death, the carrying of his cross and being nailed to it, and on which after hours of agony and mockery he died – a foreknowledge of a death so terrible that in his agony in the garden sweat poured from his brow like blood – none of that will stop him. He gives his life that all may have life, life in all its fullness and abundance, eternal life in heaven. He would not let anything prevent him form going to Jerusalem to make that sacrifice. 

Therefore you must ask yourself what will you let stand in your way to prevent you from having that eternal life that he died that you might have? He did not shrink from death that you might have it; will you shrink from fighting against the trickery of the temptations that will lead you astray and deny you it? Like Christ you have been warned of the dangers you face; I pray that you will use this time during Lent to ponder how you may better heed that warning and  gain the eternal life he offers us all; and I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen

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