Oh my! What a collection of passages we get to preach on this week! To put them into context, they make up part of a long series of Jesus’ teachings which began as soon as he left Martha’s house at the end of chapter 10. According to Luke’s narrative, at some point on the journey toward Jerusalem, Jesus was invited to eat in a Pharisee’s home (11:37). Having stepped outside the house after dinner, he was met by so many people that they were actually crushing each other (12:1). At times, Jesus had addressed his teaching to the disciples, and at other times the crowd. Now, at the beginning of our reading from chapter 13, he speaks to those from within the crowd who tell him that certain Galileans have been killed by Pilate while making sacrifice at the altar. Jesus takes this news bulletin and asks the unspoken question: why? Jesus is adamant that it’s not because the victims were particularly sinful (see also John 9:1-3). For the preacher, this passage provides an opportunity to explore the ‘why?’ questions surrounding death and suffering, which is particularly helpful in these days of pandemic. Another option would be to explore why we tend to blame the victims of violence and not the perpetrators, as seems to be the case here.
The parable of the fig tree is related to the questions raised by the deaths of the Galileans and the people at Siloam. In truth, while they were no worse than anyone else, they were sinners in need of repentance, as are we. The only difference is that their untimely deaths meant that the opportunity to repent had been lost to them. The second Sunday in Lent is as good a time as any to call people to repentance (to return to God). The parable tells us that there is a certain urgency here. God is the patient gardener who helps even those who have failed to bear fruit so far. However, the time will come when these days of generosity and grace will be over.
The final passage comes as Jesus continues his journey toward Jerusalem and, is again in response to messengers who approach him with news from elsewhere. This time it is the Pharisees with a warning that Herod wants to kill him. It might be worth mentioning that perhaps this shows that not all Pharisees were against Jesus (compare John 19:39), but the key to this passage is Jesus’ courage when he must have felt real fear and apprehension.
At the mere mention of Jerusalem, Jesus laments over her (not to be confused with the time he weeps over her (19:41-44)). His lament contains a second image of God for preachers to explore this Sunday: God as the mother hen. God who would shelter us under her wings, but she can only do that if we will allow her. Jesus goes on to state that Jerusalem will not see him until he finally arrives to the traditional psalm (Psalm 118) for those who were going up to Jerusalem (see 19:28-40). It’s not clear whether he is speaking about his triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, or of an unknown, eschatological time when he will return to be welcomed and exalted. Ultimately, Jesus will die in Jerusalem, nailed to a Roman cross. Even now, in this season of pandemic, he suffers alongside us. His death, resurrection, ascension and promise of return offer hope for all in the face of the apparent randomness of suffering and death. Now that will preach!
Rev Dr Jean Kirkwood has been a parish minister on the east coast of Scotland for the past 5 years.
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