Staying in the game

24 February 2013
Second Sunday in Lent
Lent 2C (RCL)

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

I wonder why the designers of the lectionary chose this particular reading from Luke’s Gospel to follow the story of Jesus’ temptation. Perhaps they chose it as a way of indicating that Jesus is continuing his work despite his approach to his passion, and so we continue our approach to Holy Week. But, it’s an odd passage at any rate. It’s not exactly a “woe” statement, and it doesn’t seem to fit well with Luke’s overall style. Luke has another lament over Jerusalem, when Jesus enters the city: even now, if you would turn to God, you would know the things that make for peace. Odd, since Luke is writing after the destruction of the Temple — even now.

Luke does soften Jesus’ stance toward Jerusalem, compared to the other synoptic Gospels. Mark makes it clear that the destruction of Jerusalem is due to the “Jews” opposition to Jesus. Mark intercalates the parable of the vineyard and the dishonest tenants into the episode of the fig tree. Jesus looks for fruit and finds none, and curses the tree. After telling the parable of the vineyard and its tenants, he leaves Jerusalem and finds the fig tree withered. A quick reference to Isaiah 5 will show that the fig tree stands in for the nation (in the same way the tenants do). Luke does away with the fig-tree incident and changes it into a parable. The owner of the vineyard looks for fruit, and finding none, wants to cut it down. The vinedresser asks for permission to dig in some manure and see what happens. Even now, Israel might produce fruit.

So, Jesus laments over Jerusalem, and says that a prophet cannot die anywhere else. I wonder if this is an oblique criticism of groups like the Essenes and Qumran who opted out of national life, because the believed it was just too corrupt to fix. A prophet (reformer) has no choice but to enter the national discourse, even if it costs his or her life. Perhaps the Pharisees are suggesting that Jesus become a politcal quietist, but he claims that he must be performing cures and exorcisms for the next three days, that is, be engaged in his program of reform.

Paul also tells us to stand firm, in order that Christ might transform our humiliation into the Body of his glory. Our citizenship is in heaven, but our work is here.

The Genesis passage is very strange. Scholars believe it reflects a very ancient sacrificial practice, and I wish I knew more about it. It’s interesting that the first two animals listed in the sacrifice are female (heifer and and three year old female goat), not the usual animals for sacrifice. Perhaps the represent fertility — certainly a loss of fertility to the offerer’s herd (most sacrificial animals were sexually immature males — the herd had to be thinned to maximize milk production vs. feed). So, does the fact that God passes through the middle of the cut animals indicate God is calling the same treatment on Godself in case of failure to live up to the covenant? Or does it indicate an acceptance of the offering?

In the Gospel passage, Jesus uses a feminine image for himself, and by extension for God. In the psalms, God promises to hide us under the shadow of his wings (like a mother bird). Jesus is offering the same care for Jerusalem. Perhaps, Luke offers the image as an metaphor for the desire to gather all the various strands of Judaism (or indeed all people) into God’s care, in contrast to the strand of pharisaism that wanted to draw clearer distinctions. That would certainly make sense in Luke’s time, as the Jamnia school sought to clarify the boundaries. Luke was certainly trying to see all the people of God gathered together under God’s wings.

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