21 February 2016
Second Sunday in Lent
Lent 2C (RCL)
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
This Sunday’s lectionary includes a couple of puzzling readings. The ritual portrayed in the Genesis reading has no real analog anywhere else in the Old Testament, and the reading from Luke’s Gospel raises questions about Jesus’ relationship to the Pharisees, and Jerusalem’s relationship to prophets.
The nearest analog to the ritual in the Genesis reading can be found in Jeremiah 32:18. Evidently, two parties could make a covenant by cutting an animal in two and then walking between the halves. It seems they were invoking the fate of the animal in themselves if they should fail to live up to their half of the covenant. The two halves of the animal were then left to the birds of the air, to indicate that the one who broke the covenant would die without burial. In this instance, however, only God walks through the halves of the animals, invoking on the divine self the fate of the animals for any failure to do for Abraham as promised. This is how Abraham will “know” that God will fulfill God’s promise.
In the Gospel reading, the Pharisees come to Jesus to warn him that Herod wants to kill him. The Pharisees have been no friends of Jesus so far in Luke’s Gospel, and one wonders why Luke has them concerned about Jesus’ safety at this point. Jesus, of course, is on his way to Jerusalem. The Pharisees would not have had any particular fondness for Herod or for Jerusalem. Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the just at some future moment when God would reestablish the kingdom. Consequently, they could be political quietists, waiting for God’s good time for the kingdom. All that one had to do in the meantime is make sure one was among the just who would be resurrected. Both Herod (as King of the Jews) and the Temple as the center of Jewish identity were seen by the Pharisees as too corrupt or co-opted to serve as the means of God’s restoration of the Kingdom.
Jesus tells the Pharisees to go tell Herod, “that fox” that he is casting out demons and performing healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day, he accomplishes his purpose. For Luke, exorcisms and healings are signs of the Kingdom. Jesus’ resurrection “on the third day” will usher in the Kingdom in a way the Pharisees were not expecting. It will leave Rome firmly in place, but the kingdom will be present in the healings of the christian community.
Jesus then says that on the day after tomorrow, he will arrive in Jerusalem, for it is not fitting that a prophet should die away from Jerusalem. Then comes the lovely image of the mother hen gather her brood under her wings. Of course, a fox would be a primary enemy of a brood of chicks. Herod (and his suzerain, Rome) will destroy Jerusalem, despite Jesus’ (God’s?) attempts to protect it. The image of God gather chicks under God’s wings occurs in the Old Testament, sometimes with God taking the part of an eagle. A hen is much homier. God’s protection comes, not through the apparatus of Empire (the Roman Eagle), but through simple, local restoration of the protecting covenant.
How often has God tried to protect us, but we rejected that care because it came not with the trappings of Empire, but in the simple form of a mother hen’s protection from the wiles of the foxes in the world who would consume us?