Second Sunday of Lent
In this week’s Gospel we meet Jesus on the way to Jerusalem and certain death. Try to imagine, if you can, how you would feel if you knew for a certainty that what you were doing would lead to certain death. Most of us would do a rapid re-think and do an abrupt about-turn. The cynic would say that you would have to be mad to do anything else. But Jesus wasn’t mad, was he? Quite the opposite! He knew that there was work to do, and work that only he could do, that obedience to his Father required nothing less, and that somehow, and paradoxical as it might appear, his death would mean new life for countless millions.
The tone is set in the opening words – some Pharisees come to warn Jesus off – forget this crazy idea, go somewhere safer. Interesting that, isn’t it? The Pharisees get such a bad press in the gospels that it’s hard to believe anything good of them, yet here they genuinely seem concerned for Jesus’ welfare. They get a pretty short answer for their pains. Herod is a fox – that’s an open provocation in itself. Forget the fox; while opportunity permits, Jesus’ work of healing and making whole must go forward with all possible urgency, for time is limited. On the third day Jesus will reach his goal – there’s a kind of double perspective here – it could mean Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, but it could also be referring to his resurrection on the third day, the ultimate vindication of his purposefulness. And then of course he laments over Jerusalem, as many of us still do today, and wonder when the Holy City will again be what its name means – the possession of peace.
What lessons can we learn from Jesus’ single mindedness, his unwillingness to compromise, to put his own interests before the will of God his heavenly Father? In a way the answers to the questions are self-evident. Remember that prayer attributed to the Elizabethan explorer who circumnavigated the globe Sir Francis Drake [1540-1628]: “O Lord God, when thou givest to thy servants to endeavour any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning but the continuing of the same, until it be thoroughly finished, which yieldeth the true glory.” Precisely: when the temptations come, be they to sink into the snare of indifference that asks “What’s the point?”, be they to give up, then think again of Jesus and his utter determination to complete the task that God his Father had given him. We don’t gain any merit in God’s eyes by taking the line of least resistance, because to do that means that the devil has won another victory. Jesus through his single-mindedness changed the course of human history.
Our aim will be somewhat more modest, but lives refashioned in the image of Christ, lives that are just as focused as his on love and truth and peace will make a difference, will, like the pebble in the pond, send out ripples that go on and on. And what better time than Lent to refocus, to repent of our weaknesses and our faithlessness, our lack of commitment to the way of Christ, our feelings of pointlessness. We need to rekindle our vision of a new world, a world transformed: for most of us, there’s a long way to go, and on the way we too will know some of the heartache that beset out Blessed Lord, but as the old hymn puts it so well, as it challenges our half-heartedness, such a light affliction will win so great a prize.
Fr. Edward Bryant