Courage and Vulnerability: Lent 2

Courage and Vulnerability: Lent 2

Year C, Lent 2
March 13, 2022
Historic Beckford Parish, Mt. Jackson & Woodstock

Year C: Genesis 16:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

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Have you ever noticed how quickly Jesus gets to Jerusalem in Lent? In the scripture narrative, we’ve covered in just the last two weeks, we’ve gone from the River Jordan and Jesus’ baptism to the beginning of the end – his final journey to Jerusalem. We’ve time traveled about three years – Chapter 13 of Luke places us squarely near the end of Jesus’ ministry. We are near the turning point where Jesus will “set his face to go to Jerusalem.”[1] After going here and there and nearly everywhere in Galilee and beyond, Jesus will now make a beeline for Jerusalem and the cross.

And he continues to show incredible courage while doing it.

I’ve often thought there are at least two kinds of courage. One is the immediate and situational courage of the person who summons the courage to face imminent danger in a moment of extreme need. This is the courage of the bystander who pushes someone out of the way of oncoming traffic or jumps into a raging river to save someone struggling to swim at significant risk to him or herself. Or the President of a country under attack who refuses to leave his nation or people.

Such courage is not a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. Still, it ultimately is a display of character that has most often been developed and exercised over the long span of life, preparing one to act courageously in any given moment.

There is also a second kind of courage; this is displayed not simply in a single moment or act but in anticipating a significant, daunting, or even frightening challenge and not turning away from it but instead meeting it head-on. This courage also reflects character – a character that has emerged from a lifetime of facing fears and shouldering burdens and that is forged in the very moment of accepting challenges and responsibilities that one could avoid.

Jesus displays this second kind of courage and character in the passage before us this week. The Pharisees warn Jesus to flee. We don’t know who these particular Pharisees are or what motivates them, and it doesn’t really matter. What we do know is they tell Jesus to run and save his life – and Jesus refuses. Instead, he will keep to the road appointed, traveling the arduous path to Jerusalem to meet his death there like so many earlier prophets of God. This commitment to embrace his dark and difficult destiny for the sake of humanity is the very embodiment of this second kind of courage.

I’ve noticed this before, admiring the steadfast courage Jesus displays in moving forward to Jerusalem and the cross on behalf of the world God loves so much.

However, as I read the passage this past week, what struck me is the important role that vulnerability plays in this kind of courage: to anticipate challenge and suffering and not look away is, by definition, to make oneself vulnerable for the sake of others.

And that, I think, is important to mark. Because, as a culture, we don’t often equate vulnerability with courage and strength. Perhaps with care, love, and concern, but not often with courage and strength. At our worst, we see vulnerability as a sign of weakness, something to be avoided at all costs. At our best, we recognize the need to be vulnerable to those we care about most deeply. But I’m not sure that we often see vulnerability as essential to living a courageous Christian life.

In this passage, I think that Jesus demonstrates that vulnerability is essential to courage, stands at the core of the Christian life, and invites us to discover the strength of being open to the needs of those around us. In this passage, Jesus chooses the image of a hen gathering her brood of chicks to her for protection and safety to illustrate his love and concern for God’s people. Jesus continues to Jerusalem not to prove himself fearless or a hero, not to make a sacrifice for sin to a judgmental God, not even to combat death and the devil. Instead, Jesus marches to Jerusalem and embraces the cross that awaits him there out of profound love for the people around him, like a mother’s (or father’s) fierce love that will stop at nothing to protect her children.

That fierce love for God’s children is what drives Jesus to Jerusalem. Make no mistake – Jesus speaks in tones of disappointment and utter heartbreak at the refusal of his people to hear and heed the summons of God to draw near, to gather, and to come home. For Jesus, God’s dream, God’s passionate desire, is to gather God’s children closer and closer in God’s embrace and love. That mission and commitment are at the center of Jesus’ work and allow him to live fully into his mission.

For many of us, the truth is that many things keep us from living fully into our mission, and living with courage, and most of them boil down to fear. And fear is very much like a fox.

I was once driving to Basye on a very dark, rainy night on Jerome Road. I saw the most pitiful-looking dog and was preparing to stop and check to see if it was alright when it hit me – that’s no dog, that’s a fox. Just the thought of encountering a fox instilled a deep sense of fear within me.

In today’s lexicon, calling a person a fox implies that he or she is sly, cunning, and even cool. But in Jesus’ day, calling a person a fox was a great insult, meaning that they were destructive, and at the same time, worthless, insignificant, and ineffective.

Are there foxes like that in our lives? Those who are incredibly destructive while at the same time being relatively insignificant? Are there foxes that tell us we aren’t good enough? Foxes that say the world around us is changing and we should fear that change? Foxes that tell us we don’t have enough and need to take from others? I suspect there are foxes exactly like that in our lives.

So, what do we do?

We can look to Jesus’ example. He doesn’t hide, even though he knows he will die in Jerusalem.

Jesus basically says, “Go and tell that fox that I’m busy – bringing good news to those who need it, being the hands and feet of God in this world. Go and tell that fox I’ve got better things to do in this world than huddle in the corner waiting to die.”

I’m sure we all consider ourselves disciples of Jesus. But, are we, in fact, actively following Jesus, or are we passive in our faith, afraid of the foxes that surround us? Are we bringing good news to those who need it?

These days, there is no shortage of material concerning difficult news – news of an ongoing pandemic – news of war, violence, oppression, and communities pitted against one another – news of death and loss – not to mention the difficult moments in our personal lives. We face losses and fears within our communities. This week is almost exactly two years since the coronavirus first disrupted our lives. It’s been two years. We are entering the third year of it. And while we don’t face the fear of daily bombings in our lives, a war in Europe unnerves us and even angers us.

But the good news that we are to share on this Lenten journey is the assurance and image of Jesus as a mother hen with us as we travel. It does not mean we ignore the realities of the dangers our world faces, but it does give us something to give us courage when we are afraid. How we long to be gathered under those wings! Much like those comforting words from Psalm 27, know that God is with us at every twist and turn can make a world of a difference — even and especially in these difficult times.

[1] Luke, 9:51, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)

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