Following last week’s services, I spoke briefly with a parishioner who said that, in spite of what I thought was a good sermon, they had a tough time listening and following about observing a holy Lent when there were images like what they shared with me of a bombed out apartment building in Ukraine.
Talk about suddenly feeling tone deaf in what I had prepared to say last week. And so I thought that I would speak to that this week.
I think that our Gospel reading for today leads us there nicely, actually.
In a surprise twist for us as we hear the reading from Luke, the Pharisees come to Jesus aid, warning him to leave and to not go to Jerusalem because of Herod’s desire to kill him. Herod was the name of the ruler of that portion of the nation of Israel at the time, and clearly was hostile toward Jesus. So when Jesus was warned about it, see what he says, Go and tell that fox, I must complete my work and come to Jerusalem, because I must be killed there.
The passage is rich with meaning. Much of it is pretty straightforward, but one detail that may miss us or not make sense right away is calling Herod a fox. And what does he mean when he says it? In the Jewish Scriptures, the fox was an unclean animal, meaning the Jews weren’t allowed to eat it, it was considered a dirty animal, and was associated with being cunning or even destructive. Calling Herod a fox, then, was a way of saying that he was crafty, devious, and destructive. And considering that Jesus speaks of his coming death in that context, it makes sense.
Now, what does this have to do with the situation in Ukraine?
Watching how Jesus responds here to the warning he receives, we see an example of courage to do what is right in the face of extreme consequences. Jesus, facing certain death and destruction, still stood by what he knew to be right, and to be steadfast in his purposes. He knew full well what his words and his deeds would result in, and yet he continued to do so, and to stay the course of his purpose and goal.
It’s easy to do what is right when the results are all favorable for us. When we know it’s going to turn out well, that’s a simple thing to dao. But what about when the consequences stack up against us? Do we still find it easy to do what is right when we know we will pay the price for it?
And that’s where we find ourselves in how we respond to the situation in Ukraine. If we choose to stand with the people who are suffering today and against those who perpetuate evil in the world around us, we too are choosing to suffer for the sake of doing what is right. We already see that It will cost us in our wallets, and perhaps for some of us even with our lives. Our suffering may be short, or it may be prolonged. To stand for justice and life and good in the world may come at quite the price. It certainly has before.
So, do we do it? Do we continue to stand up against evil and call it out and say it has no place in our world, doing what it takes to put a stop to it? Or do we stand down because it makes life easier for us? Do we allow others to suffer and to die, because stopping it and standing up against it it’s harder than just letting it be?
That is the crux of the matter. And it is not an easy place to find ourselves.
Think about where Jesus found himself at that moment. He had the choice set before him: to continue on to Jerusalem where he would be put to death, or to turn away and to escape destruction. Last week we heard in our Gospels about the temptation in the wilderness, one of which being that all the Kingdoms of the world could be his, if he would only bow down and worship the devil. That was kind of his mission, wasn’t it? That the Kingdoms of the world recognize Christ as king. He could choose to continue on the path that would lead to his death as the means of redemption, or he could choose to turn away and take the easy way out and escape from the pain before him.
But thought he had been given the easy way out and a chance to turn away from Jerusalem, he continued on the path because he knew it was the right thing to do to accomplish the work that he had come to do.
I don’t know about you, but I’m finding this to be a hard place to be, because it feels like our options are to support responding to violence with violence, or to somewhat turn a blind eye to what is going. The idealist in me hates war, and hates violence, and wishes that those who are violent can be stopped by nonviolent means, quickly and effectively. But the realist in me recognizes that sometimes that’s not very effective, and it allows the devastation to spread.
I hate it all, and I wish that we didn’t find ourselves in this position.
Let us all pray for wisdom from God that we may know what to do in the face of evil in this world, and that we may have the strength of spirit to do it. And that in the end, that peace and justice will prevail in all the world.