Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
I must admit that there are times when I am reading the Gospel and I want to yell out like I am at a scary movie. “No! Jesus don’t go there!” “Jesus, you know that this is not going to bode well!” “Don’t go to that city!” I start yelling and sighing at the text because I know what is going to happen each and every year. There is a piece of me that wants to just skip over the uncomfortable parts. I know that pretty soon Jesus will have to suffer during this time of Lent. I want to skip over it all to the part where he is living again and all is well.
In the church we have the same temptation. We are tempted to skip the suffering part because it doesn’t feel good. We yell at the Gospel for making us deal with the not so fuzzy feelings. It is a big temptation to make it all ok and smile through what might happen, the things that are so human, and the stuff Jesus knows in this passage he must walk into.
There is a group of Pharisees that falls into this temptation although they go to Jesus about it. They are well meaning and warn Jesus that Herod is out to get him. They offer a way for him to avoid the suffering that will happen. They know that politically it is not smart for him to go where his is headed. I am sure that Jesus’ community agreed. They wanted to avoid it all. Why would Jesus voluntarily move into a place where he will have to suffer? And this is where Jesus laments for the city he sees. Jesus knows that he mustn’t avoid the suffering because through his suffering there will be new life. He knows that he must enter the city that needs his healing touch and that God will work through whatever happens. Luke’s version makes this clear. In Luke’s Gospel this is the place that the Gospel will begin and end, at the temple, in Jerusalem filled with mixed emotions.
Paul writes about the temptation of avoiding our suffering in his letter. If we avoid the cross and all that comes with it we are too tempted to go too far, to fall into the temptation of not following Christ. If we are followers of Christ, we too must admit the suffering in the world and work towards finding God through it.
When the church avoids the suffering around us, we miss the opportunity to sit with Jesus through it. We miss the opportunity to see our true humanness. Things are happening in the world and there are many around us suffering, which might even include you. To confront and sit with suffering is another chance to be authentic community. To see each others scars and hurts is part of life. We do an injustice to ignore it. To avoid the suffering means not following Christ to the end, admitting where there needs to be healing, and seeing all of God. God does not cause the suffering but it is part of human experience that we just can’t ignore. In Lent, let us move past the temptation of avoiding hurt but looking at all of our humanness and asking God for healing.
Quotes for the Week “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ― Kahlil Gibran
“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Whether you like it or not, you are committed to the human endeavor. I cannot ally myself with such a purely negative goal as avoidance of suffering. Suffering is a chance you take by the fact of being alive.” ― William S. Burroughs
“The spiritual response is too often a simplistic one: we abandon God or we blame God for abandoning us.” ― Joan D. Chittister
“Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering – and it’s all over much too soon.” ―Woody Allen
Philippians 3:17-4:1 (Message) I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it. Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites.
But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him. My dear, dear friends! I love you so much. I do want the very best for you. You make me feel such joy, fill me with such pride. Don’t waver. Stay on track, steady in God.
Luke 13:31-35 (NRSV)
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Questions for the Week
When have you suffered? What gave you comfort?
Where is God in the midst of suffering?
What can we do for those in our community facing a long journey?