Sunday, February 24, 2013

Fox in the henhouse

Luke 13:31-35
Mark 5:1-17

Even though some scholars believe Luke puts the cart before the horse in "prophesying" Jesus' eventual entry into Jerusalem and the Passion, others have suggested that the thrust of Jesus' statement that "you will not see me until the time comes when you say ..." is directed more toward those who reject His office as prophet AND Messiah and, thus, reject "the One who sent Me".  And this seems to make more sense because, as we well know, many of those who shouted "hosanna" when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem were the same ones who would only days later shout "crucify Him"!

The thing to remember in reading especially Luke is that it is, by the author's own words, a narrative not necessarily of events but, rather, a narrative of various accounts of events.  That is, Luke states in the very beginning that he was not an eyewitness to Jesus' life but was writing an account based on what had been already been told.  Some have suggested Luke may have used Mark and Matthew in addition to other available written sources as well as eyewitness accounts.  Yet given the speculation that Luke may have been written sometime after 70AD (allowing time for Mark and Matthew to circulate), this narrative may also include some second-hand accounts as well; that is, "ear" witnesses to the "eye" witnesses - those who "heard" the stories but never actually saw them take place.

This is not to say Luke is not important in the overall Gospel narrative or that Luke should be ignored altogether; and it is not to suggest Luke may be inaccurate.  It is interesting, however, that verses 31-33, the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees regarding Herod, appear only in Luke.  This, I think, adds an interesting element to the story that may often be overlooked but is consistent with Luke 9:7-9 when Herod had expressed an interest in seeing Jesus after John's execution.  Some were telling Herod that Jesus was John resurrected, or that Elijah or perhaps any of the other old prophets had returned to Israel.  Similar accounts are also recorded in Mark and Matthew, but Luke leaves out the details of events which led to John's execution.

The element this narrative adds to the story also adds contextual "meat" to Jesus' lamentation over Jerusalem's rejection of the many prophets who had come before, calling for Israel's repentance.  The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day, but they also had substantial political connections.  After all, how would they have known of Herod's interest in seeing Jesus?  The narrative does not tell us whether they were honestly trying to "save" Jesus from Herod by warning Him - OR - if they had been sent by Herod to keep an eye on Jesus. 

The other option to consider is that the Pharisees did not have the gumption to confront Jesus head-on, so they used Herod as a sublime threat to encourage Jesus to leave.  One thing seems clear, however; they wanted Him gone.  And if there is a "hidden" message in this exchange in which the Pharisees represent the political, social, AND religious community (that is, EVERYONE), Jesus' lamentation is all the more profoundly felt.  We may be witnessing the TOTAL REJECTION of Messiah and feeling the TOTAL LAMENTATION of the Most Holy Father.  After all, how would you feel if you knew for a fact that you were unwelcome even among your own people?

So it is also hard to tell whether the "fox" to whom Jesus refers is actually Herod - OR - if Jesus is taking an off-hand shot at the Pharisees by reminding them that "I am casting out demons and performing cures".  The works and mercy of the Holy Father are being done right before their very eyes, and they are STILL trying to run Him off!  Frankly, I think Jesus not only makes clear that Herod does not figure into His itinerary and mission one way or the other, but He may also be calling the Pharisees "dogs" - if "foxes".  As clever and as cunning as they may think themselves to be, Jesus clearly sees them for what they really are and for what they are really trying to do.

This rejection of the Messiah is not unlike the story in Mark 5 when the people of Gadarenes had been terrorized by the demon-possessed man.  They had tried many times before to restrain the possessed man with shackles and chains, but he kept breaking free.  Yet when Jesus came and cast those demons from that man and into the herd of swine, the people who had just witnessed the Power of the Most High God first-hand, the Power which had finally freed them from their daily terror, nevertheless asked Jesus to leave because Jesus had interfered with their livelihood.  So He left ... and He never returned.

There is a saying, "Better the devil you know than the one you don't", which expresses our own handicaps when it comes to faith, like the people of Gadarenes and Jerusalem.  We get used to certain things and certain practices over a period of time when we claim to be "set in our ways".  In reality, however, especially when we "settle" for something we think we have no power to control, we are not set in "our" ways; rather, we are settling for "someone else's" ways.  Without even being fully aware, we surrender a significant portion of our lives over to something (or someone) without realizing the potential spiritual harm that simmers just beneath the surface. 

Who is to say that the people of Gadarenes, the people of Jerusalem, and the people of Magnolia AR do not have a "fox in the henhouse" that we have just gotten used to because as bad as it may seem, we have surrendered to it without realizing or acknowledging the real and lasting harm that can come from it?  We have surrendered even to its inherent danger and gotten used to it because we cannot comprehend an alternative.  Better what we "know" than what we "don't know", right? 

It is not unlike the challenge of fasting.  Fasting is not strictly about what we can give up; it is about identifying that - or them - standing as a barrier between us and our Holy Father and choosing to give THAT (or them) up in order to reconnect to our Holy Father.  It is not strictly about what we sacrifice or what we think we are being forced to do without.  It is entirely about what we will ultimately gain from the Hand of the Almighty Himself when we discover the "shackles" of the FOX on our souls that we had simply gotten used to, to the point that we no longer even notice.

What was - and is - right before our very eyes (just as it was for the people of Gadarenes and Jerusalem) if we will but open the eyes of our hearts and stop taking so much for granted are blessings we have been overlooking - perhaps rejecting - at the same time.  Messiah came to announce not that "hell is knocking" but that the "Kingdom of Heaven is at hand"!  Messiah's call to repentance was not a "threat"; it is a blessing!  Why was He so utterly rejected?  Why is the life He calls us to so utterly rejected still??

The Judgment came when Jesus arrived.  And as St. John testifies in John 3:19-20; "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and the people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  For all who do evil hate the Light and do not come to the Light, so that their deeds may not be exposed."  Do you ever consider that cockroaches also scatter in the light??

The human race has been deemed worthy of our Lord and His Messiah, and the invitation into Eternal Life is the Gospel Itself offered through the Holy Church, the very Body of Christ!  Yet we run.  We hide.  We seem unable - or perhaps unwilling - to believe such a Love even exists!  But it does exist - and it does call to us as long as the Church stands.  Let us confront and finally cast aside the "fox in the henhouse" once and for all - and "be gathered together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings".  Our Lord is still willing and eager to receive us!  So let us receive Him.

In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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