This morning, continuing my self-prescribed Lenten reading (rereading) of Luke’s gospel, I reflected on Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem. “Some Pharisees” (members of the Jewish party devoted to obedience to God’s Law) came to Jesus with a message. Herod, Israel’s Rome-installed monarch, wanted to kill him. In this, Herod could have been a forerunner of Henry II, the 12th century English king who, vexed by the resistance of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas à Becket, cried out, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Though the Pharisees often were Jesus’ adversaries, this cohort, hardly playing the role of the English knights who carried out Henry’s bidding, striking Becket down with the sword, warned of danger. Jesus, in response, resolutely proclaimed his intention to continue his work.
I wonder. What compelled Jesus, in the words of the song(*), “to dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe” – Herod who possessed authority to destroy him – thus, “to bear with unbearable sorrow, to run where the brave dare not go”? I think it was because Jesus, though, I imagine, fearing Herod’s malevolence, was subject to another authority.
I wonder. What was that “heavenly cause” that led Jesus to “march into hell”?
Jerusalem – the great metropolis, the nation’s capital, the home of God’s temple, the iconographic locus of the people’s history and destiny – had grown flaccid in obedience, lifeless in worship, given to outward sign over inward virtue. Jesus, as prophet, came to call a city, even then known as a prophet-killer, to repentance.
Still, I think there was something more, greater than duty that inspired Jesus. Love. That power of unconditional benevolence that does good. Even more, prophetic love that wills and acts in another’s best interests even if, when the reward is rejection and the result, death.
Love was the “another authority.” The “heavenly cause.” The power greater than fear. In truth, Jesus didn’t act in defiance of Herod, but in his commitment to love. A commitment that bore the burden of his soul-deep awareness that his killer would not be Herod, but Jerusalem, for which, in love, Jesus wept in heartrending lament.
This prophetic love didn’t die with Jesus. Countless are history’s examples. One of many…
On April 3, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., went to Memphis to lead another non-violent march in protest of the denial of equal rights. A nearly successful attempt had been made on his life. Supporters and detractors urged him not to come. It was a prophet’s love that compelled him onward. On the eve of his assassination, King addressed a gathering, closing what would be his final sermon(**):
I don’t know what will happen…but it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life…but I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will…And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But…we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Lent is a time of self-examination. I believe that for me to know for what I, in love, am willing to die is to know what it is to live freely, fully, and faithfully. So, I wonder. What is my “another authority,” “heavenly cause,” power greater than fear? What glory have I seen? What is my vocation (from the Latin, vocare, “to call”) of prophetic love that pulls, pushes me to be and do the best for another even at great risk and greatest cost?
(*)From “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha (1972); music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion
(**)From the sermon, I See the Promised Land, preached at Mason Temple, Memphis, Tennessee