+ ‘Go and tell that fox for me, Listen, I am casting our demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work’
What is Lent? It’s a journey and a preparation. In the old days it was the time when converts prepared for baptism but it is also following Jesus on the way to the cross.
This year the Sunday gospels from Like make it very clear we are following Jesus to the cross. Last Sunday at the end of Jesus’ temptation in the desert Luke said that Satan departed from him until the opportune time. Today is the opportune time. Jesus has been preaching and healing, doing good, and King Herod wants him eliminated. The Pharisees warn him, but they too want him out of the way and actually come from Herod. Jesus replies, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, Listen, I am casting our demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.’
On the third day. Every Christian will recognise this as referring to the resurrection from the dead on the third day. The Greek for ‘I will finish’ also means ‘I reach my goal’, ‘I attain perfection’, it is much stronger than just an ending. In John’s gospel this is what Jesus says when he dies ‘it is finished’. This journey to consummation leads to Jerusalem. Not the golden heavenly Jerusalem we will sing about in the offertory hymn but the earthly one. Jesus won’t run away because he knows that like the prophets he must be killed in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the holy place chosen by God but then as now it is not a place of silence and contemplation but a bloody and contested site.
Lent leads us to Jerusalem, the place of conflict and, as Jesus journeys on, the battle lines become more stark. The sly fox Herod and the sneaky religious leaders on one side. They offer lies to trap the one good man who stands against them.
It’s not that far from the news today. Just over two years ago we were quietly living our lives, and then a global pandemic broke upon us and it is still around. Just when things seemed to be getting better, pestilence was replaced in the headlines by war when Putin unleashed his massive but incompetent armies on peaceful Ukraine.
Now we have military might unleased on civilians, schools and a maternity hospital deliberately targeted, and ordinary people shot and bombed in their own streets or as they flee. As the powers of evil gradually came out into the open when Jesus made his way to Jerusalem; as these same powers spoke German and had a face in Hitler; now these same powers of evil speak their lies in Russian and have the face of Putin. As Herod had the High Priest on his side so now this role is played by the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. Today, evil is unveiled.
I’m not sure we expected evil to be so blatant. It exposes the little compromises our own leaders in all parties have made, for oil, donations, or a prime time slot on Russia Today. In the face of evil, Jesus said ‘Go and tell that fox for me, Listen, I am casting our demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work’ – ‘I am going to keep on doing good and then will step into all you throw at me, you servants of the Evil One’.
What we see in Ukraine and in those Russians who stand up to Putin, is that doing good leads you to the cross. The problem is that even doing nothing leads you there, so you may as well do good. There are a lot of objections to Christianity but one of the weakest is the problem of evil. In philosophy it is strong: if God is loving and omnipotent, and if there is suffering in the world, then God doesn’t exist. In reality evil and suffering is just a fact in this world, whether natural evil, like a fatal pandemic, or human evil, like Putin’s war.
Our God allows evil in this world, we don’t know why, but this world is the only one we live in. Then our God enters this world in the person of Jesus who is both divine and human. The powers of evil do their worst to him and he stands alongside all who suffer, in Ukraine, in the Gulag, in Auschwitz, & throughout time. But then, through the pain, he rises from the dead to a new mode of life and exposes the powers of evil for what they are, a fraud. The Kingdom of lies collapses and, ultimately, through the cross love triumphs over evil.
So what can we do? Firstly, do good. Jesus wanted to gather the children of Jerusalem under his wings like a mother hen but they refused. They followed the fox. But the hen won out over the fox. We see what to do in our communion hymn by Jeannie Holloway – live like Jesus. Secondly, we can enter the mystery of the cross. Do what this Church is called. Jesus gave us this holy sacrament to do just that, share his sacrifice through bread and wine.
But more than that we can join him on the way to Jerusalem, come to the Holy Week services here, accompany Jesus to the cross and wait at the empty tomb. The Triduum, the services of the three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, are designed to let us experience the mystery of Christ in word and symbol. To equip us to look the powers of evil in the face. Like supporting refugees and those who suffer, they enable us to play our part in the great battle between God and evil. In these evil times, let us take our faith seriously.