(…continued) So now, let’s look at the first verse of today’s Gospel, Luke 13:31: “At that very hour some Pharisees came to Jesus and said, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’” Why is it that someone always trying to kill Jesus? I don’t know why Herod wanted to kill Jesus. It doesn’t tell us that here or anywhere else. It is usually the Pharisees who are trying to get Jesus killed. And they are trying to get him killed, at least in part, because he was too much like an Irishman. Let me explain.
There was a big part of Jesus’ personality and way of dealing with people that was cheerful, pleasant, open, and easy-going—like the Irish. He could get along with everyone, and even sought out people that others, like the Pharisees, would shun. For example, there were rules about diseased lepers staying away from the general population. Jesus not only sought them out, but he touched them, healed them, and restored them to the community. Tax collectors were despised and hated and avoided. Jesus sought them out too, and even went into their homes, thus defiling himself according to the rules. Adulteresses were to be stoned to death, but Jesus wasn’t in favor of that law; and after embarrassing the would-be executors of one woman, he sent them away. Jesus was too easy-going for the Pharisees, and they worried about what would become of society if everyone was like that.
I don’t really think that a DNA test would have revealed any Irish blood in Jesus, but he had some of the best of the Irish ways in his personality. And then again, maybe the Irish, who had at first been fierce and warlike, got their friendlier ways from St. Patrick, who converted them to Christianity way back in the fourth century, and Patrick got it from Jesus.
At the same time, Jesus could also be like the best of what I saw in my German heritage. He could speak the truth in love, and be very direct and demanding– and some, like the rich young ruler, went away sorrowful. He could be very meticulous and exacting, and said he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, and that not one speck of it should disappear. Jesus was very focused, and said no one comes to the heavenly Father but by Him. And he could be very strict, saying “You have heard it said, do not kill, but I say to you even if you hate your brother you are a murderer;” and to the woman caught in adultery, he said, “Go and sin no more.” And, there were those who wanted to kill Jesus for being like that too, for being too much like a German. In Matthew 23 Jesus called the teachers of the Law hypocrites for trying to appear so righteous on the outside but were full of wickedness on the inside. When Jesus got done with that speech, Matthew tells us that the religious leaders began to scheme to arrest Jesus secretly and have him killed.
This spectrum between the easy-going, friendly ways of the Irish, and the orderly, strict ways of the Germans illustrates the balance we have to keep in all of life. Parents struggle with this all the time, trying to decide when to apply strict discipline to keep in the kids in order, and when to let the kids go and figure it out on their own. And kids learn at an early age how to test the limits. Keeping this balance takes wisdom and patience and many prayers that, in the long run, the child will respond well. Sometimes people will say of a troubled child, “No wonder the kid didn’t turn out right, his parents were always too easy on him.” And, on the other hand, sometimes people will say, “No wonder she is troubled, her parents were always too hard on her.” It is a tough balance to keep.
God has always had the same trouble dealing with the whole world, including you and me– when to be tough and when to be tender; when to be easy-going and when to be demanding. Sometimes when I read the Old Testament I am shocked at how the wrath of God can erupt in explosive punishment on God’s disobedient people. But just as often I am shocked at the rebelliousness of the people, and I wonder how God could keep putting up with them and continue to forgive them, time and again, giving them chance after chance. I have heard people say they don’t like reading the Old Testament because they don’t like how God manages things. They think God is unfair in the way He hands out blessings and curses. I look at it this way. I had a hard time raising just two kids in one house and trying to keep this balance. Who am I to evaluate or judge God for how he deals with everyone in the whole world all at once? What would I know about that?
And when I read the New Testament and the words of Jesus, I am, in my own heart, moved back and forth between the demands of God and the love of God. Anyone who reads the Bible will be challenged by the way of life God expects of us, and one can even become discouraged. At the same time, one is struck again and again by the “amazing grace” of God, the unconditional love of God, and his ongoing offer of forgiveness when we are sorry for our sins. We cannot let go of either part of the message.
We must not let go of Jesus. Jesus pleads with us, as he pleaded with the people of Jerusalem in this morning’s Gospel, where he said: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
May we all be, and remain, among those who are willing to let Jesus gather us in, now and forever.