Righteous Indignation + Compassion = Justice
First Reading Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Psalm Psalm 27
Second Reading Philippians 3:17-4:1
Gospel Luke 13:31-35
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus, “get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” This sounds like a warning from someone concerned about Jesus’ welfare. It could easily be a plea from Jesus’ disciples. But it is not. This veiled warning comes from the Pharisees. The same Pharisees that have been at odds with Jesus since he began his ministry. The same Pharisees who have tried to trick and trap Jesus in some breech of Law, or even blasphemy, so they might take him down a notch, or even stone him.
Do the Pharisees offer this concerned council because they want Jesus to leave for his safety, or do they just want him to leave? Perhaps they imagine the prophet running with his tail between his legs would be easy to discredit? If Jesus would just go away, it would deter him from his prophetic mission and activity, and the Pharisees could label him a fraud.
Jesus sees through the Pharisees’ feigned concern, and responds with righteous indignation. He knows they are in cahoots with Herod, and confronts Herod indirectly by sending a message by the Pharisees. “Go and tell that fox for me..” We have to appreciate this response and language from Jesus. In Jesus’ humanity, just like you and me, he occasionally got something stuck in his craw. I don’t know exactly where the craw is, but this got stuck in Jesus’ craw. Calling Herod a fox was not a term of endearment. Though foxes were considered sly and cunning in the day, Jesus was not praising Herod for his craftiness. A king should be referred to with the royal imagery of a lion. Jesus reduced Herod to a fox.
“Go and tell that fox for me” that I am on a mission, casting out demons and healing a broken world, and have no time or interest in worrying about the self-serving powers and self-righteous politicians of the world, even as it threatens my own life. Jesus is not being reckless. He knows the risks. Jesus is not ignorant. He knows the consequences. Jesus is on a mission. He has always been on a mission. Jesus proclaimed at the beginning of his ministry, for all to hear, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” ... he has anointed me, to bring good news to the poor, release captives, make the blind see, and set the oppressed free. Jesus will accept no obstacles for God’s will. Jesus is telling the Pharisees and anyone with ears to listen, he ‘must’ continue on the Messiah’s mission. It is imperative. Jesus is compelled and impelled by obedience to God. Nothing will deter Jesus from the necessary path to Jerusalem and the cross. Nothing will deter God from what God has bound himself to on our behalf. God keeps his promises.
Jesus reveals his humanity in righteous indignation. Jesus simultaneously expresses a divine quality ... compassion. Jesus laments over Jerusalem, the capital city of God’s chosen, the city that boasts the Temple, where God is supposed to dwell. Jesus laments over how Israel has rejected the prophets sent by God. Jesus is also aware of his own current and ultimate rejection. Despite this, Jesus has compassion, and expresses the longing of a maternal God to gather and protect and nurture her chicks as a mother hen. Consider the image of a hen gathering chicks into safety and refuge, pulling them closer and closer, until you cannot tell where the mother’s feathers end and the chick’s feathers begin. Once all of creation recognizes God’s love and grace and mercy, the world will proclaim “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.” This is God’s world to which we are called. By pursuing the human actions of righteous indignation, and practicing divine compassion, a new humanity is being created.
Without compassion, borne of God’s abundant, inclusive, and forgiving love, the actions and protests of righteous indignation are simply picking a fight. With divine compassion, righteous indignation pursues healing and wholeness. Pursuing righteous indignation and practicing compassion lead us to justice. Not the justice that conforms to the culture and laws and whims of humanity. Not the eye for eye and tooth for tooth justice that leaves all people blind and toothless. Not ‘social’ or any other qualifying label of justice. God’s justice.
God’s justice includes the outcast, invites the outsider, and makes the broken whole. God’s justice lifts up the lowly, comforts the suffering, and empowers the powerless. God’s justice calls us to seek and serve Christ in all persons, love our neighbor as ourselves, strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.
Paul believes this dream is possible. Paul is certain humanity is capable of this, with God’s help, for ‘He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.’
Consider the cover photo on your service bulletin. The setting is the 1960 Civil Rights protests in Nashville. The peaceful sit in’s at downtown stores are erupting in violence. I do not know the name of the young black man going into a store, but I call him Roger. If we imagine his name, we must acknowledge him as a person. We might warn him, “Don’t go in there, Roger. It’s dangerous! You might be spat upon, kicked, arrested, or even killed.” It is easy for us, looking at this photo from the distance of time and space, to urge Roger to simply avoid the conflict. But Roger must go in, and pursue justice. Roger must be feeling the righteous indignation of a lifetime of being treated as a second class citizen. Roger must also have compassion for humanity, knowing that we are all less than God intends by living in a world of separation, hate, and injustice. Roger is compelled and impelled to stand up, or in this case ‘sit in’, for God’s justice! I do not know what happened to Roger. But during a time of great conflict and injustice, many voices crying out in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord, transformed the world.
Paul urges us to imitate the mind of Christ, setting ourselves not on earthly things, but on the Spirit’s work of transformation and reconciliation. We have been given many other examples to imitate, such as Martin Luther King, Ghandi, and Mother Teresa. Closer to home, an Episcopal priest encouraging complete integration of the races was quoted in a local paper, “If there are those who wonder why Christians are opposed to white supremacy, let them read their Bibles. We are all in the same boat, all on the same level, when we stand before God.” That priest was Stewart Matthews, Rector of St. Paul’s, 1957. St. Paul’s has welcomed people of all sexual orientations since at least the 1970’s, long before it was more culturally acceptable, and even through the discovery of a virus that many reckoned to be God’s moral judgement on one group of people. We continue to lift up the aged and infirm with large print bulletins and adequate access and facilities for the immobile and disabled. But a few heartwarming anecdotes of inclusion are not enough. Humanity has not achieved God’s dream of justice. As Christians, our community is both heir to and charged with seeking and serving God’s justice.
At one time or another in history, it was acceptable, even fashionable, to discriminate against our neighbor on the basis of race, nationality, faith, gender, sexuality, age, or other labels that separates us from one another. What moment of history are we in today? What else at one time seemed OK, before God’s justice overwhelmed human justice? Who is being left behind today, longing for God’s justice? Many groups who have experienced injustice in the past have not achieved wholeness. Perhaps we are finding new ways to further separate ourselves from the other, such as political persuasion. What humiliation is humanity committing today that longs for God’s transformation into glory?
Now is the time to allow righteous indignation to swell. Now is the time to invite divine compassion to guide our actions. This Lent we have an opportunity to open ourselves to God’s dream, the transformation of humanity. God has shown us, and continues to show us, what is good. All God asks us in return is to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). Amen.