Second Reading Philippians 3.17 - 4.1
Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!
Gospel Luke 13.31-35
At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”
He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
“O 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, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Just before today’s reading from PHILIPPIANS, there is a passage which contains a “prize metaphor.” Everything is counted as loss, except the prize of Christ himself. Everything is garbage except knowing him and the power of his resurrection. Paul tells the PHILIPPIANS to forget what is behind, but strain for what is ahead. Press on towards the goal to win a prize for which God called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Unlike the coolly argued Romans, Paul is here writing a pastoral letter. His tone is sharp and emotional. Paul pleads for the PHILIPPIANS to emulate him.
There are many adversaries, he says. “Enemies of the cross” he calls them. Their minds are set on earthly things: our minds should be set on heaven. That is where we should think of ourselves as citizens, not on earth but already in heaven. Jesus will transform our lowly bodies, so that we can be like his glorious body.
Who are these adversaries Paul is talking about? In the passage from Luke’s gospel, we get a flavour of the “enemies of the cross.”
Jesus laments in advance of his arrival in Jerusalem. He is warned about Herod’s intention to do away with him. Herod Antipas is ruler of Galilee, Tetrarch of one quarter of the kingdom of Herod the Great. He saw Jesus as a successor to John the Baptist. Maybe Jesus was even John brought back to life, Herod believed.
Jesus calls Herod a ‘wily fox’ for trying to see him. His ministry must continue, and must end in Jerusalem. That is his destiny. He will continue exorcising, healing and teaching. Then he will suffer, die and be resurrected. “On the third day I finish my work” he says in a clear reference to the empty tomb.
But Jesus’ lament is not over Herod. It is over Jerusalem. Jesus weeps for the city. Herod’s threat may be ominous, but it cannot divert him away from the road to Jerusalem.
The lament is tinged with great sadness. Jerusalem is the heart of Judaism. The chosen people for whom the messiah has come. Yet it will reject him and worse. He will die there. Not only Jesus, but the early Christian martyrs too. Stephen and James.
Jesus uses feminine imagery. He would gladly have protected Jerusalem like a hen protects her chicks, but Jerusalem will turn on him like a fox in a hen coop. The people will not listen. So Jesus pronounces doom against the city, and the Romans eventually destroy it in 70AD fulfilling that prophecy. Of course, by the time Luke’s gospel is written, this has probably already happened.
These adversaries, enemies of the cross, are possibly the Jews who are insisting Paul conducts his ministry as a kind of special Jewish mission. These were the people in the early church who would trying to force a Jewish agenda on the early Christian believers. They insisted the first converts followed Jewish law, rather than conform their lives to the way of the cross of Christ.
Or they may have been hedonistic and violent people whose teaching and pattern of life was diametrically opposed to Paul’s gospel.
We are now well into the season of Lent. And we know that every time has its “enemies of the cross.” In this day and age, the enemies are as likely to be those who show a complete lack of interest as those who are opposed to the Christian message. In our unequal society in particular, we are probably talking about those whose sole pursuit is their interests. What they can earn. What goods and services they can amass for themselves. What wealth they can build up, regardless of the effect it might have on those who are marginal in society, or even the generality of those on modest incomes.
If this is the prevalent attitude towards success, then this leads others astray especially the young and the vulnerable. If this is what people think of when they aspire to be successful, then this breeds an attitude to life which is diametrically opposed to the message Paul is giving to the PHILIPPIANS.
The season of Lent is sacrificial in nature. But it’s not just giving up something we won’t miss. Instead, it should be conforming to the cross of Christ. Transforming ourselves. Behaving as if we are Christ’s followers. Living sacrificially all the time, and not during these four weeks.
I read a survey recently about sermons. People were asked about their experience of preaching. Did they feel sermons gave them instruction, comfort, peace, reassurance or an invitation to change their life? The last one received the least votes. Apparently preachers do not often enough challenge people to change their lives.
Paul does not ask us to do what he says. He invites us to act as he himself acts. Like Paul we must lead through personal example. My father used to delight in telling me “do as I say, not as I do.” I hope he did not really mean that. But this is a lesson we can all learn. Especially during Lent.
Transformation does not just change lives, but should lead to sanctification. Making holy. Holy things. Holy people. The change that affects mind, body and spirit too.
Like Paul, we can offer others Christian hope and help in setting and maintaining that which is rooted in the cross of Christ. Or at least, that is what really should be happening and something we can offer sacrificially in Lent. Transforming ourselves into a holy people. Sanctification, not only of ourselves but of everything we do. Everything we own. How we go about our jobs. Our attitude towards material goods. The highest standards of integrity in the way we conduct our business lives.
This call in Lent is the call to all who desire that future citizenship. Citizenship in heaven. Citizenship in the Kingdom of God, which is not just something which exists in the future. Not just a hope, but hopefully a present reality.