This past week I went to a multi-faith conference where leaders from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish traditions talked together about our shared hopes and visions for God’s work in the world. It was a challenging and beautiful time.
We gathered as people who often hate each other. We gathered as people who have too often tried to kill each other.
And we gathered as people who talked about love, friendship, and peace.
I was struck when one of the speakers talked about his approach to multi-faith conversation in parts of the world where it isn’t exactly safe to be of a different religion. He said he has to talk to leaders and convince them to let go of their weapons and open their hands to the possibility of living a different way.
And I was thinking about that as I read Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees in today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel.
A battle is brewing on the road to Jerusalem. At first it looks like just another confrontation with the Pharisees.
Jesus is heading to Jerusalem, making his way through cities and villages and teaching as he goes. Some Pharisees come to Jesus. There are no friendly greetings. No small talk. No exchange of roadside hospitality. This is about business.
Jesus and the Pharisees are each on a mission. But they are headed in opposite directions. “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you,” threaten the Pharisees.
These are words of rejection – Jesus is not welcome.
Jesus rejects their threat: “You go and tell that fox Herod that I am too busy to be bothered by him. Too busy healing and giving life to worry about someone who only wants death.”
Jesus knows something that Herod and the Pharisees don’t: The contest was never against Herod or the Pharisees.
The contest has always been with and for Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.”
Jesus is calling out for the people he loves, but too often don’t return the favor. Jesus is calling out for the people who too often don’t see and know and feel God’s love. Jesus is calling out for the people who too often throw stones.
And Jesus is calling out for you, and me, because we too often get in our own way.
I can’t help but think about the stones that I like to throw.
Stones of fear – stones that say “I don’t want to risk getting hurt.”
Stones of pride – stones that say, “My way is better.”
Stones of isolation – stones that say, “I don’t need you.”
Stones of violence – stones that say, “You don’t have dignity and humanity.”
Stones of prejudice – stones that say, “You’re different from me. You’re not wanted here.”
But Jesus looks beyond the stones we want to throw, and instead desires to gather us together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.
He rejects all other roads except the one leading to Jerusalem, the one leading to us.
He rejects all false authorities – not allowing threats, warnings, or even the power of death to control him.
He rejects any attempt to interrupt his life-giving mission, and he keeps moving forward to Jerusalem.
He keeps moving forward to us.
With each step Jesus is saying, “don’t be afraid, I am with you.”
With each step Jesus is saying, “you can’t do it all, you need each other.”
With each step Jesus is saying, “I will heal you, forgive you, and make you whole.”
With each step Jesus is saying, “I will pursue you to the very end – even to death and beyond.”
With each step Jesus is saying, “I love you.”
We just need to open our hands, let go of the stones, and hold on to Jesus.