Mark 8: 1-10; Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand
Luke 13:31-35; Jesus’ Sorrow for Jerusalem
Message: Excuse me, did you know him? Levi’s Song!
Here we are at the second Sunday in Lent; this time in Lent will be a time of getting to know Jesus’ humanity, for only a human can suffer as he did on the cross and it is on the cross that we see the transition from humanity to a person filled with the spirit of God. Throughout scripture we see Jesus himself alternates from being human to being divine. Our faith tells us that Jesus is fully human and fully divine. In Lent it is only too clear that Jesus is being human so let’s get to know him through the story of Levi.
Levi hummed his favourite song as he walked toward home from the marketplace. The tune to the psalm matched his mood on this wonderful sunny day. The breeze was warm, but not too warm. The sun was bright, but not too bright. The air was scented with the aroma of the marketplace. Three copper drams and mother is very precise; barley bread and dried fish. As Levi walked toward home, he looked up against the hillside and he saw him. He watched as family after family; one man after another; women and children, all walking toward him as they journeyed to Jerusalem for the Passover, trying to get to know him on that hillside. Levi isn’t sure who he is but a man said, come on, boy, come along. So, Levi with his basket of bread and fish climbed the hill to listen.
Meanwhile at home his mother was very agitated and angry but knew behind the emotions was a dread too deep for words. She said under her breath, please let him be safe. On the hillside Levi sat enraptured by this teacher. Never, never ever had he heard the will of God put so beautifully, so simply. The adults were hanging on every word. This rabbi taught that God was as close as your own father not far away. Levi kept moving closer and closer to Jesus as he talked, gathering a peace as he went. You see, his father had died recently.
Luke tells us another story, a short story about an encounter, a warning on this same road to Jerusalem, the road out of Galilee, where the petty tyrant Herod runs roughshod over the people. Herod Antipas, successor to the evil Herod of the nativity stories and equally ineffective as that Herod was at hindering God’s plans, is motivated by fear and a deep hunger for power and security. His vision of how things should be obviously clashes with the things Jesus is saying and doing as he travels around, right there, on Herod’s own home turf! The tension is this; Herod’s plans to conform the people to the values of the Roman Empire, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the mission of Jesus, who called the people not only to repent but to remember, and be faithful to, the ancient promises of God. Here, on the road to Jerusalem, the same road Levi walked with his basket of bread and fish. Jesus brushes aside the warnings about Herod’s evil scheming as only so many words (which they are, of course), futile efforts that are not significant in the big picture, the plan of God. God’s word has power; Herod’s words are useless.
Still, the powers that be, whether it’s Herod in Galilee, Pilate in Jerusalem, the religious leaders there and scattered throughout the land, the wealthy and prestigious, or the mighty Roman Empire itself, can cause havoc in the meantime. So, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem fully aware of the awful danger that lies ahead. These are all powers of one kind of another, some of them admittedly dependent on those more powerful than themselves, all of whom dislike Jesus’ talk about the first being last, and the last being first. Indeed, that’s what Jesus was talking about right before this encounter happened. Of course, this is not the first time a prophet has stood up to the powers that be in Israel. The language and imagery in this short text recall not only ancient promises of God’s tender care, but also God’s holding Israel to a high standard of faithfulness to a covenant carved on their hearts. Jesus stands as a prophet with the faithful of Israel and holds the promised of God within his heart. It’s important to remember once again that on this day Jesus is a self-proclaimed prophet in a long line of prophets in Israel who proclaimed both God’s mercy and God’s judgment. The scattered children of Jerusalem are being gathered together to speak of God’s unwavering love for Israel. The image of Israel finding shelter under God’s ‘wings’ occurs naturally with Jesus’ cry of anguish in this passage. In this story about Jesus’ firm determination to face what lies ahead in Jerusalem – for our sake, not only for the sake of his people, in his own time – we hear a call to stand firm ourselves, no matter what, Juanita and I stand in solidarity, as we condemn the terrorists attacks in the two Mosques in New Zealand this past week in her letter to the editor. Forty-nine of these committed individuals were killed, they knew their God of peace was with them.
Jesus doesn’t back down or run away, not because he knows that he is “safe” from the cross (quite the opposite), but because he knows who God is, and what “the plan” is. This is the Jesus who accompanies us on our Lenten journey, and on every path of risk and faithfulness, no matter what we encounter along the way. And so, we say, Excuse, me, do you know him? as people wonder what this Lenten journey is all about. It is about walking every step of the way to the cross with Jesus who was treated very badly and sinfully…
Levi sat on the tree stump oblivious to the fact that his mother was frantic about his whereabouts. He was living life anew. He didn’t know how to explain what happened to the food and the basket; the food was eaten and eaten, and now he had a full basket of food, although broken by Jesus and that was why he was sitting on the tree stump. How was he to explain? His mother was crying when he opened the door; Levi explained what he had heard and what Jesus had done and what happened to bread and fish; broken and shared. But his mother in her anger did not believe.
It seems to me that getting to know Jesus happens with our personal experiences of faith and hope and determination to be God’s people. To know Jesus on a personal level, I think, we have-to know the human Jesus who shares our pains and our sufferings. We need to know that God is at work for our own well-being and during this Lenten season we see who God is and what it is that God wills and works for. And perhaps as we devote ourselves to doing God’s will, we find the freedom that allows us to live without fear and into the fullness of life that God intends for us. Amen.