King Herod was not a well liked King.
He was a puppet King for the Romans… who probably didn’t really care about who was King over the backwater province of the empire, Judea. The people of Israel didn’t care for Herod, knowing that he was all about power. But like most people in power, Herod made the right allegiances. With Rome and with the religious authorities.
So when the Pharisees come to Jesus with a Message, he knows they too are puppet authorities, doing the puppet King’s dirty work in order to hold on to their own power and privilege.
Today, on the second Sunday of Lent we continue with Jesus who can’t help but be confronted by people who think they have power. Last week it was the Devil tempting Jesus to misuse the power of incarnation, the power that comes along with being God, and being God in flesh. The Devil’s temptations set the stage for the recurring theme that Luke’s gospel holds up for us this Lenten season. The Devil tries to offer Jesus power. And now the Pharisees come to Jesus with a warning. They sound sympathetic, maybe even concerned for Jesus. Herod is out to get you, they warn. And it just so happens that getting rid of Jesus might also be convenient for them too.
Herod, the unpopular King and the righteous yet conspiring Pharisees, are concerned about their power. They are concerned about Jesus’s impact on their power and privilege. They have worked to build alliances, with their unpalatable overlord Romans, and with each other. Their power is tenuously held and only maintained by fear and division. With soldiers who intimidate, with control over money, over the temple, over the city of Jerusalem.
Yet, no matter their work to maintain their power, they cannot gain the confidence and support of the people. Yet, Jesus who doesn’t seem to be looking for any power, is wandering the countryside, living off the generosity of others. Jesus is popular and therefore powerful in the eyes of Herod and the Pharisees. And while he hasn’t made a play for their power yer, they know it will come. And so they conspire. They will frighten Jesus off. Just as they frighten the people with soldiers or unrighteousness. They only see Jesus as a threat who must be dealt with.
Power in our time looks much different. It is not so much based in the ability to control God’s forgiveness like the Pharisees did, nor is it based in political allegiances with foreign occupiers. Politicians and corporations don’t rule over us, but pander to us. The days of religion holding damnation and judgement over the head of society may be recent enough to remember, but fewer and fewer people seem to care. And even those of us who who still do participate in organized religion, probably feel like religious leaders have little power to dictate the terms of our salvation.
Yet, there is something we do hold in common with Herod and the Pharisees.
Feeling threatened by Jesus.
There is a something inside of all of us that gets anxious and concerned when Jesus starts talking about what God wants for us. For those who have been coming to adult study, you will recognize the language of the tangled, twisted thing inside of us. That thought in the back our minds, that feeling that makes our blood pressure rise. It is the thing inside of us that makes us fearful of our different skinned neighbours. It it the thing that makes us resentful of the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities for being dependant on government welfare. It is the thing that inside of us that closes us off to people who think differently than we do. The twisted tangled thing makes us want to hoard more and more for ourself, makes us fear difference, makes us angry when we think we haven’t received our fair share.
The twisted, tangled thing is what Martin Luther called the Old Adam, the Old Sinner.
It is sin.
And the sinner inside of us bristles when Jesus starts talking about the first being last, and losing our lives to save them. The sinner doesn’t like the idea that God’s forgiveness isn’t earned, but instead given away freely.
The twisted tangled sinner is the part of us that thinks power will save us. That controlling the world around us will keep us from being hurt. That protecting ourselves from anyone different from us is the way to be safe.
And when Jesus starts talking about giving up power, the old sinner feels threatened. And when Jesus starts talking about prophets being stoned and hinting at crucifixion, the old sinner will have none of it. Like the Devil who thought power was the purpose last week, the old sinner thinks power is our salvation.
The pharisees warn Jesus that Herod is willing to kill Jesus for the sake of power.
Herod is worried that his power could be taken by the popular preacher Jesus.
How wrong can Herod and the Pharisees be?
How completely off the mark can the twisted, tangled sinner inside of us get?
Jesus has come in weakness, not power.
Jesus has come to be open, not closed off.
Jesus has come to be vulnerable, not fearful.
Jesus has come to show love.
Love that will change us.
Love that will undo the twisted, tangled thing inside of us.
Love that risks being hurt, being unsafe, being weak in order to come close and near. Love that gathers and holds us together under its wings.
Love that couldn’t care less for power.
Herod and the Pharisees don’t live in a world of love. They don’t know how to let go of the little power that they have. They can’t see that Jesus hasn’t come for power, they cannot see how Jesus is trying to show God’s love to the world.
And Jesus knows this. Jesus knows that the same crowds will chant “Blessed is He who comes in the same of the Lord” on Sunday, will shout crucify by Friday because they want a King of power, not a King of love.
Jesus knows that the Pharisees who are warning him to get away will cry to Pilate to do their dirty work.
Jesus knows that the King Herod will defer to the power of Rome to finally rid his Kingdom of this popular preacher.
Jesus knows that their desire for power will lead to death.
It is the way of the Old Sinner.
Herod and the Pharisees don’t know that Jesus is willingness to die for the sake of love, will save the world.
But we do.
And still this Jesus who saves the world, who endures our greatest power of death to show love, still threatens us.
Because the old sinner within us who pushes us to fear, to resent, to be closed off, to hoard and to control… this old sinner, this twisted and tangled thing knows that the love of Jesus will change us. That love will untwist and untangle. That love will forgive and show grace.
And Jesus knows that love makes us anxious, that old sinner, the twisted and tangled thing doesn’t want to be loved. Jesus knows that loving us will transform us. Jesus knows that loving us will make us care less about ourselves and more about others. Jesus knows that love will make us less afraid, less closed off, hoard less, control less, worry less. Jesus knows love will makes us let go of power…
Herod wasn’t a well-liked King and the Pharisees weren’t well-liked religious rulers. We are people threatened by love.
And Jesus isn’t either of these things either. Not puppet King, nor religious overlord, nor symbol of power and influence.
Jesus is a mother hen with nothing but love to give. Love for sinners who feel threatened. Love for tangled and twisted people who get anxious.
And just like stubborn chicks who need their mother hen, Jesus love will gather and change us too.
*Thanks to Nadia Bolz-Weber for the “twisted-tangled” language for sin