I got called to the hospital late after a meeting on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.
A woman was entering hospice care.
Most of her grown children were there. Some live nearby. Others had traveled a great distance and were here for the duration.
“Mom is troubled,” they told me. “She thinks she has not done enough. Can you assure her that God loves her?”
Well, this is the classic Lutheran message of grace, of course and I did so with ease, as I have done countless times before.
Though her body was rigid with pain, her mind was still clear. She was able to hear me. She seemed to understand. Her mouth voiced the Lord’s Prayer when we shared it. She reached out her arms in gratitude when I left.
It was Tuesday. She would breathe her last among us on Friday.
It was not too late.
Not too late for God’s gifts to embrace her in promised forgiveness and love. And surely not too late for her children to gather close and return to her some of a lifetime of love and care she had extended to them over and over and over again.
It was not too late.
It seems to me this is the central message of today’s Gospel reading for you and for me, for you will notice that Luke offers this scene relatively early in the narrative.
It is not too late.
Oh, we can be easily distracted by the ongoing feud between Jesus and Herod and we can wonder about how the powers of the world fit into the drama before us then and now. Only Jesus turns his back on Herod. He dismisses him and his not insubstantial status and power. And he turns his heart towards Jerusalem.
And so we hear and we are led to believe it is not too late. Not even for those who have broken the heart of Jesus. Not when he uttered this aching lament two thousand years ago and not today.
And Jesus’ heart is broken, clearly it is. For we hear him now crying out his heartache over Jerusalem — that holy city which had been the seat of God’s presence since ancient times. Jerusalem, where he found his home as a boy in the temple. Jerusalem, which would soon claim his life.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Oh yes, these words are uttered by one who has been betrayed, who has loved completely, but whose love has been thrown back at him. This is the cry of one who has suffered rejection and who will too soon suffer unspeakably and die at the hands of that rejection.
Only the story is not done yet.
- Not for the Pharisees who warned Jesus of Herod’s intent.
- Not for his disciples standing nearby.
- Not for the crowds who have been listening to his teaching nor the broken in mind, body, and spirit who have received his healing.
It was not too late then and it is not too late now. Not even for you and me.
For though Jesus’ plaintive cry was spoken over Jerusalem, we can be certain he still weeps over all of us, too, for whom he gave his all. Oh yes, we know he must still weep when too often we reject his embrace. When with our hearts and with our lives we turn our back on him still.
And Jesus’ lament is fitting, for even at our very best when we reject the promised protection and love of God, we set ourselves up to try to live in a world on our own where for all of our best intentions, we will not do, can never be enough. And where our hopes turn to cynicism and our resolve to do good too often dissolves under the pressures of the world. And at our worst? Well, we know too well what that looks like.
Again, the cry of Jesus is one of betrayal. It is directed at those with whom God’s best gifts have been invested. The very likes of you and me.
I do not know the life story of the woman who in her dying days reached out her arms in gratitude to me on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. I do know this. Jesus had been crying out his love for her, her whole life long. And I do not know the consequences of her inability to receive this precious gift sooner. I do know this, though.
- When I choose not to rest in grace, I think too much or too little of myself. Neither are in keeping with God’s intent. And both have consequences. Sometimes ones which would break your heart.
- When I forget that I am but one of the brood, watched over by God as a mother hen would, I venture out on my own, putting myself and potentially others in harm’s way.
- When I do not believe myself to be in profound need of forgiveness just like all the rest, I tend not to see others as so very tender and so very vulnerable, too.
Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, yes. Jesus weeps over all those who turn their backs on his love.
But it’s not too late. It is not too late. Not then and not now.
It is not too late.
- It is not too late. What does this promise mean to you? How does it change everything?
- I am struck that Jesus’ lament is rooted in the fact that Jerusalem has turned her back on his love. How might we understand this first rejection of Jesus as the root of every other failure or shortcoming or sin which can and does mark our lives?
- In this reflection, I have set aside Jesus’ reaction to the message about Herod. I have done so because that appears to be what he did. Is this an appropriate distinction? Why or why not?