The Gorilla in the Room

The Gorilla in the Room

By Danielle Jones, Luke 13:31-35

Good morning. It is the second week of Lent – a time for reflecting on Christ’s life, work, and death. We slow down this time of year to focus on what it means to more intentionally follow Christ and we dive into some of the more obscure passages of scripture to plumb the depths of what all this means for us today as we strive to follow in the footsteps of Christ. This morning’s scripture is certainly one of the more interesting passages in the gospels – full of surprises, proclamations, explanations, and even a little animal imagery.

The whole of chapter 13 in the book of Luke, which this passage is taken from, contains passages that prepare us for the passion on Christ. The chapter begins with an exhortation to repent of our sin or die pared with the parable of the barren fig tree – two passages that Jeff will expound upon in his sermon next week.

Then we see Jesus perform a healing of a crippled woman on the Sabbath, parables of the mustard seed and the yeast, both images used to describe the kingdom of God which Jesus had arrived to proclaim. And then the story of the narrow door, which reminds us that the way of Christ is not easy and not for the faint of heart. And finally we see Chapter 13 end with the passage we are looking at today – Jesus’ Lament over Jerusalem. What ties all these passages in Luke Chapter 13 and truthfully what ties the entire book of Luke together is the theme of salvation. Perhaps Luke’s most dramatic insight is his perception that Jesus announced salvation for all people alike. Luke is emphatic to tell the story in such a way that Jesus is for all people, regardless of status, wealth, gender, or background – no matter who you are, Jesus wants to save you.

Our passage today begins with a warning for Jesus – a warning that Herod is on the warpath and that he will not rest until Jesus is dead. Jesus, well aware that he was going to be put to death for the life he was leading at some point finds himself receiving this warning by some unlikely allies, the Pharisees.

In the overwhelming majority of gospel stories in all four of the gospels in fact, the Pharisees play the roles of challengers to Jesus – confronting him on what he is doing that is outside the bounds of what they have come to understand living for God is to mean. And Jesus himself often holds the Pharisees up as examples for how not to live for God, highlighting all the ways they have gotten it wrong. Yet here we see it is the Pharisees who come to warn Jesus that he is not safe.

From the perspective of the gospels, we get a one-sided picture of the Pharisees. The Jews themselves knew very well that there were good and bad Pharisees in fact they divided the broad faith group called the Pharisees into seven different classes.

The first class was called the “Shoulder Pharisees” who earned their name by wearing their good deeds for all to see. Shoulder Pharisees were so intentional to make sure their good deeds were seen that it was as if they hoisted their good deeds up on their shoulders where no one could miss them. The second group was known as the “Wait-a-little” Pharisees – a bit more hesitant in their faith they believed in good deeds but were also know for finding a good excuse for putting a good deed off until another day.

The next class of Pharisees were known as the bruised or bleeding Pharisees those who took to heart the rule that no Jewish Rabbi could be seen on the street talking with a woman for fear of stumbling into sin or having their actions misinterpreted by others. These Pharisees took this law so very seriously that they would not even talk with a wife, mother or sister in public and would close their eyes when they passed a woman on the street so as not to fall into sin. This closed eyed walking around town often resulted in the Pharisees knocking into walls and bruising or cutting themselves as special badges of their piety.

The pestle and mortar Pharisees (also called the hump backed Pharisees) walked dramatically bent over in false humility. Similar to the shoulder Pharisees they wanted to show their humble position of faith to the world and did so through their physical posture.

The ever-reckoning Pharisees were always keeping track of their good deeds – keeping a balance sheet of profit and loss with God.

The timid or fearing Pharisees lived in constant fear of the wrath of God worried that one wrong move would lead to their demise.

And the last group was called the God-fearing Pharisees. These Pharisees were known to be followers of Abraham and did their best to live in faith and charity.

It was likely these God-fearing Pharisees who warned Jesus of Herodʼs displeasure with the work Jesus was doing sensing that Jesus was a man of God and wanting to protect Him.

Thinking of these classes of Pharisees got me thinking this week about classes of Christians. Each class of Pharisees began with a true principle of how to follow God well, but focused so deeply on that one principle that they lost sight of the larger picture God was calling them to live into.

If I were to guess which Pharisee I would have been, I think I would have likely been one of the ever-reckoning Pharisees, keeping lists of all my good deeds. I am a pastor, after all, and there is no vocation on earth more likely to lead toward keeping lists of all you have done or given up for the Lord than a pastor.

What other groups of Christians can you think of? How about the “its all about serving” Christians – you know people that believe if you are not serving you are clearly not following Christ. Or the “its all about scripture Christians” – those who have memorized every passage they possibly can but have not related these memorized scripture to one another and to their own daily life. Or how about the “show up at church but that is about it” Christians. Christians that have never missed a Sunday at church but what they have learned and experienced at church is left at the door and forgotten for the rest of the week. All of these things are good and important: serving, memorizing scripture, coming to worship, and doing good deeds all shape our faith in Christ but focus only on one these things and we are bound to miss something.

Jesus seems unfazed by the threats that he may be put to death. Turns out that his impending death was old news to him and there was no death threat that was going to stop him from doing the work God had called him to do. And so Jesus responds to the Pharisees by saying “Go, and tell that fox, ‘look you, I cast out demons and I work cures today and tomorrow and on the third day my work is perfected.’”

I love this verse. First of all, it is not very often that Jesus resorts to name-calling. I guess he does use the phrase “you brood of vipers,” and there is the time or two that he calls out the lack of faith that others have, but to call Herod a fox was to be unimpressed with who Herod was and what he was trying to do. In fact, calling Herod a fox was the equivalent of calling someone a rat in this day and age. It was not a compliment. To the Jew, the fox was a symbol of three things: first it was regarded as the slyest of all the animals; second it was thought of as a destructive animal; and third, a fox was the symbol of a worthless and insignificant man.

Jesus did not take his orders from foxes or rats – or serpents for that matter – Jesus was set on doing the work of His Father, healing and casting out demons, and he would keep doing work until the appointed hour.

These verses fit with the earlier stories of the chapter. Jesus had work to do – Godʼs own work – and that work was to lead to salvation, to proclaim the kingdom and to heal and cast out demons, nothing. Not the Sabbath, not a lack of understanding and certainly not a human king, would stop him from doing the work God set forth for him to do. Jesus makes it clear that both his journey to Jerusalem and his death there will be controlled by his faithfulness to God’s redemptive purposes, not by Herod.

The second half of this passage is a lament for Jerusalem. This lament is actually one of four laments that Luke has for Jerusalem. It is clear from these four laments that the fate of the city of Jerusalem is of major interest to the evangelist Luke. The main point of these laments seem to be that because the city has rejected God’s messenger – Jesus himself – its fate is no longer in his hands but in the hands of the people.

In our passage the lament reads, “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 and you were not willing. See, your house is left to you.”

Another one of these laments in Luke chapter 19 reads, “If you, even you, Jerusalem, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

Bold, tough, words for the city of Jerusalem. The word Jerusalem actually means “peace”. Therefore Jesus laments that the, so-called city of peace does not know what to do in order to secure true peace. Instead of embracing the living God, they have no interest in the things of Christ and have not been responsive to his message. Jesus promises not to visit them for a time and then when he does visit Jerusalem he is unwelcome. The idea of the Lord “visiting” his people is found frequently in the Old Testament. In Exodus God tells Moses that he has “visited” his people in Egypt and knows of their suffering. This idea of visiting is not just a fact-finding visit. It is actually deliverance. God visited his people in Egypt in order to lead them out of slavery to freedom.

In Ruth, Chapter 1, Naomi learns that God has visited his people in Judah by giving them a good harvest. And in 1 Samuel the Lord visits Hannah, enabling her to conceive and give birth to Samuel. The same idea is seen in Luke’s Gospel as well.

After the birth of John the Baptist, his father Zechariah prophesies, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.” Then in chapter 7 of Luke, the crowd is amazed as Jesus raises up the son of the widow from Nain and they say, “God has come to help, he has visited his people.”

Luke understands the appearance of Jesus as one of these “visitations” of God through which an act of redemption will be accomplished. But the people do not recognize this visit. The people of Jerusalem and others as well.

Jesus, using a beautiful image of mothering and love, desires to gather the people up like a hen gathers her chicks. Yet, the people will have nothing to do with him and so he says, “See your house is left to you.”

Why do we miss the things that are right in front of us? What is it about human nature that misses the good gifts that are staring us right in the face? In my own life, I have really tried to develop the discipline of slowing down to notice what is happening around me. To savor the moment so I don’t miss the lessons and the good gifts that are right under my nose.

Active parenting is a time in life that is easy to wish away. I remember the early days of having just Campbell as an infant in our home I would think to myself, “Someday I will shower on a regular basis again.” or “Someday I will walk into a Starbucks and linger over a cup of coffee because I have plenty of time to waste.” It was easier to focus on what I was missing out on as a parent instead of savoring the gift that was right in front of me – in this case in my arms.

Another time I did this was my freshman year in college. Living in the dorms at Iowa State University sand navigating the almost 2000 acres of college campus – not to mention the 25,000 students that populated all those acres – I remembered a time when I was not so alone. Just a month earlier, at my parents house, someone else was doing my laundry, going grocery shopping, making my appointments and paying for the gas in my car. I had waited for college life for so long – ready to be on my own, making my own decisions and choosing my own paths – out from under the constant supervision of my parents. And when I got there I realized that college really was as great as everyone had said – but having parents around was kind of great too.

What is it about us that misses the goodness of what is right in front of us? I studied sociology and psychology in college. I have always been fascinated by people and why they do what the do – or why they don’t do what they don’t do.

So I thought we would try a little experiment in here this morning. In just a second, Charlie is going to play a video of some folks passing a basketball. All you need to do is count the number of times the people in white shirts pass the basketball.

All right. Time to fess up and be honest. How many of you counted 15 passes? And how many of you did not see the Gorilla. This study has been replicated thousands of times and on average half of the viewers do not see the man in the gorilla suit. This study is actually found in a book called The Invisible Gorilla. A book that uses a wide assortment of stories and counterintuitive scientific findings to reveal an important truth: Our minds don’t work the way we think they do. We think we see ourselves and the world as they really are, but we are actually missing a whole lot. In other words, in our own worlds there are a lot of invisible gorillas in the room.

Our passage this morning is about the invisible gorilla. Jesus, warned by the Pharisees to watch out for Herod, hears this news then all but says, “Thanks guys but you have missed the point.” The point of Christ’s life was not to avoid death. The point of Christ’s life was to live the life the Father was calling him to live, even unto death.

And then Jerusalem, city of peace. High holy city of the people of God misses the invisible Gorilla as well. Looking for the kind of Messiah they expected, they miss the real and living Messiah who is right in front of them. And they completely reject him.

And because Jesus and his message had been rejected, Luke tells us Jerusalem’s house, the center of worship and the symbol of Gods abiding presence in Israel will be left desolate, exposed, and will not find peace. So the question I want to leave you with this morning is: What are your own invisible Gorillas? What are the things that are right in front of you that you are completely missing because you have turned your attention to something else.

Like the seven sects of Pharisees we all have our blind spots: about ourselves, about the lives we are living, and maybe most of all about God. Lent is a time to reveal the invisible Gorillas in our own lives. To pause and reflect on the things God has been trying to tell us – obvious things – that we have missed because we have turned our attention in other directions.

It is a time of refining, refocusing, and regrouping around the big picture of faith. Lent is a time to embrace the truth that we are more like Jerusalem that we care to admit. Christ in our midst and choose to ignore him.

Gods desire is that we live in deep, authentic, life-giving relationship with him. And Christ serves as the Gorilla in the middle of the room, desiring to give us purpose, wholeness, healing and redemption. God is not only a redeeming God but a protecting, nurturing God as well.

Jesus likens his desire for Jerusalem – his desire for us – to that of a mother hen who instinctively draws her young under her wing when danger threatens. Psalm 36 describes God’s love as steadfast, Psalm 17 calls us the apple of God’s eye. In Isaiah and 1 Thessalonians God promises that like a mother cannot forget her nursing child- God will not forget us.

The invisible Gorilla in the room is that Jesus did not just feel this way about Jerusalem. He feels this way about us. Don’t miss it. Don’t let another Lent pass you by without taking time to deal with the distractions you are using to take the place of a deep abiding relationship with Christ.

And don’t let another lent pass you by without embracing the great love of God as most perfectly seen in the person of Jesus Christ. Let us pray…