This Sunday, the Roman Catholic lectionary gives us the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration – something Anglicans read the Sunday before Lent. We have blogged on its significance for the early stages of the Lenten journey here.
In the Church of England calendar, we read Luke 13.31-35. In this passage, we see Jesus being extraordinarily blunt about King Herod – Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will finish my work – and going on to express a maternal love towards the people among whom he ministers and lives, even as he acknowledges their violent rejection of God’s prophets (and anticipates his own rejection) – How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
This passage challenges us to reflect more deeply on the character of Jesus; to look beyond our own preconceptions and projections, and see how he actually thinks, speaks and behaves. Jesus combines courage (he is not afraid to speak truth to power, even though he knows that speaking out against Herod and his family ultimately cost John the Baptist his life); clearsightedness (he knows that the very crowds who now praise him will turn against him and cry ‘Crucify!’) and compassion (he nonetheless longs to gather them together ‘as a hen gathers her brood’.
These are characteristics we find it incredibly hard to hold together. When we engage in conflict with others, we find it hard to remain truly compassionate. When we seek to be compassionate, we find it hard to also speak words which challenge and generate tension. It is tempting, then, to re-make Jesus in our own image: either to emphasise his compassion, in a way that obscures his capacity for confronting and disturbing the powerful, or to emphasise his courage, and lapse into the very judgmentalism and hard-heartedness he condemns.
It is only be returning again and again to these Gospel stories – in our common worship and in our times of personal study and prayer – that we can allow the Spirit of Jesus to re-make us in his image, instead of we re-making him in ours.