Last week, at beginning of Lent, we were confronted with Jesus’s hunger, his physical hunger after fasting in the wilderness, and his spiritual hunger – his hunger for us, and all his sacrifices on our behalf as a result of his hunger for humanity. This past week I encountered an article about hunger in the world, historic hunger in the Ukraine. At the entrance to the Kiev Memorial Park there is a sculpture of a very thin girl with an extremely sad look holding several classes of wheat in her hands. Behind her back is the Candle of Remembrance, this is a monument that marks the historical event known as Holodomor (Hladomor).
Hladomor refers to one of Joseph Stalin’s most heinous forms of terror against the Ukraine. In 1932, Stalin took the grainy land from Ukrainian peasants, and all its yields, creating artificial hunger. Thus, the nation that produced the most wheat in Europe was left without a crumb of bread. The peak of the Hladomor was in the spring of 1933. In Ukraine, 17 people starved to death every minute, over 1000 every hour, and almost 24500 every day! People were literally starving to death on the streets.
During 1932-1933 hunger killed between seven and ten million Ukrainian people. Hunger was a lethal weapon meant to punish a people into submission. The same tragedy is repeating itself as stories are surfacing of starving Ukrainians in the current war.
Throughout history hunger has been a weapon in war and is a heinous war crime. Deliberately depriving people of food is one of the most despicable acts in the world, and it has been a common occurrence as the result of war throughout the ages, all around the world. On this second Sunday in Lent, we dig deeper into the issue of hunger. Last week we spoke about our own hunger, what are we hungry for. Jesus hungered to do the will of God, which led him, as we heard from Luke today, to die in Jerusalem. Why did Jesus hunger so for Jerusalem, and what significance does it hold for us?
In Jerusalem was the temple, the heart of Jewish identity and the place of ritual sacrifice. Jesus, who made the ultimate sacrifice on the cross on our behalf, represents the new temple, the new covenant, ushering the New Jerusalem. Jesus hungered to restore Jerusalem to righteousness, and it grieved him when the City turned away from God will and God’s way. Jerusalem compromised its values, it killed the prophets and turned away from God’s covenant. Yet Jerusalem is central to salvation history; it is the birthplace of the church and remains a symbol for how we are to live faithfully in a world that cannot escape the clutches of war. We need to seek Jerusalem, the Jerusalem established by God.
Jerusalem is first mentioned in the bible under the name “Salem.” The wanderers Abraham and Sarah, sent forth by God to a promised land, are welcomed and blessed with gifts of bread and wine by a King Malchizedek of Salem – the site of Jerusalem. Salem is linguistically related to the Hebrew word, “Shalom,” which we know means, wholeness, justice, peace. Deeply rooted in Jerusalem’s foundation is that offering of hospitality to the wanderer, the stranger, an offering that is an act of justice that creates peace. This is a vision of life that God calls us to establish wherever the kingdom of God exists on earth.
The root of “Jeru” is “seeing, being shown, also reverence and awe.” The word is linked to the terrifying story of Abraham being tested by God to sacrifice his only son Isaac on Mount Moriah, in the area near Jerusalem. Through testing and obedience, Abraham demonstrated a faith for his day and culture that was sacrificial, reverential. God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son -- being shown to sacrifice a nearby lamb instead. While many elements of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac are foreign to our understanding, we know what it is like to be tested, to sacrifice, even when we don’t understand.
These stories weave together the name of Jerusalem. So, Jerusalem is known as the “City of peace, a vision of peace, to see God, to be shown justice, to see peace.” Jerusalem is the place where faith is tested, and sacrifice demanded for the sake of peace. It is a city called to hunger for peace, for the presence of God, of experiencing reverence and awe. That’s the destiny on the shoulders of Jerusalem. Jesus hungered to complete God’s will, and so Jesus was the sacrificial lamb, the lamb like the one that Abraham found, the lamb who has come to restore peace and wholeness to our lives. To restore Jerusalem to its place in salvation history. Jerusalem is the archetype, the prototype, the pattern upon which all the world’s cities should be formed.
It is ironic that the place named “to see peace” the city sacred to three of the world’s major religions, has been a place where down through the centuries the shifts of world power played out…the Israelites, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, Hasmonians, Seleucids, Romans, Constantinople, the Muslim caliph’s, the crusaders, the Ottoman Empire, the British, down to our present quagmire, where Jew, Arab and Christian all claim some stake. Down through the ages we have sacrificed each other, and we are lived far from peace in our world today.
Amazing for a tiny parcel of land, with no real economic value, only 47 square miles. But the most hotly contested piece of real estate in the world. During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. Jerusalem is called by the rabbis the “navel” of the earth and light of the world, the “metropolis of all countries.”
Therefore, Jesus declares that Jerusalem has become the city that kills. A city that has become addicted to power where that religion is a key element in conflict. Jerusalem, City of Peace, has been embroiled in three thousand years of war. City of Peace, hungry for war. Instead of being a beacon of faith to the world, Jerusalem killed the Prince of Peace, has become like any other power-hungry capital in the world has acted down through the ages. Jerusalem is the mirror of all the great capitals of the world from Moscow to Kyiv, Washington to Beijing, instead of hungering for reverence and peace, we seek destruction and war.
Jesus consciously chose Jerusalem as the place to die --- and as the place for his church to be born. Jesus exhibits hospitality as he washes his disciple’s feet, the night before he died, and made the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. Radical hospitality. Reverence for God. That’s that foundation of our faith. That’s what Jesus is famished for on our behalf.
As Jesus approaches Jerusalem for the last time, he gives an image of how he envisions a new restored City – really how the church is to be in the world. How the City is to be healed and restored. Jesus picks the most incongruous image for himself. That of a mother hen.
A Hen. In the time of conflict, a hen doesn’t inspire much confidence or awe. Hens are pretty low on the food chain. No ferocious, venomous fangs, pointy claws, or sleek strong muscles to run fast. No Good Shepherd with a powerful rod and staff. No proud lion of Judah image, or the mighty eagle, with deadly talons. Even a fox would do, but no, Herod gests that one. Jesus settles on a mother hen, seeking to gather her chicks under her wings.
Jesus reminds us, as he approaches Jerusalem, that love is not predatory. Love is protective, and vulnerable. If we truly want to create a city of peace, we don’t need foxes, lions or eagles. Foxes scatter. Hens gather. We need hens.
Look at us. We fight over land. We fight over oil. We fight over clean water. We fight over the honor of clans and tribes. We fight over religion. We fight over parking spaces – over items on sale at the store. Where’s the hospitality? Where’s the sacrifice? Peace is not built by foxes or lions. We need hens. Hens who gather.
Jesus died in Jerusalem to show us that God is not a predatory bold thirsty lion, fox, or eagle, but a mother hen, protecting, ever brooding, and ever seeking to gather in all her chicks. God as King would offer hospitality to the way farer. God our Heavenly Parent, who would send his only son to die for us – to break the chains of sin and bloodlust we are imprisoned to. That’s what Jesus is hungry for. That’s what we are called to hunger for as well.
There’s where Lent would have us focus: To stand like Jesus did. To gather and protect. To be hospitable. To give sacrificially, stretching ourselves, and going outside our comfort zone. That’s the real vision for Jerusalem, city of peace. We are called to realize Jerusalem is here, in our hearts, a New Jerusalem to cover the earth, to transform Moscow, to heal Kyiv, to be a source of bounty for all the hungry souls of the world. So, this week of Lent, we embrace hospitality, we embrace reverence for life, we sacrifice and most of all let us gather and protect the vulnerable. Jesus died for this. Jesus died for us, so we can be a New Jerusalem, to change our cities that kill, to cities that gather the people who hunger, who seek peace, who seek life for all. Amen.