A Healing Word

Second Sunday in Lent, Year C


Revised Common Lectionary:                                  Lectionary for Mass:
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18                                                Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Psalm 27                                                                       Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1                                                   Philippians 3:17-4:1 (or 3:20-4:1)
Luke 13:31-35 or Luke 9:28-36                               Luke 9:28-36

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 27:1

The gospel reading for the Second Sunday in Lent differs significantly for Protestants and Catholics. The Revised Common Lectionary appoints four pithy verses from Luke 13 which reveal a rather astonishing range of reactions in Jesus as he reckons with both his imperial pursuers and his faithless kinsmen.

To Rome’s proxy ruler, Herod, he sends a message of combative confidence (“go and tell that fox for me . . .”). To Jerusalem, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it,” he speaks with surprising, maternal tenderness:

“How often have I desired to gather you children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings . . . “

The fox and the hen. Herod the stealthy predator; Jesus the protective mother.  Power versus vulnerability. And we know where this confrontation is headed . . . .

Luke’s account of Jesus’ transfiguration is Sunday’s gospel lesson in the Lectionary for Mass. A story rich with symbols, it recalls the sweep of Israel’s history (Moses and Elijah “appear in glory”), even as it prefigures Jesus’ departure, “which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.”

Both narratives also, as is Luke’s wont, note the centrality of Jesus’ healing ministry. In the transfiguration story, when Jesus and the disciples descend the mountain, they are met by a great crowd and a desperate father. The disciples have failed to heal the father’s epileptic son, and Jesus’ impatience—his disgust, even—is palpable:

“You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”

In the reading from Luke 13, the reference is oblique (“Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures”), but in sending a word of warning to Herod, Jesus names healing as the centerpiece of a life and ministry that is leading him to the cross.

It is worth remembering that healing isn’t peripheral to Jesus’ life and ministry, an extra he throws in as he is about the real work of offering salvation. Healing—bringing wholeness, well-being, fullness of life—this is the salvation that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection accomplishes.

When “the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision” (from this week’s Old Testament reading), the promise that unfolds is also one of fullness and well-being, of health and salvation. Yahweh calls a people (who will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens), fashions a covenant with them, and is intent on their being a sign to the nations of the peace and goodness and shalom of God.

That God calls and makes covenant with a people who would, in fits and starts, in ways both faithful and fickle, bear witness to that covenantal love . . .

That Jesus laments over the faithlessness of the heirs of that call and covenant—even while healing the sick and offering his own broken body for the health of that covenant people . . .

In all of that we see and are privileged to give thanks for the enduring faithfulness of God.

In the appointed Psalm we come as close as we are permitted during Lent to an alleluia of praise and thanksgiving for this One who rescues and redeems, blesses and heals—this One who is our light and our salvation.  In him we wait, letting our hearts take courage (27:14). For even in our faithlessness we are gathered under the wings of a mother hen’s fierce, protective love. And just as a healed boy is restored to his father, our salvation at the (wounded) hands of the transfigured one is close at hand.

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