“We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios and all the rest.” (Thomas Merton)
An hour in front of the tv, the magazine section of the news-agency and a slow wander through Chadstone, will affirm the truth of this statement. We are driven by desire, the desire to have what will fulfil all our desires and make it possible for us to be happy in a final way.
New cars, overseas trips, new houses, home delivered meals and more are designed to meet our individual desires. We want control of our own destiny, we wish to ensure others act according to our purpose and dreams and we desire to be left alone by anything that is uncomfortable or detrimental to our goals in life.
Yet desire is a powerful motivator. It is what drives us to live each day. Without desire; the desire to enjoy life, to see children grow up, to retire as you have planned or to simply go for your regular walk, our lives would quickly descend into the morbid and drear. Desire is not benign it also has the capacity for violence and evil. If our desire is such that it is all we have to protect us, we will use it in ways that is destructive to others and society. The partial story of the NZ shooter.
In todays gospel, desire is front and centre in Jesus mind. The Pharisees, who desire Jesus out of their hair come to sow a seed of fear in Jesus by forewarning him that Herod desires to kill him. Jesus hears them and looks upon the city of Jerusalem, the centre of religious practice, and says that he desires and has always desired to protect the people in this city from the violence of invasion, of Herod and of the Pharisees. He then notes that his desire is not reciprocated by the people. They do not desire his assistance or salvation. They are not willing to accept his desire for them and he is rejected.
There is in this passage a forerunner to the events of the last week of his life when the drama unfolds in the Holy City. All that Jesus alludes to in this passage is played out on the big screen for all to see.
The screenplay consists of four interlocked elements based around 4 key set of characters, interestingly, the Romans do not feature in this passage but sit as the elephant in the room and the chosen form of destruction by those other than Jesus in this scenario.
The four interlocked elements are:
- Desire to control;
- Desire to destroy;
- Desire to compassion;
- Unrequited Desire.
The four sets of characters are in order:
- The Religious;
- The people of Jerusalem.
The religious desire to control the outcome of Jesus actions in the world. They want to protect their power and control Jesus by placing him in direct conflict with those who have the power to destroy him.
Herod shares the desire of the religious for the very same reason and will rely upon the same power to destroy him so as to retain whatever power he has, fragile and feeble though it maybe.
Jesus is aware of the manipulations of these two groups and is filled with a desire to protect and care for the people who will be the collateral damage in this conflict. His actions, words and teachings have all been designed to bring to life an understanding and willingness to live counter-culturally and in opposition to the ruling forces.
The people, in fear of those with the power to destroy reject Jesus and remain caught in the web of fear spun by Herod and the religious. They do not have the agency to break free and therefore do not have the desire to take a risk on Jesus.
Where are the similar scenarios in our modern world? We could suggest the following:
- Ecological destruction – global warming – biodiversity lost.
- Discrimination – gender difference, stereotypical profiling and greed.
- Racism – the fear of the other cloaked in identity politics and hate speech at all levels of society.
- Poverty – the strong and powerful maintaining what they perceive as their right and entitlement at the expense of those who are poor and weak.
There are more.
In the case of the church it is the hanging on to what we have had unaware that the Spirit of God, like Jesus in this story, wants to bring us under its wings and bring us into a mature understanding of how we are to participate in the world. God has left the building, the building we have lovingly and fearfully protected and is at work in the mature of all faiths and practices in the world. We are like the children of Israel, watching the oncoming destruction of the temple and all it holds, just waiting and hoping it doesn’t happen.
We may say we are too old, have no energy, simply are unable to address this issue. Or we want things to stay the same. As the Jewish people found out in AD77 with the destruction of the temple, that is not an option.
The Spirit of God has moved and is active in places the church is yet to go. It is to be found in the building of cross cultural interfaith networks, it is to be fund in the hearts and minds of people who no longer want anything to do with this place and our culture, it is to be found out there doing the things we say we did or do yet fail to.
We, the church are being asked step outside what has protected us for centuries and rediscover the creative power of God at work in the world. It is time to let go of our fortress mentality and hasten into the light of love, hope and compassion for each other and the elements of creation, this earth.
Now is as good as time as ever to take Jesus up on his offer, to find our way under the wings of the Spirit and be shepherded into a new way of being.
Challenging yes. Optional no.