Grace and Peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
As you get older you begin to learn a few things. The wisdom gained through life experiences and knowledge helps you determine the appropriate things to say and do given the situation that you are confronted with. When you are young, you have the impression that you can rule the world and nothing can get in your way. You even say and do the things that are not the smartest. A lot of times this can come in regards to our responses into what other people say and do. Our common thought is that if you are going to say or do something inappropriate to me then I will retaliate in a way that reflects back to you. If someone does something we do not like then we are most certainly going to give it back to them in one form or another.
Believe it or not, I was not always the pastor you see before you! I have done some pretty stupid things in my life and hopefully have learned from them along the way. One such example happened shortly after I received my drivers license. Please do not follow my example. I came up to a 4-way stop in my hometown and believed that I was the first one at the corner as a couple of other cars approached the corner from other directions. After stopping I proceeded to turn left when the truck opposite me decided that he was going to turn right at the same time. I made sure that I did not let him get in front of me, but as I did I honked and waved a friendly little bird in his direction. As I said, it was a stupid mistake! I was only sixteen and thought I knew the rules of the road. Well, needless to say, the driver in the truck (a pretty large man), was not amused and proceeded to park and get out of truck and came up to my car while I was at the stoplight and pounded on my passenger side window. I learned a few different things that day. One was to not anger someone that was much larger than me. The second was to never flip someone off while driving in the car. And the third was that even if you left the house with clean underwear on someone may scare you enough if you provoke them that it will no longer be clean!
When we live in a system where we respond to a negative situation with a negative response then all we are doing is punishing a bad behavior. Herod’s message comes to Jesus in our gospel this morning in threats of death. This is the system that is in place and he is playing by the rules that he is aware. If someone does something that we appreciate and is nice then they are rewarded. However, in Jesus’ case, where someone does something you are not fond of, like being a visible opponent of current culture, then they must suffer some form of punishment. This reward and punishment system is very familiar even today. The problem is when we place our faith in that reward and punishment system, or the law as it is also known.
We can easily misplace our trust in rewards and punishment. Paul labels the law in 2 Corinthians as both a “ministry of condemnation,” and also a “ministry of death.” When we place our trust in rewards and punishments then we exist in fear – the fear of failure, the fear of having done wrong, the fear of being punished. When fear is present, it leaves little room for love. Herod was not seeking Jesus out because he loved him. Herod was seeking Jesus out because he was fearful of him and he wanted to exterminate that fear.It was in the ministry of the law that Herod came to Jesus and condemned him for all he had said and done. A ministry of solely the law, or rewards and punishment brings about death and kills relationships. While death may be a reward for those that have suffered for a long time and punishment for those that have stepped outside of legal boundaries; reward and punishment cannot overcome death!
Jesus comes and walks with us in a counter-cultural way that speaks opposite of the reward and punishment structure. Jesus has come to banish the law from ruling our lives and brings about love. An abundant ever flowing love. In that love is mercy and mercy comes in the third day. Jesus’ reaction to the Pharisees is one that is not retaliatory, but one that speaks the truth and places trust in the third day. He will continue to cast out demons and heal both today and tomorrow, and on the third day he finishes his work. It may have been punishment from the Roman authorities that killed Jesus, however, Jesus placed his trust in God. The work of mercy on that third days comes in the form of Jesus’ resurrection so that we too can be raised up from death. If we rely on rewards and punishments then we are dead to love. Jesus conquers all of that!
In the mercy that comes to us from Christ our faith is nurtured and grows beautifully into something much greater. We must turn back to our baptism constantly to be reminded of that love that Jesus shares with us. There is only room for trust in our heart of Jesus and any trust that we place in rewards and punishment is misguided.
Jesus gives us mercy without any expectations so that we too may give mercy and forgiveness to those that we interact. We are called to live by mercy when we walk with the stranger and the alien. We live by my mercy when we are for our neighbors and sisters and brothers. We live by mercy when we welcome in and feed those that have been shunned away by others. One of our temptations during Lent may be to trust in rewards and punishment. Where does mercy reside in this?
May we take time during this Lenten season to repent of those temptations. May we not hurt people when we are hurt. May we not provoke others when we feel that we have been provoked. May we be cautious in rewarding those that are simply nice to us. May we offer mercy to all that come to us and may we give abundantly of the love that has been given to us.