by Rev. Carolina Glauster
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus,]“Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “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 finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”
Does it surprise you to hear that God has feelings? Not just feelings, but many feelings, and all at once. Feelings including some we sometimes think of as “negative” emotions. How does it make you feel to hear in this week's gospel the words of a Jesus who feels anger and sadness and longing, who is stubborn and discouraged and tender and determined?
We know that Jesus loves us, but sometimes we forget to think of Jesus loving us with the protective, deep love of a mother, loving us so much that it makes him angry at those who would try to hurt us, like that fox Herod, or makes him sad when we are not willing to let him gather us into his arms as a mother hen gathers her brood under her wings.
As a queer person in ministry, I recognize so many of the emotional and energetic shapes that this impassioned Jesus is taking in today's gospel:
that shape of voicing your rage and frustration (“that fox”) but choosing not to let it be the sole shaper of your behaviour,
that shape of holding a clear boundary in the face of a threat,
that shape of choosing to be rooted in vocation as a strategy for resistance to a bully,
that shape of encouraging yourself to continue to feel a determined love for a community that, in its brokenness, has so often hurt you, those dear to you, and itself.
Perhaps most of all, I recognize with all my heart a life of ministry that brings all these feelings and all these parts of myself together in the same day, the same moment, the same pastoral act, sometimes even when I think it is too much, when I would rather things be simpler, or more separate.
Last week, for example, I digested the breaking (and heartbreaking) news from the UMC convention in the midst of fielding calls from brokenhearted parishioners, sending joyful emails about a conference I am helping to plan, visiting my doctor to get support in healing from a concussion, fasting with ecumenical partners in support of a bill to harmonize Canada's laws with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, working with wonderful lay leaders in my congregation as they lead our small congregation into a hopeful yet uncertain future, preparing to say goodbye to a beloved colleague who is moving, looking ahead to Lenten planning, delighting in and working on relationships within my own family, and wondering about my future in my own denomination because of our continued inability to articulate a clear sexual ethic that includes my own queer body and life in its wholeness. I know what it is to balance fielding threats, offering loving care, engaging in self-work, creatively relating to the tradition, and looking to the future.
And I recognize in Jesus' experience in this week's gospel the call and reminder that the conversations between those feelings, those different relationships, those different parts of myself—that conversation inside of myself is much of what funds and sustains my ministry, and gives me and the world life. It matters a great deal that most days my grief and celebration cohabitate in my one body; it makes me better at loving that the me who loves deeply is the same me who is angry just as deeply.
Being a Church That's Countercultural About Feelings
A lot of the mainline church is just now beginning to come out of a fairly long phase we've been in of late, a phase of minimizing the place of emotion in scripture, in our understanding of who God is, and in our lives of faith. We've been in the habit sometimes of imagining a God who is “above” feelings, whose unchanging faithfulness and eternal being are almost allergic to emotions, and who wants his followers to be the same way.
Some of this minimizing is for a really good reason: we are trying to resist the temptation to think of our faith as only about feelings, about making us feel good, or feel worked up, or feel spiritual, as if the point of Christianity was how it makes us feel. But a lot of the reason we minimize the emotional components of our faith come from our culture, not from our faith itself. We live in a culture that tells us that deep emotions are a sign of weakness, especially for men, and that to reveal that we feel deeply about anything is to call our judgment into question.
This week's gospel is, among other things, a reminder that emotions absolutely must have a place in any faith that claims to follow Jesus. Jesus' words of motherly anger and grief about the state of affairs in Jerusalem are a window into Jesus's—and Jesus's followers'—modern day response to the heartbreaking systems of injustice that harm the ones God loves in our world today. When we see the Herods of the world leveraging their power to keep healing and safety and liberation from reaching those who need it, we know Jesus is angry like a mother protecting her children. When we and others refuse to be drawn into the arms of Jesus, whether because of who we might have to share space with there or because of our own belief that we can take care of ourselves or for whatever reason, we know that Jesus is heartbroken.
This is is part of how God treasures God's people. We see revealed in Jesus Christ that God treasures us deeply and earnestly, and is moved by our need and our struggles and our suffering. This truth about who God is is an assurance of the realness of God's love for us, and it is also an invitation to us to imitate Christ in this, to love all people deeply and allow ourselves to be moved, as Christ is moved, to anger at injustice and to grief at suffering.
To open our hearts to anger and grief, to pray that our hearts might be broken, is one of the invitations God offers to us this Lenten season—and always. Jesus invites us to take a risk and open ourselves to see and hear and be moved by those things that break God's heart. God invites us to be heartbroken, with a holy heartbreak; to be angry, with a holy anger.
Of course, just to grieve the suffering in the world or to be angry at injustice is not the fullness of the call of Jesus Christ—we are called to be instruments of justice, care for those who are suffering, support and advocate for the marginalized, including ourselves. But we are called in the first place to be opened to God's feelings of love for the world—including the sorrow and anger as well as the delight—and to be willing to share with God in those feelings. Because God knows that feelings matter.
And just as surely as Jesus' fierce love shaped him to feel anger and deep sadness, so it also made him clear about his boundaries, courageous to resist Herod's threats and continue his ministry, and certain in the hope that the time would come when his beloved Jerusalem would say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” Our culture may try to warn us that feeling deeply clouds makes us weak or clouds our judgment, but Jesus models a kind of deep, complex feeling that is a source of holy strength and courage and of clarity and wisdom. Our Lenten practice of sharing God's feelings changes us, and the compassion it cultivates is the foundation that makes us ready to hear God's call to extend that compassion to others.