The Stuart Highway, near Kulgera NT 2016

We are all Jerusalem

Week of Sunday February 24 - Lent 2
Gospel: Luke 13:31-35

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ 32He 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. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.”34Jerusalem, 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! 35See, 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.” ’

We are all Jerusalem

Perhaps the most successful strategy was to push the scattered groups into the sea, prompting them to cross to the remaining islands of the archipelago. Once in the water they were easy targets and marine creatures would have consumed their remains. Significantly, the last contact is reported at Legendre Island, which is furthest out to sea; there was nowhere left to flee from there.  (Robert Bednarik The Killing Fields of Muruljuga.)

 Flying Foam was a series of massacres that began at King Bay on 17 February 1868 and continued until May 1868 at Legendre Island. Nicol Bay, between the Burrup and the mainland, was the first colony in the North West of Australia. Flying Foam was a genocide planned to force all the North West (Pilbara and Kimberley) tribes into submission.

These words began my morning reading a few days ago. They were followed by a report on the funding of climate charge denial by the very rich, and then a 10th anniversary post on the beginnings of the Iraq War. Not much in the way of morning trivia from my Facebook friends!

"You can understand why people want build a nice safe religion with a God who hides the world from them," I said to my wife. "Who even wants to think about all this, let alone live in such a world!"

Today we went to the Art Gallery. The first spaces we entered have been curated into a meditation on being human. Work from the 15th century is juxtaposed, almost piled alongside, work from today; 17th century formal Dutch family portraits hang close by a pensive young woman photographed by Bill Henson. Duane Hanson’s Woman with a Laundry Basket holds her washing in front of an exquisite William Morris wall hanging.

All our contradictions, hatreds, and humanity are together. Belinda Be Bruyckere's We Are All Flesh  dominates one space, screaming at us when we seek to turn away and look at other works. Two horses, headless, stitched so expertly together that, at first, you do not notice there are five legs, but see only a body hauled ineptly up on what is at once scaffold and petard, pointing heaven high. We are all flesh patched together; failure, love and hatred; stitched together pieces of tortured being.

The galleries began with Marc Quinn’s  nude bronze body cast of Buck Angel proudly smoking a cigar, relaxed and at home in his customised and tattooed self, but here we are confronted by tortured, brutalized flesh. The horse buttocks are disturbingly like our own, the limbs are stretched out and girded where they did not wish to go. (John 20:19)

Beyond them hangs Forgiven, Harcourt's terrible painting of a woman begging forgiveness from her husband. He stands tall over her in above the knee leather gaiters. The dog, well and truly on the Master's side of the painting, sits on the same level as the woman, and yet still above her. The dog belongs; less than the dog, she is being lifted up by the husband. Yet there is something imperious and un-forgiving about this scene; something inhumane.

 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!

We are all Jerusalem. The prophets come and show us our inhumanity.  If they are lucky we ignore them, but we would rather stone and kill. They show us too much who we are, and how much we are not who we should be.

Herod in this story is like those rich who fund climate change denial. Working all the angles to preserve their power and privilege, they ignore the point and the purpose of our humanity, which is compassion for all people, rather than passion for our own privilege.  Perhaps my struggle with the painting is that Harcourt’s husband is lifting her up; in compassion, Christ kneels beside us.

For all his riches and power, Herod is a mere fox, no Lion of Judah, but his power and the power of the rest of the elite will destroy Jesus, who is too much a prophet for them grasp his healing. In a sense, they are part of what he is healing and casting out.

It is impossible as a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem, because the true prophet is always with us here  in Jerusalem, telling us again that war is sin, that massacre is sin, that pillaging earth and brutalizing the biosphere is sin. And we do all this while the Divine wishes only to gather us together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.

Herod will insist that the hens are his.

“See, your house is left to you,” said Jesus. When a dingo broke into the chook house at Ernabella, there was not one of a hundred hens that was not torn apart. Playing the fox in the hen house will lead to destruction beyond our imagining. Our house is always left to us. By the grace of God it is our house, in which we can choose to be Jerusalem which kills the prophets, or a Bethlehem, a house of Bread. Who will we seek to be?

I found myself standing in front of a small wooden sculpture of St. Roch. It dates from the 1590s. The painted cloth surface is mostly worn away, flaked with age. Yet the humanity of the saint, and of his unknown artist, is as strong as any other portrayal in the place.  Here I felt hope; he stands holding a Bible, a book of prophets. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical! 


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