Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent and the war in Ukraine.
“Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” From today’s Gospel, Luke 13:31-35.
“What a world to be born into.” BBC reporter Jon Dennison, on the birth of baby Veronika after her mum Marianna Podgurskaya had to flee from a Ukrainian maternity hospital being shelled by Russian troops.
Today’s Gospel is the account of some Pharisees coming to Jesus to warn him that he should flee as Herod is after him. Their motive is two edged – do they genuinely want to warn Jesus that his life is in danger or are they scheming to get him out of their way too? Whatever their reason, Jesus refuses to change his plans and tells them that he must continue on his way to Jerusalem – which he does, remaining steadfast in his intent despite the opposition he is encountering. In doing so, he goes to his death – but also to his later resurrection.
Much of this account has resonances with what’s happening in the ongoing warfare in Ukraine. President Zelensky has been advised by some to flee but would risk being called cowardly if he did. Others want him to stay but his own life and those of his family would be endangered if he does. He faces a very difficult choice and, in time of war, it’s always hard to know who can be trusted and what advice to heed or discard. The same choice affects his people – should they flee or remain? Some have no choice, others do and the consequences are shown on a daily basis as weeping loved ones part without knowing when or if they will meet again. Scenes such as the abandoned babies and toddlers hidden in a basement, a frail woman being carried in a blanket by four people or the terrified animals panicking in the zoo indicate the terrible suffering unfolding each day and the awful consequences of what is happening as food, water, fuel and shelter begin to run out.
When it was suggested that he should flee, Jesus was not diplomatic in his reply, calling Herod a fox. This is Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee and one of the sons of Herod the Great who tried to have Jesus killed as a baby when he had the male children under the age of two slaughtered in the Massacre of the Innocents. That plan failed – at that time, Jesus and his family did flee, going to Egypt as refugees and only returning when it was safe to do so when Herod died.
There are times in every life when, in less heightened but still painful circumstances, we also have to choose when to leave and when to remain where we are. As Lent continues with thoughts of the wilderness in mind, so the journey Jesus took leads on to the confrontation, dereliction, suffering and death of Holy Week. However, it will also lead to a fresh understanding of sharing a meal together at the Last Supper, to forgiveness for those who are penitent even at the end of life on Good Friday and to new life at the resurrection on Easter Day. In the wilderness of ruin and devastation being witnessed today, there are also people sharing the little they have and staying where they whilst over two million refugees have fled. The Massacre of the Innocents and the flight of refugees are not just Biblical accounts but continue today – and at the heart of Christianity is One who experienced it personally and whose life shows that death is not the end, though it may seem so currently.
At the heart of the war today is the capital city, now known as the Ukrainian Kyiv but previously as the Russian Kiev. One derivation of the name suggests that Kie was a king and that it may be Hebrew in origin, meaning uncommon blessing. In whatever is currently unfolding, may uncommon blessings eventually prevail – but at what cost for the Innocents and all involved?
With my prayers; pob bendith,