The vultures gather… that sounds ominous… Vultures in Britain are captive and tame (well, conditioned to human interaction). Somehow they seem graceless, clumsy on the ground, and rather threatening. In the wild, they are often the first sign of creatures in trouble- dead or dying- as they wheel lazily in the air, gathering as a crowd ready to pounce with talon and razor-beak. Few of us find vultures attractive- although this captive one on display showed a certain perky interest in visitors. I think he was hungry… but he makes a dynamic image.
When vultures gather for a kill, they wait patiently… then one will approach cautiously and peck at the victim. If it shows life, the vultures will wait a bit longer. The weaker the victim and the nearer death, the more vultures will attend. Other predators and scavengers will notice the vultures circling, and come closer to seize their share of prey.
Luke 22:1-6 (NLT)
The Festival of Unleavened Bread, which is also called Passover, was approaching. The leading priests and teachers of religious law were plotting how to kill Jesus, but they were afraid of the people’s reaction. Then Satan entered into Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve disciples, and he went to the leading priests and captains of the Temple guard to discuss the best way to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted, and they promised to give him money. So Judas agreed and began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus so they could arrest him when the crowds weren’t around.
Jerusalem was buzzing. The great Festival was getting close, and pilgrims came up to the Holy City of David, Jerusalem, to be part of the ceremonies and celebrations. The priests were on hand at the Temple for sacrifices and worship. Roman troops hovered outside the city, aware of the volatile atmosphere, and wary of the impact a “Messiah” would have on public order and raising taxation for the Empire.
The vultures gather- and Jesus enters the killing zone. In the eyes of the Establishment, Jesus was dangerous, possibly blasphemous, and disrupted their social and religious balance (and power). Threats are met by force. The Prince of Peace is a threat.
Vultures plot- but are nervous, scared of the possible outcomes. The common people are excited by Jesus and the Messianic Hope. So the authorities back off… until the Accuser, Satan, “enters” Judas Iscariot and the seeds of betrayal sprout. We could speculate endlessly about the motives of Judas. Some say a thief, others a political extremist, yet others say he tried to precipitate the crisis to force Jesus to challenge Roman authority and the legalism of the Jewish leaders. Who knows the heart of the Betrayer?
A price is set. The vultures hide in the shadows. Judas plots and schemes. Jesus moves head-on into confrontation. There will be a corpse on a Cross.
This didn’t all happen at once. The events of Holy Week were the climax of a developing confrontation. Love spoke Truth. Hatred inspired lies and manipulation. There was a horrible inevitability about the outcome. Yet God had a purpose through it all. Christ had become human so humanity could be reconciled and Salvation given as our Gift.
In this part of the Easter narrative, plots are agreed in the dark corners while the Light of the World, The Lamb of God, comes to Jerusalem for the Passover. Vultures want to tear and rend the Innocent: Satan tries to destroy the Rule and authority of God.
The storm is gathering. Will the Darkness overcome the Light?
Meditate on the verses from Luke 22, and try to imagine yourself in the pressure cooker that is Jerusalem. How will you respond? Can Jesus be kept safe? Is your own life at risk?
Think for a while about our own age: volatile politics, personality and celebrity cults, violent terrorists and extremists seeking to harm our way of life. Our economy is based on injustice and unfair distribution of wealth. Both the poor and the powerful seek their own will and profit- and come to blows. Prophetic and counter-cultural voices from the Christian Church are unpopular and unwelcome. Watch what is happening in the dark corners… where the vultures are circling… and PRAY.
May Your Kingdom come… may Your Will be done… May Light shine on in dark days. Amen.