One of the most well known card tricks ever played is the Three Card Monty. A mark who doesn’t know what’s going on comes up to the dealer. Three cards are laid down on the table, one of which is a Queen of Hearts. The mark is shown the Queen of Hearts, and then all three cards are turned face down and the dealer starts exchanging the cards one for another, back and forth, all the while chanting to the mark to “keep your eye on the Queen.” Eventually the shuffling stops and the three cards are lined up. The mark is asked to choose a card. Inevitably the mark is wrong no matter how much they kept their eyes open, because the whole thing is an illusion. The dealer has hidden the Queen up his sleeve; the mark is intently watching a bunch of superfluous cards.
Jesus once saw the eyes of many trained on the superfluous. He was in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Sukkot (or Booths or Tabernacles), a celebration of abundant harvest given by God. In the midst of the feast Jesus is teaching in the temple courts and doing quite well – he is the Son of God after all, he knows more than a little about Judaism! Yet as some in the crowd begin to wonder out loud if Jesus is indeed the Christ and others wonder why the authorities who want to kill him are dithering on the sidelines, a new trick emerges. “How can the Christ come from Galilee?”
They’ve taken their eyes off of what is important – is Jesus the Messiah or not? – and begun staring at where he is from on the map. Now at first this seems important: ancient prophesies had dictated that the Anointed One of God would hail from the City of David (aka Bethlehem). But in the midst of overwhelming revelation such as signs, wonders, miracles, teaching, is geography really that important? I would say, “No.” Although Luke’s gospel goes to great lengths to tell us Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem.
In Lent, we are challenged to discern what is important. We are called to keep our eyes on the King, to search intently for God’s kingdom and pray for its coming, and to know when we are being given an illusion. So often we lose the forest of the Gospel for the trees of the Law, and Lent challenges us to step back for just a moment an reorient ourselves towards God’s kingdom.