Jesus with us

Luke 13:31-35 (Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18, Psalm 27)

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.’   (Luke 13:31-35)

A short gospel text this week, but one packed with meaning.  Jesus is on his journey to Jerusalem and has just shared several parables and sermons related to repentance, including “repent or perish” (13:1-5); “the barren fig tree” (13:6-9); and “the narrow door” (13:22-30).  The opening words of this week’s text (“at that very hour”) link this text to that which preceded it.  So, the call to repentance continues. Before the next call to repentance is issued, Jesus draws a contrast between earthly power and divine love.  The earthly ruler, Herod Antipas (son of Herod the great) acts like a king but holds his position only at the behest of the Romans.  Herod is merely a Tetrarch – a ruler of a quarter of territory – and serves at the pleasure of the Emperor.  Jesus call him “the fox” (vs. 32).  Through Aesop’s ancient fables, and modern literature, we think of the fox as sly, manipulative, and violent.  This is reflected in the Old Testament also: “Catch us the foxes, the little foxes, that ruin the vineyards (Song of Songs 2:15).  Such an image is the anthesis of the Kingdom of God – God’s rule on earth – which Jesus proclaims and Luke conveys.  (This is also the reason that Jesus avoids Herodian cities such as Tiberius: they are symbols of Herod’s attempt to Romanize the Holy Land, and of temporal power.) The stark contrast with divine love is made by the image Jesus uses for his love for Jerusalem: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (vs. 34).  The fox raids the henhouse: Jesus protects his brood.  Remember, the hen’s wings do not merely form a barrier.  Rather, the hen “gathers” – pulls the chicks against her breast – in a saving and loving embrace, even at the cost of her own life.  And, Jerusalem knows how to take life: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” (vs. 34).

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus laments over Jerusalem when he sees it for the first time (Matthew 23:37-39).  In that context, the lament is a judgement against the city.  In Luke’s gospel, the lament comes on the journey to Jerusalem, and in the context of repentance parables and sermons (as noted above); and so the lament takes the form of a call to repentance.  Even so, we know that Herod will not kill Jesus; Jerusalem will!  It is there that Jesus will “finish my work” (literally, be brought to an end).  In one sense, this means that Jesus will reach his geographical goal – the Holy City.  In a deeper sense, it is in Jerusalem that he will reach the goal of his incarnate life.  But, until that day comes, Jesus continues to demonstrate what God’s reign on earth looks like: human beings freed from evil. (“Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures…”)