John Michael Gutiérrez, PhD
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke
31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 And he said to them “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. 33 Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ 34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”Luke 13:31-35
The Gospel of the Lord
Lent, historically in the Christian Church, is the 40 weekday period before Holy Week and Easter nurturing simplicity, reflection, reconciliation, fasting and preparation for entry into the community through Baptism. It seems to me Thomas Cranmer’s prayer books shifted Anglican emphasis to the inner life of the Christian: To see ourselves as we are; To know our own weaknesses; To observe our temptations; Changing from what we do to how we understand our relationship to God, and how we relate to others. Anglicans set out on this reflective journey toward the cross and resurrection beginning Ash Wednesday, marked with a cross on our foreheads. As we journey, we pray for God to reveal his grace to us.
Liturgically, Lent’s scaling back, its sparseness, is essential to the season. It seems to me the lectionary compilers have taken Lent to heart. The seven sentences of the Gospel lesson this morning are scaled back indeed. Don’t you think this Gospel lesson is rather slim? I sure did when I first read it a few weeks ago. Truth be told, I still do. But it seems to me – retrieval – trying to get back to the Scriptures’ own agenda and – exposition – carrying forward Anglican theological tradition, are important to our Lenten journey.
So although not lectionarily apparent, the Gospel lesson is part of a lengthy section of Luke narrating Jesus’ journey to the cross and resurrection that began in ch. 9 “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (vs. 51) and will end at 19:44 when he enters the city. What is apparent, however, is the lesson’s “at-first-glance” different speeches. In the first, vv. 31-33, Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ warning that Herod wants to kill him. In the second, vv. 34-35, Jesus searchingly grieves Jerusalem’s repeated rejection. He has signed on willingly for a journey whose path he knows will be littered with resistance, rejection, and death. Our Gospel scene is crammed full with intense conflict of wills: the intention of Jesus’ adversaries, the determination of the Messiah, the unwillingness of Jerusalem, and the determination of the LORD to fulfill redemptive objectives.
Here’s my very unLenten question: Who signs on for this kind of drama? Here’s a very Lenten answer. Jesus says “I must be on my way” (vs. 33). So I’ll ask a more specific question: What’s Luke’s intention for Theophilus? What does he want him to learn in this narrative excerpt? Here is something for Theophilus to ponder. Our lesson extracted from Jesus’ journey is a reminder the path determined for the Messiah in God’s mission cannot be sidetracked. The Messiah is well aware of resistance in the struggle of wills and tragic rejection lying in the path of God’s saving purpose.
A sense of urgency stirs through Luke’s introductory sentence. Some Pharisees, who seem to have Herod’s ear, warn Jesus of rising deadly tension “Run for your life, Herod’s on the hunt. He wants to kill you.” (vs. 31). Faced with the option of siding with Herod over against Jesus, some Pharisees align themselves with Jesus. Now I consider myself fortunate to have had my theological education during a period when the Pharisees and Judaism can no longer be considered hostile to Jesus. Although the scenes in Luke-Acts do not play out well for them, the Pharisees were a reform party. Both Jesus and the Pharisees shared a common devotion to the LORD. They both believed faith could be lived out in daily life. The rub came in how it was lived out. The Pharisees grounded their obedience in an interpretive program they created called Oral Torah. Jesus, on the other hand, identified with Israel’s prophetic tradition basing his teaching in Torah itself.
And Herod is a political figure. Jesus appears to be disturbing the peace in Perea and Galilee. Herod speculates he has another Baptizer on his hands (9.9-7). Now in this one sense, Herod had everything to worry about. Jesus threatened Herod’s political power, not because he sought control over what the king controlled but because he undermined pretentious claims to supremacy. When any political institution views itself as the sole custodian and broker of authority, it can become so obsessed with itself and so determined to perpetuate its authority that any perceived threat to its status must be squelched. Jesus responds in vs. 32, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course”. Jesus’ determined commitment to carry out kingdom ministry seriously undermines political leverage of the Herods of this world.
Whatever the intentions of the Pharisees and Herod, Luke focuses on the substance of Jesus’ response. Jesus faces the fear embedded in the threat head on. For Heaven’s sake, what was there to say to someone who had beheaded the Baptizer, a prophet of God? Jesus speaks with conviction to make clear the nature of his mission to the Pharasic delegation “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course” (vs. 32). His aim is the demonstration of Isaiah’s messianic ministry first presented in Nazareth’s synagogue: “the LORD’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, To set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is the LORD’s time to shine!” (4.18-19). Here are some of the central aspects for Theophilus: One, no political authority or person will thwart the kingdom ministry Jesus or the church are anointed to accomplish. Two, words of faith/beliefs are most persuasive when conviction leads to action. Jesus’ and the Church’s mission are based in divine necessity thus he/we serve One of greater status and authority than a King Herod, a Caesar or any politician. Three, for Jesus and Christians, faith is a matter of character – character that has emerged from a life of facing fears, shouldering burdens, a life forged in the very moments of accepting challenges and responsibilities one might want to avoid. And lastly, Luke is saying to Theophilus in the references to time “at that very hour, today, tomorrow and the third day”, political fear is a basic part in every time, place and circumstance. And, lest anyone think the fears of this moment are “unprecedented,” one need only saunter over to our Gospel lesson, better yet put your finger in most places in the Bible, to see that that’s not true. There were/are always pressing and terrible storms and tempests and troubles that threaten to destroy the kingdom’s redemptive ministry. In truth, we aren’t in some sort of new time where the dilemmas we are facing have never been faced before. Jesus modeled a willingness to face obstacles and risk personal security in order to carry out kingdom ministry. Here’s Theophilus’ and our Lenten question: What are we willing to risk for the sake of the kingdom “at this very hour, today, tomorrow and the third day”?
As the Gospel unfolds it is Jerusalem, the historic seat where Israel’s kings and priests reside, that has first claim to killing Jesus not king Herod. So Luke continues to frame the urgency in the scene for Theophilus with Jesus’ searching words: “for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem. O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”(vs. 33b-35). There is, however, another king to be considered. A king who has made Jerusalem sacred space “the place where the LORD GOD will choose out of all your clans as his habitation to put his name” (Deut. 12.5). A king, who through the Sinai covenant, revealed a world ordering program calling individuals into a way of living characterized by “Love the LORD your GOD with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength’ (Deut. 6.5) and “You will love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19.13). That is, those who would be part of this divinely ordered world must trust themselves to the Great King alone and be responsive to others. This world order proposes no political program but instead something far more strenuous, demanding – Spirit anointed self-sacrificing love. And no self-serving state or political party can indulge this kind of self-sacrifice to lovingly serve the least, the lost and those in harm’s way.
Jerusalem, the central place for worship and pilgrimage to honor the one, true Great King, is now filled with people who reject this same God. When Israel persecuted, killed one prophet after another, the LORD didn’t quit sending envoys. Even the LORD’s son, Jesus, will be no exception. The image of a hen trying to gather her chirping chicks under the safety of her wings while the chicks keep going their own way is a deeply moving portrait of the LORD. The LORD coaxes and pleads but does not coerce. Thus the tragic words, ” but you would not let me” (vs. 35). When Israel persisted in their rejection of his gracious invitation, He allowed them to go their way and suffer the consequences. Divine judgment eventually comes, but judgment has a redemptive purpose in the sense that sometimes the only way to realize sinfulness is to suffer the consequences “You’re on your own now. You have refused divine help, so you won’t get it” (vs. 35).
Characteristic of prophetic speech, there is a flicker of good news, the invitation is still open. And not everyone in Jerusalem and certainly not all Jews were opposed to Jesus’ prophetic ministry. In words from the processional hymn sung at the enthronement of David and the Davidic kings, some will affirm Jesus’ position as he enters Jerusalem in the words of Psalm 118:26. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD”.
Winding my way into this season of Lent, here are the kinds of questions I have been wrestling with and contemplating. Some or none may be applicable to you. You make your own applications. Like some in Israel, believers are encouraged to seek the shelter of the One who invites them, who seeks to redeem them, setting them free. So I, called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, am faced with a number of sheltering challenges. The Gospel lesson has contrasting pictures. Fear of the loss of power and position drive Herod and some in Jerusalem to murderous ends. And character and conviction move prophets and Jesus to fulfill Kingdom ministry at the cost of their lives.This lesson is a searching call for me to cautiously evaluate my immersion, enmeshment with the politics and culture of this age. And to reckon with the truths and actions of the kingdom. Can I trust in the LORD’s protection in spite of the threats that surround me? Am I frightened from my kingdom mission by those threats of political and cultural rejection? What can I learn from Jesus’ response to the threats? Jesus speaks to the present reality of foxes in political, social, and economic arenas. But will I raise my voice asserting kingdom ministry? Am I tempted to flee as the Pharisees recommended? Along that way, will I lose sight of the model Jesus provided: a willingness to face obstacles and risk personal security in order to share the good news? What am I willing to risk for the sake of the gospel today?
Now dearly beloved in the Lord, in this Lenten season, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has spirit anointed servant power to preach good news to the poor, to announce pardon to prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, “This is the LORD’s time to shine!” Amen.