March 13, 2022, Second Sunday in Lent The text is Luke 13:31-35.
31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus,] “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 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. 33 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.’ 34 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! 35 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.’ ”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It’s the second week of our Lenten journey, and we continue our travels with Jesus as he makes his way toward Jerusalem and the fate that awaits him there. He has made it clear that his ministry is to be brought to fruition in that great city. In Luke 9, verse 22 he announces to his disciples that he must be rejected, killed, and rise up on the third day; this will take place in Jerusalem. Later in verse 51, Luke writes that Jesus “set his face” toward Jerusalem; he will not be deterred from his mission. But this morning, we find Jesus teaching and healing throughout the several towns in the region of Galilee, perhaps 100 or so miles distant from the holy city; he’s making his way toward Jerusalem. And, for reasons that are not explained in the text, some Pharisees have come to warn him that Herod plans to have him killed.
You will recall that Jesus doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with these religious authorities, so it’s not evident why they chose to give him a warning about Herod’s plan. Jesus’ relationship with the Pharisees ranged from some who despised him, to some who respected his knowledge of Scripture, to a good number who felt threatened by him and his claim of being the Son of God. So, the warning may have been born out of a genuine concern for his safety; or perhaps they thought if Jesus stayed away from Jerusalem, these religious scholars wouldn’t have to deal with the disputes and discord he seemed to cause wherever he went, out in the countryside. Whatever their motivation, Jesus was pretty clear about what he thought of Herod’s intent to have him murdered. This in itself says a great deal about Jesus’ resolve to bring his mission to completion. Let’s not forget that this is the very same Herod who had John the Baptist beheaded a short time earlier.
It’s clear that Jesus was more determined to spread the gospel message and he was less concerned for his own safety. And, he was going to accomplish his mission on his own timeline, not Herod’s. After calling Herod a crafty fox, Jesus announces his schedule of healing and preaching, not unlike that of a band advertising their tour dates. “I will continue the work I have come to do today, tomorrow, and the next day, if that is what I choose to do. My mission timing has been set by my Father and that fox Herod has nothing to say about it”. While the Scripture doesn’t reveal exactly how much longer Jesus spent traveling to Jerusalem, we can be sure it was substantially more than the three days he proclaimed to the Pharisees who warned him about Herod. There are several more chapters in Luke’s gospel that speak to Jesus spending time in Galilee, Samaria, and Jericho, on his way to the holy city. He continued healing, telling parables, and preaching about the coming kingdom of God. Jesus would complete his work when the time was right to do so. But let’s not forget that his proclamation of the finishing of his work on the “third day” was a not-too-subtle reference to his resurrection on Easter. When Christ Jesus rises from the grave, then will his “work” be completed; the saving of the world from sin, death, and the devil. And, no one, not even Herod would be able to prevent that from happening.
It’s generally accepted that this passage from Luke is a combination of two rather distinct narratives regarding Jesus’ ministry. We’ve taken a look at the first part; Jesus’ response to Herod’s threat, his intention to complete his mission, and his willingness to sacrifice his own security for the sake of the gospel message. “Tell Herod that I’m on my way to Jerusalem, and I’ll arrive there when I’m good and ready”. Perhaps now would be a good time for us to consider the second portion of Jesus’ proclamation as Jerusalem being the “city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it”! Jerusalem is the holy site of God’s temple and the center of Jewish faith. It is also the capital city of government, and the powers of civilian rule; and the Roman authorities are based there. It’s rather easy to run afoul of the religious authorities, the government, or the Romans; it wouldn’t take much for Jesus to find himself at odds with one, or all of these. And the Scripture reminds us that this is exactly what happened. It seems all three sectors of authority bound together to be the “city that kills the prophets”.
But long before Jesus makes his entry into the city, he shouts his lament for it, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem!” He longs to gather the people under his protection, but he knows that he will not be welcomed, and like others who have come before, he too will be rejected and be put to death. The powers that be in this “holy city” have always been unwilling to listen to anyone who prophesied that they were living “unholy” lives. And even as the Son of God is preaching God’s will to the people, and expressing his longing to gather them in and protect them as God desires, they are unwilling to hear his words of truth. The message Jesus brings to the people will require that they abandon disobedience to God’s Law and return to lives that express their faithfulness to the Creator.
And, this lament, this cry of mourning isn’t meant only for Jerusalem; the religious authorities, the civic leaders, or even the Roman occupiers. Jesus didn’t intend to single out any individuals, not even Herod. His lamentation is meant for all the “Herods” of the world, for each and every one who would disobey God’s Law and resist the return to faithfulness. This lament was, and is directed at all of us; we are called to reflect on our unwillingness to heed Jesus’ words of truth and light. This grief that Jesus expresses is most poignant during this Lenten season, when we are called to repentance, as we journey with Jesus on the way to Jerusalem.
During Lent, we are invited to ask ourselves if we are willing to journey with Jesus to his cross. We are bidden to consider whether our lives lead appropriately to that cross. Do our words and actions help in bringing about the establishment of God’s kingdom in our world? Or, are we intimidated by the “Herods” that seek to dissuade us? Do we take the truth of Christ to heart and does that inspire us to reach out in service to others? Or, do we resist Jesus’ message of grace and mercy, and instead remain on the sidelines, merely observing? We must not be like the Jerusalem that Jesus so tearfully mourns and laments. We must truly and honestly question ourselves; what do we mean when we proclaim, “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”? Will we be cause for lament as was Jerusalem, or will we endeavor to be a people who authentically welcome the truth of Christ into our midst and our lives, and will we actively strive to promote the establishment of the kingdom of God? Herod or not!?
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and Holy God, bless us as we journey with your Son as he travels to the lamented city of Jerusalem. Motivate us as we reflect on our own resistance to his message of your love, mercy, and grace toward us. Help us to stand strong against that which would prevent us from hearing your truth. And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One whom we proclaim as blessed, as he comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.