Luke 13:31-35 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “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.’”
As we continue along the Lenten path, we know that for Jesus the path leads to death. Jesus could flee, but that would mean giving up his ministry. When Jesus went up the mountain of Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36), he had a conversation with Moses and Elijah about his impending departure. Jesus knew what was coming, and he was ready to face it. From the moment that Jesus descended from the mountain his face was turned toward Jerusalem, a city that tended to deal harshly with prophets.
I’m sure Jesus would have preferred a different way. It is not a sign of a healthy sense of being to court martyrdom, but sometimes that’s the only way forward. He seems to understand that the way of the prophet more often than not leads to death. It’s just the way things are. So, when the Pharisees came to warn him about Herod’s plans, he wasn’t surprised, though it is somewhat interesting that the usual foil for Jesus’ debates come to his rescue. So he tells them to tell Herod, whom he calls “the fox,” that he’s not going to be deterred. He will continue his ministry of exorcism and healing, at least until the third day, when he will rest. That is, it won’t be long before his earthly ministry of teaching and healing will come to an end.
Passion week is foreshadowed in this passage. There are signals of a triumphant entry, when the people will cry out “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” The ending of the ministry is hinted at, as well as the resurrection. There is mention made here of the third day. Consider also this declaration: “Today, Tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way.” This triad of days is not mere chronology. It’s a signal that something momentous is about to occur. Yes, death will come, whether it’s Herod or not, but death will not conquer. With this in mind Jesus is ready to meet his fate. He will not avoid going to Jerusalem, no matter what Herod has in mind (remember that Herod is not in control of things in Jerusalem, but he provides a good foil for Jesus).
Jesus may not fear his fate, but he does grieve for the city of Jerusalem. Luke doesn’t mention Jesus weeping, but I can imagine tears coming to his eyes as a laments the fate of Jerusalem. It is good to remember that by the time this Gospel is written late in the first century, Jerusalem had been laid waste by the Romans. The Temple was destroyed. The priestly office became irrelevant. Jerusalem has fallen, and the people who remember it must grieve. It was supposed to be the city of God, but it no longer served that purpose. The sense you get here is that if only they had listened to Jesus and embraced his message things would be different.
Jesus shares this lament over the city of Jerusalem, the city whom God sent messengers, messengers who were often killed. For some reason we seem not to like hearing prophetic words. We resist them, sometimes violently. Jesus expresses his lament with a profound image. I’m imagining that as he shares this word, he’s not only nearing Jerusalem, but it in his sights. He turns to the disciples and compares himself to a mother hen who seeks to gather her brood under her wings so as to protect them. She’s been calling out as a mother hen will do, but in this case the chicks don’t listen. They don’t heed the warning, putting themselves in danger. While Luke doesn’t mention Jesus weeping in this account, you get the sense of an emotional connection present. I imagine him weeping over Jerusalem.
Something needs to be said here about the maternal imagery that Jesus uses for himself. It is an important reminder that our language about God needs to be expanded, so as to include male and female imagery. To broaden our language for God not only includes others, but it reminds us that God transcends our language. God is not the “man upstairs.” God is God, and God can be father, but God can also be a mother hen who seeks to protect her chicks.
As I read this passage and consider the message of Jesus, I have to wonder about whether Jesus weeps at this moment in history. Conflict has long been present in our world. In percentages, the number of those killed and displaced today could possibly be less than in earlier generations, but that doesn’t make things better. The very fact that millions of Syrians have been displaced is mind-boggling. When I think about the once vibrant Christian community in the Middle East, it is difficult not to weep at the emptying out of Christians in the region. Churches and monasteries in Iraq and Syria that have stood for centuries are being destroyed. It seems as if nihilism has taken over the world. These nihilistic visions are fundamentalist one hand, emphasize meaning, while the other is libertine, emphasizing pleasure without any boundaries. The two live in conflict on the world stage, bringing down society to its lowest levels. As Miroslav Volf puts it:
In choosing between meaning and pleasure we always make the wrong choice. Pleasure without meaning is vapid; meaning without pleasure is crushing. In its own way, each is nihilistic without the other. But we don’t need to choose between the two. The unity of meaning and pleasure, which we experience as joy, is given with the God who is Love. [Flourishing, p. 201].
I believe that Jesus grieves over our nihilistic visions that seem unable to embrace both meaning and pleasure, for neither vision offers hope for the world. Both visions are self-centered and narrow of vision.
Jesus faces a difficult journey. Death awaits him, but so does resurrection. That promise is wrapped up in the quotation from Psalm 118:26: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” This nihilistic vision that seems to be captivating our world is not the final word. There is something more. Jerusalem may fall victim to an expansive empire that will tear down the walls, but God’s love and grace is more expansive than Jerusalem. When you understand that promise, then the future is no longer daunting. With that in mind, may we continue our journey in the presence and power of the Spirit!
Picture attribution: Hamilton, Anton Ignaz. White hen with chickens, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55391 [retrieved February 14, 2016]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hamilton_White_hen_with_chickens.jpg.