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First Impressions: Luke 13:31-35

February 25, 2010

William Willimon crystallized the main concept my Lectionary study group colleagues and I discussed recently for this week’s gospel text.  He wrote, “Jesus has contempt for Herod.  He has great sorrow for Jerusalem…Jesus thus shows no desire to speak to political power mongers” (“Jesus Weeps for Us,” Pulpit Resource, vol. 38, no. 1, p. 38.).  Jesus’ mission is not at odds with Herod and his ilk, because all grand political ambitions and plans are simply irrelevant to what God is doing.  Throughout Luke’s two-volume work, the so-called great people of history are present, but their presence has nothing to do with the story except to highlight their ultimate impotence.

It is important to note, of course, that this week’s pericope is imbedded in a section of teaching and activity “as [Jesus] made his way to Jerusalem” (Luke 13:22).  There is an enormous sense of urgency and conflict.  Next week, we will strangely back up to the first section of chapter 13, and Herod’s murderous plans and Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem  will be followed by Pilate’s own murders and a deadly disaster in Jerusalem.  This all fits in well with the reflective and ominous mood of Lent.

13:31-33 There seems to be no reason to assume the Pharisees were disingenuous with their warning to Jesus.  The plot seems simple.  The political boss wants to silence the annoying upstart.  Jesus is unafraid, and he says to the “fox,” essentially, “I don’t really care what you want to do.  I’ve got a job, and my boss is a lot bigger than you are.”  Jesus is going to Jerusalem, and Herod does not have the power to stop him.  In fact, Herod is only playing at power.  For Jesus, the scenario of Herod preventing Jesus from doing his work is as ridiculous as my 16-month-old granddaughter preventing me from going to work in the morning because she wants another story.  Her tears might belay me, but not her physical strength.

13:34-35 The shift to the lament over Jerusalem seems abrupt and awkward to me.  The only connection is the mention of the city.  Perhaps as Jesus thought of his beloved city sparked his sorrow.  Or perhaps Luke simply had a bad editor.  In any case, Jesus’ concern for the city, the emblem of his people, is evident.  He does speak as a grieved mother whose children have so much difficulty.  It hurts his heart to know that they could enjoy so much better.  Like any good parent, Jesus leaves Jerusalem—and us—to make its own choices and experience the full consequences of its choices.  But again, like a good parent, Jesus will not leave Jerusalem bereft, but will come again to the city.  I believe the text leaves open the possibility that God’s people (defined broadly; not simply the people of Israel) might still be able to say “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

I will play with the images of “fox” and “mother hen” for my sermon this week.  Eugene Boring and Fred Craddock note that in the contest between the fox’s sharp teeth and the hen’s wings, the fox would be the victor.  In God’s economy, the fox doesn’t have any real power.  It is the mother hen who will ultimately be successful.  They wrote, “Jesus’ future is determined by God’s sovereign will and Jesus’ willing submission to it” (M. Eugene Boring and Fred Craddock.  The People’s New Testament Commentary [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004], 233.)  Although this is presented as “hen vs. fox,” the fox part of the equation is simply irrelevant.  What Herod—or any of the political elite—can or cannot do matters not at all to God.  God will do what God will do.  Period.

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