At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus], “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 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. 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.’ 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!’” (Luke 13:31-35 ESV)
We are shocked and saddened by the recent events in Christ Church, New Zealand. It isn’t the first time such slaughter has taken place and I think sadly no one expects it to be the last time such deeds are done. We find it happening to all religious groups – that someone else wants them gone – not just to stop being religious but to stop being. How sad that we’re not surprised anymore – which isn’t an excuse for not doing whatever we can to stop all acts of violence but we do recognise that religion and violence or the threat of violence have a past that goes back to one brother whose offering was not accepted responding violently towards his brother whose offering was accepted. Perhaps a factor here is that religions touch eternity and so death is an attempt to challenge eternity.
We don’t know why Herod is said to want to kill Jesus. This is Herod Antipas and maybe it is in his DNA – since his father, Herod the Great, tried to kill the toddler Jesus and didn’t care if other toddlers were slaughtered as well. We hear this from the Pharisees who usually are antagonist towards Jesus when they’ve got to see and hear him. Remember that socially Jesus looks like a Pharisee – he is a layman, he is religious, and he is talking about the Kingdom of God and keen to see it come but his treatment of the Law of God, his interpretation of Moses and the Prophets is far too cavalier and too arrogant for their tastes. Maybe Jesus is getting noticed by the local authorities who would only really notice someone when they threaten the authorities and the established order, and are fearful of the consequences of Jesus’ teaching and or actions. What did we just say about violence and of course people and systems with authority never use violence for their own ends, do they? Anyone who might be collateral damage wants to minimise the threat. So get away from here, Jesus, because Herod wants to kill you and we might be targeted too. Is it self preservation from the Pharisees? Possibly. And we shouldn’t think ill of them for that.
Jesus, however, refuses to be intimidated. In fact he ‘ups the ante’ as they say by referring to Herod as a fox – an unclean animal according to the Old Testament – who when one considers his behaviour and we can think of Herod’s then marriage and his treatment of John the Baptist, Jesus seems to be saying is ‘unclean’ for his office. Imagine if that got back to Herod? But Jesus sends a message back to Herod that he will stick to his course of action – taking on the forces and attacking them, setting the captives free who are entrapped or enslaved by demons, by illness, by sins, by greed, by power. Nevertheless he will depart in a little while – not because Herod scares him – because he knows that prophets perish in Jerusalem.
Here is a peek into Jesus’ self understanding – he describes himself as prophet and there is a tradition of opposition to God and his words and his messengers, in this case, his prophets. Herod is and isn’t the target of Jesus’ comment. The Pharisees are and are not the target of Jesus’ comment. Jerusalem and all it stands for theologically is and isn’t the target of Jesus’ comment. Today we look back to that time and over nearly 2,000 years of history and over the city of Christ Church and perceive that Jesus is talking about humanity – still hiding in the garden in the presence of God in one sense but in another sense now emboldened and brazen enough to pick up whatever is at hand and attack the God who comes close. Sin continues to corrupt and deaden and above all delude.
And what is Jesus’ response to humanity? He laments. He groans and sighs. He wants it to be otherwise because he is like the mother hen trying to gather and protect her chicks but they would not be gathered or rescued or helped. Jesus’ words focused on Jerusalem and, from our perspective, also on human nature that rebels against God. I can do it myself. I know best for me. And that nature, that rebellion is judged and will have its consequences because whether said with joy and faith or with tears and despair, one day everyone will say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’.
The apostle Paul will conclude the Christ hymn in Philippians 2 with these words … Therefore God has highly exalted him – ie. Jesus – and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11 ESV)
This little scene about threats to Jesus give us a peek into his heart and the love and pain that is there for rebellious children. It is something we can understand, relate to in some way, when a loved one blindly sticks to behaviour that is destructive or evil. We can know or imagine the frustration and the grief and the love that keeps reaching out. But it is about others and not us. That is until the Holy Spirit convicts people of sin, shows them God’s righteousness and that all humanity is rebellious to God.
Now that isn’t the Holy Spirit’s only message because there is another message – that God has given us his righteousness through Jesus. God gives what he demands. He protects us from the consequences we should face not by whisking them away but by bearing them. Jesus took the blows for us. He took the bullet for us. He took the death for us. That is why the gospel is Good News because those statements are true for every human person – even those who choose violence as a way of living.
I believe that the deepest earthly mystery of Planet Earth is human sin and the fear and the death and all the wrong thinking and behaviour that litters lives and history.
I also believe that the deepest divine mystery in Planet Earth is the God who dies for his rebellious people – the God who is killed by his rebellious creatures – and who gracious uses that violence to redeem, rescue, and save his people. The mother hen has protected his chicks and that truth is what we see in faith by the light of an empty tomb. That is the mystery we discover as we watch Jesus particularly in Lent!
Jesus would not be bullied. Love will achieve its goal – that’s what kept Jesus on the cross. And that message – that Good News – changes the world one day at a time as it gathers people into the safety of God’s loving wings. This Good News then shapes the chicks – one day at a time – that love and service are the lifestyle for the fullness of life Jesus said he came to give. And that love and service also grows and is slowly not intimidated or bullied because the world which does not know Jesus doesn’t know what it is doing and thus Jesus’ disciples will keep arming themselves with towels and bowls of water and keep on serving.
- Luke 13:31 - 35