2nd Sunday in Lent

March 13, 2022

Summary

Jesus won’t be bullied because you are too important to him to lose

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)

As we journey through Lent observing Jesus we find him heading south towards Jerusalem and interacting with people – sometimes with parables, sometimes he’s pretty blunt, sometimes he uses signs – we call them miracles – and there is building an increasing tension, increasing conflict and you have Jesus coming to rescue in hostile territory and the world around him building that hostility.

Our Gospel today presents the scene with Herod wanting to kill Jesus according to the reports but we don’t know why – though we do know that those with authority don’t like being told ‘No’ or ‘Stop’ or ‘Change’ and they will use their power to get their way. And violence is a power.

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. Herod Antipas was the Herod who was trapped into having John the Baptist beheaded – nevertheless he was the one who still gave the order. So Herod could be ruthless if required.

But was this fake news – about wanting to kill Jesus? It is the Pharisees that bring this report to Jesus – to get him to flee, move on. And we can wonder why would they – who were increasingly in conflict with Jesus – want to help him as it were? Again, we don’t specifically know but one thing we need to remember is that socially if you wanted to categorise Jesus you would say that he was a Pharisee. That word doesn’t mean ‘pharisaical’ – we have added that particular meaning to it because Jesus challenged them – but the reason that there is so much conflict with the Pharisees is that Jesus socially looked 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 and that people be separate from the world and live with God 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.

This is the growing conflict the Pharisees have with Jesus. He fraternises with sinners and blurs how to be separate in the world because he doesn’t require them to repent first. He doesn’t follow the Sabbath rules that keep God’s people separate – particularly with his healing which he could do on 6 days – those are the days for work – the Sabbath is for God – and so his behaviour will encourage more blurring of how to be God’s people separate from the world.

Jesus reinterprets the Law of Moses and where the Pharisees emphasis ritual and ceremony, Jesus emphasises our behaviour and links everything to the First Commandment and upgrades the Second Commandment – love God AND love your neighbour.

And what pushes the Pharisees and the religious leaders to violence is Jesus taking up divine prerogatives and blaspheming according to them – and that is serious in any religion because that is a specific attack on the religion.

What the political realm (we’ll say Herod) and the religious realm (the Pharisees) don’t get is that they are in trouble. They have power and authority in their realms and they expect those who want their support or ‘blessings’ to come to them. And whether they have in their heads the Roman gods or the God of Israel they themselves operate in the same way – if you want your God’s blessings or something from him – go to him, do what he says, and you may get it. Judaism’s longed for Messiah is not a rescuer but a deliverer of peace so that the people of God, if they want to be God’s people and get God’s blessings, can have a space to live separately from the rest of the world. If the people are elected by God then they have a choice about how they live and if they want blessings, do the right thing.

What the political realm and the religious realm simply didn’t comprehend was that God came to them to rescue them. This is nonsense when you have a priesthood and sacrifices and a temple because you can go to the temple if you want. But we all know that staying in a garage doesn’t make you a car, so going to temple or church doesn’t make you a believer. Or worse, you can go to church on the ‘outside’ but on the ‘inside’ you are far from God.

The story of Jesus and the story of Christianity is the story of the God who comes to us. Jesus has come with a mission – a purpose – to reconcile us to God – and this happens in us when we repent – when repentance is drawn out of us not by fear but by God’s grace. And in this encounter Jesus is loving and truthful – his goal is for us to live with him – and his words are designed to reach us. He won’t be intimidated. He won’t be stopped. You are too precious to him.

Calling Herod a fox – an unclean animal according to the Old Testament – might mean that Jesus is saying that Herod is ‘unclean’ – unfit – for his office. Imagine if that got back to Herod? We can imagine the conflict intensifying but what if it struck a chord with Herod? Jesus’ goal is to reach us with what we need to hear. But humanity doesn’t easily listen and we are deluded into thinking that we’re not that bad.

And Jesus groans and laments! 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. I’ll go to God if I need him. 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’.

So what might we take away from today’s passage?

That Jesus cares for us that he comes to us – still today – words, water, bread and wine. That Jesus won’t be intimidated or bullied by evil forces or by human rejection – that put him on a cross – because his goal is for us to live with him lives that have forgiveness, blessing, hope, and joy in them because people trust the God who comes to them.

That Jesus is truthful and loving – and that his words will both comfort and challenge us. Jesus told the poor woman dragged before him accused of adultery both comfort and challenge – 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:10,11 ESV) We would prefer only the comfort but we need to hear Jesus say both to us.

That the world will use violence to get its way and to end conflicts and that Jesus will absorb violence and forgive to end conflicts. The world’s way makes the world blind and toothless. Jesus’ way brings about peace and blessings through suffering which is a challenge to his followers when Jesus says, ‘Follow me’.

That Jesus went to Jerusalem and that cross because you are precious to him and needed saving and because life with Jesus is infinitely better than life without Jesus.

 

Ref: John Wilch (1983) ‘Pharisees Oppose Jesus’ LTR 1:37-48

Bible References

  • Luke 13:31 - 35