Sermon Commentary for Sunday, March 13, 2022
Luke 13:31-35 Commentary
Jesus is a man on a mission. He is in the region of the Galilee, not yet in Jerusalem for the events of holy week, and we continue our lenten journey by following him towards his suffering death.
We don’t really know the motives of the Pharisees as they warn Jesus to get out of town because Herod Antipas wants to kill him. It is most likely, however, that their motives are not based in a heartfelt affection for Jesus, but instead an expedient way to deal with the problem that IS Jesus. It is very likely that Herod would be interested in seeing Jesus meet his earthly end, considering Herod’s displeasure with anything that upsets the power dynamics of the area under his rule. Thus, the local Pharisees are probably trying to get Jesus out of their hair by sharing with them what they’ve heard through their own backroom brokerages and power dealings.
Jesus doesn’t seem at all concerned upon hearing of this threat to his life; he’s God on a mission. “Tell that fox, I’m doing what I do until it’s done. Then I’ll go to where is next and do what I need to do there.” Seemingly knowing where he is headed and what he is going to face, Jesus then says to them (verse 33) that they shouldn’t interpret what he does next as a sign that he heeded their warnings—it’s simply the next thing he needs to do in order to accomplish or finish the work set before him.
Jesus uses an idiom of time to describe how he will go about doing all of this healing and exorcising, blessing, curing and restoring people. He describes himself setting about this holy work “today, and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish.” Some readers find this to be an allusion to the Easter timeline, and on a cosmic scale, perhaps it is. However, its colloquial use is more about being resolved and committed to seeing something through.
Which Jesus certainly is… When I hear him speak these bold words, I get such a strong sense of his resolve and commitment that I find myself encouraged to rethink what I understand about being safe. For his part, Jesus was resolved to be the True Prophet of God, to take on the role of the Suffering Servant for the world, he was resolved and at peace (even if he prayed for the cup to be lifted) that his death was coming and would not be avoided.
And yet, his words are the kind that come from someone who knows that they are ultimately safe. Knowing that his death is coming, he is safe to be bold on his mission.
Jesus surely does not have safety in this world. The government and the Pharisees will be part of the powers that lead him through the streets of Jerusalem bloody and beaten only to be executed on a cross. He does not have safety from the foxes, because in the end, God decided to use them as part of the work he has set out to accomplish. That work of Christ is to make us safe.
Jerusalem represents the nation of God, it is the center of the Jewish religion and society. Jesus mourns for it, using the double vocative to cry out its name. The people of God have rejected him, their God. They kill God’s prophets and messengers, and God has allowed them that choice, leaving their “house” to them.
But yet, Jesus says, “How I wish that you would allow me to protect you as your mother hen from these foxes.” Pairing a fox on the prowl with the mother hen who is willing to sacrifice her own life to keep her chicks safe, Jesus publicly responds to the threat of his own death by wishing that he could protect others even more. This is his resolve; it is his purpose; it is what gives him peace about the suffering he has already experienced and will endure.
Sadly, the picture of the people of God represented as the city of Jerusalem is that they do not want to be safe. They want the perceived sense of safety. They will join in lock-step with the powers that seem to have the upper hand in the world instead of trusting that there is something bigger than this life.
Refusing to make their home in the shelter of his wings, they will find that they have chosen emptiness. (Or, as some of us know well, they will struggle because they do not understand the paradox of emptiness that accompanies the fullness of our mechanisms for “safety” in this life.) As John D. Rockefeller so famously said about money when asked how much is finally enough: “Just a little bit more.”
And yet there is hope. There is the possibility of recognizing the one who comes in the name of the Lord, blessing and thanking him for his message and the way he accomplishes the work of God. There is still room under the hen’s wings. This too is the resolve of Christ as he speaks of his, God’s, mission. The Holy Spirit will come to be an Advocate for the world, and will help us know comfort and peace as Christ knew it—especially while experiencing the kind of suffering we choose to endure for the sake of the Kingdom of God. (See the second illustration idea below.)
Our houses can be full of the presence of Christ and his Spirit when we bless God for what he has done, when we choose to remember and live as though our lives truly are hidden in Christ with God in heaven—under the mother hen’s wings. The lenten journey is an invitation to try on something new in our posture towards the Triune God, and perhaps it is to try on the resolve and peace of Christ that passes understanding. That peace, what we might understand as what it is to be safe, might make us free to live even though we will die. It is the resolve of courage and sacrifice for the sake of others.
Yes, there are foxes in this world of trouble, but there is plenty of room under the wings of heaven’s heart.
According to commentator Darrell Bock, the word used for “finish” in verse 32 is a significant one. It is used to describe the work of Christ for humanity in Luke 12.50 and 22.37; John 19.30; and Hebrews 2.10, 5.8-9, and 7.28.
Also of note, this particular instance of its use is in the passive tense, underscoring that it is God—not just the human person Jesus of Nazareth—that is accomplishing the plan.
A quick google search will provide you a plethora of examples of a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings in times of danger. Christ himself gives us this image as expressing his deepest desire for our relationship with him. The bravery, the resolve, and the sacrifice that the hen makes in order to keep the vulnerable chicks safe are all present in Jesus Christ as he tells the Pharisees that he isn’t going to stop doing what he is doing. Yes, he is headed to Jerusalem, but it is on God’s business and for God’s purposes. Yes, he will die, but it will be for the safety of his beloved.
In his autobiography, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. expresses the same sort of resolve that we hear from Jesus. In his chapter about the events in Selma, especially the awful police brutality and public violence and murders while they attempted to march to Montgomery, he describes the painstaking spiritual and legal deliberations he and his colleagues had while deciding what was best to do as they stayed committed to non-violent action. Before setting out for another attempt at crossing the bridge on Tuesday, March 9, 1965, King told those gathered,
“I say to you this afternoon that I would rather die on the highway of Alabama than make a butchery of my conscience. I say to you, when we march, don’t panic and remember that we must remain true to nonviolence. I’m asking everybody in the line, if you can’t be nonviolent, don’t get in here. If you can’t accept blows without retaliating don’t get in the line. If you can accept it out of your commitment to nonviolence, you will somehow do something for this nation that may well save it. If you can accept it, you will leave those state trooper bloodied with their own barbarities. If you can accept it, you will do something that will transform conditions here in Alabama.” (see chp. 26 for more of the story)
His words are full of resolve; they are words spoken by someone who knows the danger and suffering that will come from following that resolve. They are the words of a man who knows that to be safe with God does not mean safety in the world. They are spoken by a man who knows Christ and follows his non-violent path to peace and justice.
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