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.’
The first two verses reflect Jesus’ discernment of his call and his determination to move forward. In chapter nine of Luke, Jesus ‘sets his face toward Jerusalem.’ It marks his movement from the countryside to the center of the Jewish faith. His path leads inexorably to his arrest, death and resurrection. It is one thing to challenge authority in small town Georgia and quite another to protest in Washington. When powerful people are threatened, they are more likely to be repressive and reactive.
The concept of law versus grace is so familiar to us that it is hard to appreciate the threat Jesus posed to religious authorities. Historically, it was the priests who determined who was fit to worship, and it was the priests who defined what it meant to obey God. If they lost their authority—then what? Paradoxically, it was not sufficient to be a child of God, the priests and the pharisees needed their positions in order to feel they belonged to God.
Jesus’ claim to authority was a direct challenge to the existing powers and it would lead to his death. Jesus could see that. And I can only imagine it must have been tempting to skip Jerusalem. Why keep poking the hornet’s nest? You will get stung. The question is when, not if.
Though there is debate among the commentators about the motives of these particular Pharisees—were they hostile to Jesus or protective, I’m not sure it matters. What is important is Jesus’ single mindedness. He had an understanding of his calling that required him to confront the priests and the pharisees in the center of power. On the one hand that meant he was going to continue what he was doing no matter what (Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.’). And on the other hand he needed to depart ‘because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ But his departure was not a function of Herod’s threat, it was a function of his understanding of God’s will for him.
Especially in light of last week’s temptation stories, I view this as another time Jesus is tempted. What will he do when his life is being threatened? It certainly raises the stakes and provides an ‘opportune time’ to seek his own safety instead of continuing to rely upon God.
True prophets are often threats to power—and are often killed. Going to Jerusalem validated his role as prophet—even as it lead to his death. In FIRL we had trouble finding ordinary examples of this predicament. We spoke of Martin Luther King and his expectation that he would be killed if he continued his ministry but such examples are more inspirational than reflections of our own lives. Perhaps the closest we came is our temptation to avoid conflict. When it is actually time for us to speak our truth, we are just as likely to keep silent. In real life it is very difficult to say what we think and feel if we expect (or can predict) we will be poorly received. Speaking in the face of arrest and death is way past most of our capabilities.
The next two verses are a lament. Jesus sees the intransigence of the religious authorities and he grieves. It is hard to watch people make decisions that are self defeating. It may be as extreme as addictive behaviors or as simple as assuming the worst about people we love. I see couples that live in a cycle of suspicion. They expect to be misunderstood—or actively hurt—so they are constantly vigilant. Sometimes they are right but when we assume the worst, even kindnesses are suspect. It is hard to even imagine that hurtful statements might be the result of something other than ill will. The predicament becomes intractable and isolation, and sometimes divorce, is the consequence.
Jesus warns that until we see that ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’—until we see the new messiah in ways we could not imagine, ‘our houses are left to us’. We can keep doing things our way. The leaders could keep the temple. But the temple and our ways will fall. A husband who cannot imagine that the question, ‘Where were you?’ might be out of concern, can only respond defensively. He loses the possibility of love because he is unwilling. It is terribly risky to assume we are loved. It sounds great— but it leaves us wide open to pain when we are not loved. We act like such pain is unbearable but Jesus promises otherwise.
The messiah promises that such risks are survivable and in fact lead to new life. It is hard to lean into that promise. It is safer to depend upon what we know. Jesus took that risk when he set his face to Jerusalem but it was not until we witness his living presence in our lives that his promise of life after death has credibility. Our ways of doing things are left to us but inevitably when we insist on ‘our way’ is the right way, it is not sustainable. We will live as frantic chicks ,isolated and disconnected.
LORD, GRANT US THE COURAGE TO SEEK AND FOLLOW YOU. LET IT BE SO.
Vernon Gramling is a Parrish Associate at DPC. He has been providing pastoral care and counseling for over 45 years. You can find more about Vernon, the Faith in Real Life gatherings and Blog at our staff page or FIRL.