February 21, 2016 - Luke 13.31-35

 “What Jesus Wants”

Luke 13:31-35

February 21, 2016

31At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32He 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. 33Yet 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.’ 34Jerusalem, 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! 35See, 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 text for today presents a swirl of wants. What do the Pharisees really want when they warn Jesus? Herod, they say, wants to kill Jesus. Jesus wants to continue on his way to death in Jerusalem. He also wants to gather Jerusalem as a hen does her brood, but Israel does not want to be so gathered. The very word, want, can be used as a lens through which to view the entire Gospel: God wants to gather God's people. God's people want no part of it. God wants to work to win their want back.


This text must be read in its context of the rest of Luke. Since 9:51 Jesus has "set his face to go to Jerusalem" to meet his fate. The stories and teachings in this middle portion of the Gospel are all set within this "travel narrative," as scholars call it. He doesn't take the most direct route as he progresses that way - instead he circles about the area teaching and preaching, like the Israelites in the wilderness. Perhaps this meandering is a not-accidental echo of Moses, for Jesus is presented in Luke as a "prophet like Moses".  


Here, Jesus conjures up the history of Jerusalem and its treatment of prophetic figures of Israel’s past.  Prophets that died: Uriah, Zechariah, Isaiah, those killed by Mannessah in 2 Kings (innocent blood), and brings to mind later images of Stephen.  Stephen asks the crowd who is about to stone him, “which of the prophets did your ancestors NOT persecute?  They killed those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers.”  (Acts 7:52)


Calling one's political ruler a "fox" is probably not the best way to have a long life. Jesus tells the Pharisees his itinerary for the next few days - just in case the fox is hungry.  To the Jew the fox was the symbol of three things:  1) the slyest of animals, 2) the most destructive of animals, and 3) it was the symbol of a worthless and insignificant man.  It takes a brave man to call a tyrant a fox.


You have to kind of ask yourself, “Is this what Jesus wants?”  This is a strange sort of desire on Jesus' part: almost a death wish. After calling Herod a fox, he all but taunts him, insisting he cannot kill him outside Jerusalem, but must wait until he arrives there, since Jerusalem is the only place that prophets get killed. Just as in his first sermon in Nazareth when he identified with the prophetic tradition ("Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing," Luke 4:21) and drew a violent response (they wished to "hurl him off the cliff" 4:29) for his words of welcome extended to Gentiles, so here Jesus puts on the prophet’s mantle and declares that some will want him dead.


What do the Pharisees want? The Pharisees are almost always portrayed as villains in the New Testament. Might they here be somewhat more sympathetic, as with the Pharisee Nicodemus in John's Gospel, or other Pharisees like Paul who eventually join his movement? Or are they simply setting him up, trying to knock him off the course of his prophesied ending in Jerusalem? The Pharisees' warning is ambiguous. Why do they ask him to "Get out of here" when he's already traveling from town to town? Is the warning about Herod meant as an aid to Jesus or a threat? The Pharisees are not depicted solely in malicious fashion in Luke (7:36, 11:37, 14:1). On the other hand, Jesus assumes these Pharisees have access to Herod, and we've recently been told they're out to get him (11:53-4). Perhaps their suggestion that he save his skin is akin to the temptation to avoid the specific sort of exodus God intends for him (as in 23:33).   It is not really clear WHAT the Pharisees want.


What does the fox - Herod Antipas – want?  His father Herod the Great received the title "King of the Jews" from his Roman overseers. You remember him - the slayer of Israel's children, as Pharaoh had once done to the Jews captive in Egypt (Mt 2:13-15). But Herod Antipas is not depicted in such vicious terms here. He is curious about Jesus, especially the suggestion that he is John the Baptist raised from the dead, since he himself had John beheaded (in an incident not recorded in Luke 9:7-9). Interestingly, when Herod has the chance to kill Jesus in Jerusalem, he doesn't do it, but merely attempts, unsuccessfully, to get a sign out of him. For Herod such religious zealots as John and Jesus are either petty nuisances to get rid of, or court jesters to provide entertainment.


Both the Pharisees and Herod Anitpas had one thing in common – they thought they were the ones in charge.  In the church's history we have not done well in dealing with these two alternate sources of power represented in Luke's story - Israel and kings. Notice Jesus' approach to both here: he is presented as the fulfillment of Israel's prophetic tradition, the embodiment of the "prophet like Moses" of which Deuteronomy speaks. Indeed, it is hard to read this gospel text well without an Old Testament open by one's side, since hardly a word passes that is not an allusion to Israel's bible. Jesus here talks trash to his king in the in-your-face manner of today's sports stars or talk show hosts. Whatever it means to call Herod a fox, it can't have been a compliment. Jesus is both a prophet and different from other prophets; a king and different from other kings. No wonder he is a puzzle to the prophets and kings of his day - as he remains to us in ours, just barely out of reach, meeting our expectations then challenging them even as he fulfills them.


So what exactly DOES Jesus want?  Jesus is no chest thumping braggart. He is not thumbing his nose at authority just to be cocky.  His words about Jerusalem are the key.  Jerusalem represents God’s people.  What we have here is a hint at a love story.


Nothing hurts so much as to go to someone and offer love and have that offer spurned.  It is life’s bitterest tragedy to give one’s heart to someone only to have it broken.  That is what happened to Jesus and Jerusalem; and he still comes to humanity, and still humans reject Jesus.  But the fact remains that to reject God’s love is in the end to be in peril of God’s wrath.


The most pain a person can experience may be betrayal – the pain of rejection by someone you love.  How painful and ironic that Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss.  It is the stuff of novels, and the best stories ever written. 


I know a person that beat cancer.  That person has also experienced some profound rejection, even betrayal.  That person said, “Compared to having my heart broken, having cancer was a piece of cake.”


God’s heart breaks every time his love is rejected.  Especially by those who live near his temple.


What Jesus Wants is for his people – God’s people – to love God and to accept God’s love.


It might be easier this morning if Jesus had used his last days to attack King Herod, to criticize the government and the national economy. No. His last words of judgment and of lament are for us.  Jesus' great lament, toward the end of his earthly ministry as he faces the cross, is for God's people, the faithful who are unfaithful, Israel, the Church, for us.  We are the ones called to be light to a dark world. We are called to be salt. Jesus has said that the world ought to be able to look at us, who claim to be his followers, and see him.


We should be thankful that in this "Service of Worship" we have confessed our sin. We've been given the opportunity, by the church, to confess our sin as a church. And therefore we ought to be even more thankful that Jesus not only judges us; Jesus also weeps for us. The church is not only judged but also loved. Jesus goes to his cross, not condemning us for our myriad of infidelities but rather he dies saying, "Father, forgive them . . ."


And that is what Jesus wants today.  Why does this concern us?  Because we are his body.  We are his church.  What Jesus Wants is for his body to still be reaching people today.


You might think that “Ok, good.  We are already doing that.”  I hate to break it to you but we aren’t. Roughly 75% of all churches in North America are declining in membership. 24% of all churches are growing – but by taking in people who are already Christians.  That means 1% - a measly 1% of all churches in North America are growing the way Jesus told us to – by making new disciples.


Soon, we will begin our week of emphasis for Home Missions – missions in our own backyard.  Jesus is talking about his people – the people of Jerusalem not “getting it.”  Maybe we should hear that perhaps we are not “getting it” either.


Erwin McManus is the innovative pastor of Mosaic – a “churchless” church in California. They are growing like no other type of church.  McManus is impatient with Christians who flit from church to church looking for a pastor who will "feed" them. He said Christians are bulimic, feeding on Sunday, and then vomiting so they can feed again the next Sunday.


"My job isn't to feed the Christians, so they can feed the sheep," he said. "My job is to make them hungry so they can feed themselves. The church isn't here for us. We are the church and we're here for the world."  "We become so comfortable with each other that we lose touch with the world we live in," he said. "What we've been doing isn't making people better," he said. "We can't even keep kids who've been raised in Sunday School their whole life."


One of the reasons Mosaic doesn't call itself a "church" is that members want to be the church and have others recognize it in them. "Early on, (in Jesus' day) we didn't call ourselves Christians, we called ourselves followers of Christ and those outside called us Christians," McManus said. "Now we call ourselves Christians and they call us hypocrites. The world is turned upside down."[1]


What Jesus Wants is for us to follow him and BE the church – not go to church, but BE the church.


What are the words of the old hymn?

I have decided to follow Jesus,

I have decided to follow Jesus,

I have decided to follow Jesus,

No turning back, no turning back.

When I was a teen, we sang this song at church camp, teary-eyed, seated on the ground with the cross-illumined by candlelight in front of us.

Man, we were gonna do whatever Jesus wanted.   In those moments, I was determined to set my face toward him. But teenage single-mindedness seldom lasts.

What we need today is a singleness of purpose, a Kingdom mindset, a clear minded commitment, eyes focused on Jesus Christ…

The cross before me, the world behind me,

The cross before me, the world behind me,

The cross before me, the world behind me,

No turning back, no turning back.[2]


[1] Norman Jameson, Biblical Recorder, Feb. 16, 2007.

[2] Jennifer M. Ginn, "Living by the Word" in Christian Century, February 24, 2004.

  April 2018  
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