These few verses mark the capstone of Jesus's journey through Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the place of Jesus's destiny and demise. The observant preacher will notice the unique contrast between this text and last week's reading from Luke. In Luke 4, Satan, the accuser, tempts the Son of God to throw himself off Jerusalem's temple, quoting Psalm 91 in his claim that God will send angels to catch him before he falls. Jesus, the commander of angel armies, is heading to Jerusalem's temple and will be accused and cast down by God's people because he will not exercise the sort of violent power they desired. Superseding the temple, Jesus's death on the cross will reveal that he is the true center of God's presence in the world and it is only through him that God is worshiped rightly. In the book of Acts, Luke presents a bit more of a favorable view towards the Pharisees, but it would be an oddity for such a view to show up in his gospel. However, Luke portrays a group of Pharisees not coming against Jesus but to warn him of Herod's murderous intentions. Luke's portrayal of Herod is also just as odd. The Herod mentioned in these verses is Herod Antipas, not Herod the Great who stars in Jesus's birth narrative. Herod Antipas is the killer of John the Baptist, but he seems to take kindly to Jesus throughout Luke's gospel. Herod wants to see Jesus in 9:9, is "greatly pleased" when Jesus is brought before Pilate because he wants to see a miracle performed in 23:8, and even when he had the best chance to kill Jesus, Herod only robes him, mocks him, and sends him back to Pilate in 23:11. So Herod desiring Jesus dead in 13:31 is a bit mysterious. Perhaps the Pharisees had ulterior motives. Or perhaps Luke was wanting us to remember the events surrounding John the Baptist's tragic execution by Herod's order. As Dr. David A. Neale has noted, when compared to a similar scene in 7:21-22, Jesus mirrors his response by both communicating through intermediaries, as he did to John the Baptist through John's disciples, and by also highlighting demon exorcism and healing.(1) Jesus responds to the Pharisees by calling Herod a fox. This of course is meant to be demeaning. Foxes, although stealthy, are not the paragon of power and cunning as their cousin the wolf. Jesus sees Herod's threats to subvert his marching towards Jerusalem both empty and pathetic. Again akin to Satan in the wilderness, it will be Herod who is sent running after a battle with the Son of God. A preacher could highlight this confrontation comparatively to last week's text as a confirmation that Jesus's fidelity to his Father's will cannot and will not be shaken. As Psalm 91 harkens, the Lord is his refuge and strength. The oddity of the Pharisee's and Herod's behavior aside, they direct us towards the pinnacle moment of this passage, Jesus's lament over Jerusalem. The reference to the sequence of days in verse 32, "today, tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal" sets the stage for the proleptic theme in the verses to come. Jesus ends verse 33 by sarcastically saying that "surely no prophet can die outside of Jerusalem!" This would seem to not only communicate Israel's history of disposing of its prophets, but it also points to Jerusalem's future role in Jesus's execution. Both are more than cause for a prophet's lament. Jerusalem and Israel are in the habit of devouring their own, even more than from the hands of outsiders. Israel kills its prophets to its own downfall. Jesus's lament is reminiscent of Jeremiah 35:17, “Therefore this is what the Lord God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Listen! I am going to bring on Judah and on everyone living in Jerusalem every disaster I pronounced against them. I spoke to them, but they did not listen; I called to them, but they did not answer.’' Jesus has beckoned to them, desperately calling them to turn from their wicked ways so that he may be as a hen who gathers her chicks under her wings (v34), but they do not heed his warning or his refuge. They will seek their own way, even if it kills them, and him. Jerusalem will be brought to ruin for not recognizing her messiah. Communicating the tension and deep sorrow in the heart of our savior from these verses to our congregations is an important task. Jesus is not a mindless drone of God's will, heading to the cross with no thought to the circumstances. Jesus's life is a journey of faith, not of certainty. As our journey should be. It breaks his heart to see the writing on the wall. To know that Jerusalem would ignore their only hope and cast him aside was not only an affront to himself, but all that God had done in Israel's history to reconcile them back to God's self as well. God would be invited in with fanfare and praise only to be pushed aside and trampled down when His ways were undesirable and cost something of His people. Jesus shows that this age old scenario still exists. He ends our passage by quoting Psalm 118:26 “Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ These are the exact words spoken to him by the crowd when he enters the city of Jerusalem with palm branches, praise, and fanfare. The same crowd who would then be screaming the curse of his death before Pilate. May the lament of our savior dictate the things we praise and the things we curse.
1. Neale, David A. Luke 9-24: A commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition. Beacon Hill Press. Kansas City, 2013 pg. 119