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Luke 13:31-35

On Ash Wednesday, many of us were marked by the sign of the cross on our foreheads. We allowed ashes to be smeared for all to see that we have joined Jesus the Christ on the way to Jerusalem — on the way to the cross. Lenten devotion reminds us of Christ’s suffering, but it also calls us to move in solidarity with the sufferings of the world. Lent reminds us that death is real and that it often comes in violent ways, but it also reminds us that Jesus’ anecdote to the story of violence is not avoidance or fighting; it is redemption and resurrection.

As Jesus travels from Galilee to Jerusalem, healing and deliverance become the tangible reality that the Kingdom of God has come. The blind see, the lame walk, demons are ousted, and the poor are blessed. The very things Jesus proclaimed in Luke 4 in Nazareth (the town that rejected him), have come true. Now, Jesus continues toward the city that will also reject him – like the long list of prophets before him.

As Jesus inches closer to Jerusalem, he approaches the geographic reach of King Herod. Herod has already beheaded Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, and the closer Jesus gets to the center of power the more on edge those in power appear. The Pharisees reach out to Jesus, offering a warning that Herod has seen how the crowds swoon in his direction. Whether these Pharisees were sentimental to Jesus’ ministry, or being utilized to encourage a politics of fear to keep the masses in line (one of Rome’s favorite practices), we do not know. But the whispers of the true King of the Jews has reached the palace, and Herod cannot have people with divided loyalties. Such claims must be squashed.

We see in this passage two forms of power out work. Herod leans on political force and military might. A threat has been perceived. As is often the case, violence is the first resource of the powerful. Jesus has entered the purview of Herod’s attempt at consolidating power and ending a possible rebellion. It’s worked in the recent past, why not now as well? Jesus on the other hand chooses a different path. He knows his path will will create conflict. He knows it will not be easy for his followers, and yet he persists.

Jesus’ response has the potential to further enrage King Herod. But his direction is true and the threat of death will not deter him. Jesus understands that the victory over death goes through death. It’s on the other side of death that true life becomes possible. It is through death that liberation occurs, for “on the third day I will finish my work.”

Jesus’ reaction though is different from many of us. Jesus’ response is not one of hatred or animosity. It is not one of fear or polarization, an entrenchment back into the security of our own social grouping. Jesus doesn’t react by arming himself or rallying the troops. No, instead Jesus enters into a moment of lament driven by compassion. Jesus’ love for Jerusalem and all her inhabitants meets the grief of what it means to reject the one whom God has sent.

Luke may be offering a foreshadow of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70CE, but the story remains the same. Those who sow death and reject the ones who bring peace will only reap their own destruction. Instead, we should take on the Motherly nature of God; who is like a hen who gathers her chicks. Jesus longs to comfort even those who reject him. When he comes face to face to their rejection, he sees their vulnerability – their grasping at security – and longs to offer them the protection of a mother hen who tends after her defenseless chicks.

What does it mean in a time of violence, pain, and loss, that Jesus’ response is not to rush to “solve and answer” the problems that plague us, but that he takes the time to lament, to cry, and to feel compassion? What does it mean for us today that Jesus’ compassion extends to even his enemies? How are we — in the face of religious differences, cultural upheaval, mass migration, communal crises over affordable housing, and violent conflicts — to live? Do we turn our faces back toward Galilee? Do we “stand our ground” and fight? Or do we embody the likeness of Christ, who lamented over the world’s brokenness and was moved to compassion to resurrect all things that experience death and estrangement from God?

In this season of Lent, we are offered the opportunity to join Christ’s mission to make all things right. As we confront the powers that be, let Christ be our guide, an ever present reality of justice and righteousness grounded in compassion.