Second Sunday of Lent
Has anyone ever given you suspicious advice? Maybe someone who you know doesn’t like you, or who just doesn’t know you well at all, tries to give you advice like you are the best of friends. Should you take their advice, or not? With some people, you never know their real motivations. With others, experience teaches us not to take them at their word.
Our passage from Luke today opens with some advice from a strange source. Some Pharisees come up to Jesus and seem concerned. The approach Jesus and tell him, “You should get out of here, Herod wants to kill you.” No surprise here. This was the Herod we heard about around Christmas, the King that had slaughtered thousands of babies trying to prevent the birth of the Messiah. From all the Gospel accounts, we know that Herod, this coward, this puppet ruler who oppresses his own people on behalf of Rome, is no friend of Jesus. It couldn’t have been a surprise to Jesus that Herod was plotting against him. But why would the Pharisees warn Jesus?
This is really suspicious advice. The Pharisees, the Jewish teachers of law, community leaders, actively opposed the ministry of Jesus. They were scared of his miracles. Perplexed at his teachings. Most of all, they were angry – angry and shocked – that so many people were drawn to this carpenter turned Rabbi. So it should strike us as odd that in our passage today we see Pharisees of all people trying to warn Jesus of danger.
But if you look at the context of this passage I think we get an idea about where this odd warning comes from. Just before this in chapter 13 of Luke’s gospel, Jesus was teaching about salvation. He tells the people to enter through what he calls “the narrow door,” that not all who wish to enter will be able to. He concludes this teaching by saying, “Some who are last will be first, and some who are first will be last.” In other words, not everyone you expect will receive God’s mercy. It’s a scary passage for anyone. It had to be frightening for the Pharisees, the professional religious folks. You’ve heard that old advice that says, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer?“ Well, the Pharisees followed that. They saw Jesus as their enemy, and though they didn’t like him, they didn’t ignore him. And so they were close by when Jesus said, “Some of those who are first will be last.” Now, all of a sudden, the Pharisees discover some concern for Jesus’ safety?! No it is just too convenient. I’m sure Jesus saw through them. He isn’t impressed with the false concern of Pharisees, or by Herod’s anger. He even challenges the Pharisees to take a message back to Herod. He tells them, “Go and tell that fox, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 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.’” Jesus wants Herod to know that his threats will not deter his mission and he will not be frightened into submission by a petty king.
“Go and tell that fox!” This isn’t a gentle, meek and mild Jesus who floats on the clouds and whispers nice things to us. Luke shows us that Jesus had an edge to him. Why does Jesus call Herod a fox? Because he saw him with the same reputation for cunning, for sneakiness, and trickery.
We see this reflected in many stories that have been handed down to us over the centuries, especially in some of Aesop’s fables. Jesus knows who Herod is, and he lets everyone know that this deceiver will not stand in the way of the work the Father has given him. He will continue his work of healing and preaching, proclaiming the Kingdom, until the third day, and then he will be on his way to Jerusalem. As we continue on our own Lenten journey towards Easter, we see this as a foreshadowing of the three days Jesus would spend in the tomb.
After Jesus sends this message, he begins a lament for Jerusalem, a prayer of mourning and sadness. Jerusalem stands for all of God’s people whom He desires. Jesus sounds a word of both hope and warning. This is a word of judgment that changes to a message of Jesus’ longing for his people. He continues, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Many of us probably are not used or comfortable with female images for God. Those of us who have read The Shack have had our images and ideas about God challenged. Jesus compares himself to a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings. Hens are known to be protective. There is a story of a hen house that burned down. When the farmer went in he found a hen with feathers singed by the fire’s heat, her neck limp. As he picked up the dead hen, four chicks came scurrying out from beneath her burnt body. The chicks survived because they were insulated by the shelter of her wings, protected and saved even as she died to protect and save them.
That is the story of Jesus. Jesus is that mother hen who longs to gather his children under his wings, but he says that Jerusalem is not willing for this is the city that kills prophets.
The story is not over yet. Jesus says, “You will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” This is almost exactly the chant that the people will give, waving palm branches as he enters Jerusalem in the coming days. Jesus knows Jerusalem is the city that will kill him but he is going there anyway. As the mother hen enveloped her young under her wings, Jesus will hang with arms outstretched, saving all who are willing to receive his mercy.
So once again this Lent we walk with him until the appointed time when we rejoice in the resurrection.