The Gospel text for the 2nd Sunday of Lent (Luke 13:31-35) directs our attention toward Christ’s coming passion – albeit without being anywhere nearly as explicit about the point as he was earlier in Luke’s Gospel. Plus he compares himself to a chicken. Who would want to miss that?
These lines are easy to gloss past – I’d guess that this, in its entirety, is one of the most forgotten or ignored passages in the Gospels.
But there is good stuff in those passion predictions, oblique as they may be, and also in the earlier details that set the scene.
Notice, for instance, who it is who comes to give Jesus a timely warning. Herod is out to kill Jesus, and so some kindly friends bring him word and keep him safe. Who were those kindly friends? The Pharisees of course.
The Pharisees get a very bad rap you know. They are easy picking for Christian preachers who want to point their fingers at holier-than-thou legalists who have missed out on the gospel of grace.
This probably tells us more about the preachers and their congregations than about the actual Pharisees.
Jesus tells us something substantive about the Pharisees by his actions and interactions – like in the many texts where they come up without nasty polemical “woes” being thrown down about them.
- Jesus is often found hanging out with Pharisees.
- Jesus is sometimes found eating in Pharisees’ homes, their guest of honor.
- Jesus has any number of interesting conversations with the Pharisees.
Truth be told, Jesus seems to actually like the Pharisees. Maybe that’s a good thing for us Christians, since despite our polemical preaching about the Pharisees, we are often holier-than-thou legalists who miss the boat on the gospel of grace.
So maybe it is no surprise that the Pharisees actually liked Jesus too – enough to warn him that his life was in danger.
Second, note well the personality that emerges through Jesus’ words in response to the Pharisees.
Jesus sends a message back to the governor that I find easiest to describe as snarky.
Go and tell that fox… (Luke 13:32 NRSV)
What? Did gentle Jesus, meek and mild, just send a government official a rude message?
Well, yes, it seems he did. He called Herod a mean name. That’s kind of disrespectful.
On the one hand, this text, along with many others, should retool our inner assumptions of what Jesus is actually like. “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” doesn’t actually match a great deal of the Gospel evidence.
Jesus’ gentleness is strength used to heal; his meekness is judgment held at bay.
And his mildness is generally lacking entirely.
Passion Prediction 1
Then Jesus gave the substance of his message – two poetic stanzas — to Herod. That led him onto the topic of Jerusalem.
In a way these are all oblique passion predictions.
Or maybe it is better to say that after chapter 9, the coming passion is so much on Jesus’ mind that readers are well advised to keep it in view at all times. It can make sense of what comes out of Jesus’ mouth.
You may remember that chapter 9 was where
- the Apostles confessed their faith that Jesus was the Christ, and he began to predict his suffering and death (Luke 9:22),
- and at the transfiguration he spoke with Moses and Elijah of his “Exodus” coming in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31),
- and he “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).
So Jesus’ first two musings about the passion come as poetic stanzas in his message to Herod.
Here’s the first one:
Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures
and on the third day
I finish my work.” (Luke 14:32 NRSV)
That’s hardly more than an allusion to the passion, really.
It certainly isn’t a literal time line of the rest of Jesus’ earthly ministry. There is a whole lot of stuff left to happen before we even get to holy week in chapter 19.
But it does point us to the final events of Holy Week when he dies on the Cross the first day, lays in the tomb the second day, and emerges having conquered death “on the third day.”
Passion Allusion 2
The second stanza of Jesus’ little poem on the passion is, if anything, even more oblique:
and the next day
I must be on my way…” (Luke 13:33 NRSV)
What does he mean “I must be on my way”?
I suspect this points back to his conversation with Moses and Elijah about his “exodus” (most English translators read it as “departure”) which is coming in Jerusalem.
He is on his way out of this earthly ministry, this earthly life, through death – but a death that conquers death, culminating in the Resurrection Easter morning.
And it is a journey, a departure, which will be the new Exodus, from slavery to self, passion, and sin into the promised land of new life.
If you think I’m stretching to see this as a passion allusion, note how Jesus ends the sentence:
…because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.” (Luke 13:33 NRSV)
To me it sounds kind of sarcastic. Jerusalem, the holy city — with such a reputation.
Passion Allusion Three
Which brought Jesus’ mind fully onto the topic of Jerusalem.
You can hardly help noticing the sorrow in his voice as he laments for the city –
the city that kills the prophets” (Luke 13:34 NRSV)
as he calls it.
Sad indeed for God in human flesh to look at a city with a history of killing his personal messengers.
Sadder still for the one who personifies God’s message to anticipate going there, knowing what awaits.
But it is the sadness of God that prevails in Jesus’ words.
How often I have desired to gather your children together
as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,
and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34)
These particular lines have become quite beloved in recent decades among those who delight to note that Scripture uses non-masculine metaphors and similes for God.
Thus many rejoice that here Jesus portrays his love for the people of Jerusalem using an image that is undeniably female – though it is perhaps less happily an image of a chicken.
But then Jesus seems to indicate that he has given up on them:
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.’” (Luke 13:35 NRSV)
If you were wondering how this lament over Jerusalem is even obliquely a passion prediction, remember that Jerusalem will indeed hear those words when the children and crowds sing them out, waving palms, as he rides a donkey into town on a carpet of their coats.
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