Philippians 3:17--4:1 17Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. 4:1Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
Gospel: Luke 13:31-35 31At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus,] “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.’ ”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It seems rather odd, doesn’t it, that Pharisees would want to warn Jesus? It makes me wonder what their motivation might have been. At first thought, I like to take it at face value. I want to believe they were concerned for Jesus, that they didn’t want Herod to kill him, that they wanted to protect Jesus from the evil of the world.
Then my suspicious side kicks in, and I wonder if they weren’t just looking for a way to get him out of their business, a reason they could give him that would look generous and caring, rather than jealous and vindictive. After all, Herod really does not seem to be a driving force in Jesus’ crucifixion. In fact, Luke later tells us that Herod was glad when he saw Jesus for the trial, and was hoping for sign, but when Jesus would not answer his questions, he treated him with contempt, mocked him, and sent him back to Pilate.
So the Pharisees warned Jesus, and we’re not entirely certain why.
Jesus responds with what might be a warning of his own. He gives the Pharisees a message for Herod, probably knowing himself whether their warning was real or a ruse. He makes it clear that he is going to Jerusalem despite the consequences. He expects to be killed there, just as many other prophets had been killed before him. Plus, that won’t stop what he is doing on his way.
Then comes the lament, the sadness of Jesus as he considers Jerusalem’s resistance to God’s care.
Jesus uses interesting imagery in his sadness. He’s not afraid to liken himself to a mother hen gathering her offspring under her wings. His lament is in the unwillingness of the people to be gathered. That’s not so different from us, though, is it? We’d rather stand for ourselves, prove our mettle, resist what we see as coddling.
I was a little surprised by the content of our second reading for today until I saw in it a connection to the kind of resistance to God’s care that Jesus described. When Paul writes to the Philippians, he’s not actually writing to the whole community, he’s writing to the converted. He addresses the letter “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.” Here, about three quarters of the way through, he pleads for them to behave. He describes those who live as enemies of the cross of Christ, beckoning the recipients to follow the example of Paul and his comrades instead. He speaks of selfishness, pride, other earthly things… I’m struck with how familiar his words sound. He could be describing the people of today—and not just people outside the community of faith.
I expect the same was true of the saints of Philippi. Paul was not describing only those outside the body, even though he made it sound that way. He was describing some within, issuing a summons for change.
It’s the same lament spoken by Jesus, in different words. Jesus, like a mother hen, calls us to gather together, and I’m quite certain it’s not only for protection. It’s also to make a statement that we are one with Jesus, that we are one body of God’s presence in this world. Paul is calling for similar action, that we be people who embody something greater than human greed, something more godly than human pride, something more lasting than earthly abundance.
There is also another level to today’s Gospel reading, one that is often overlooked because we separate Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem from his response to the Pharisees. The image of the mother hen is quite familiar to many of us, but how often do we realize that Jesus has just named Herod as a fox, before speaking of himself as a hen? Do we notice that Jesus surrounds his expectation of being killed in Jerusalem with the imagery of Herod (in Jerusalem) as a fox, and himself (heading to Jerusalem) as the hen?
Yes, it’s backwards! The hen isn’t supposed to go into the realm of the fox, isn’t supposed to enter the place where she will certainly die… and Jesus is going there anyway, unapologetically, ready to be killed.
And what does that do to the unwillingness of the people to be gathered? The hen is about to die, and Jesus is not at the time of this lament inviting all the brood to join him on the cross. Jesus will suffer there alone. The hen will be slaughtered, and the chicks will scatter, unimportant in the eyes of the fox as the hen dangles from its jaws.
But we know the rest of the story, don’t we? We know that this fox will have no lasting victory, that this hen will rise up with new life, and that many more will be gathered into God’s realm than ever before.
So, what do we do with the warning? What do we do with the lament?
As always, we rest in God’s grace active in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are not perfect, we are not yet complete in our call to recognize God’s presence with us in daily life, to love God with all that we are, and to love our neighbors as equal to ourselves. We hear the warnings and take to heart the laments, realizing finally that the lament goes hand in hand with the warnings. Yet, we live in confidence of God’s forgiveness for any failure, and God’s guidance for the future, always with an eye to God’s love and God’s intentions for this creation in which we live.
We seek to walk within God’s presence, and we are welcomed there, embodying God’s love for this creation, always in Jesus’ name. Amen