As we continue our Lenten series by exploring different encounters of Jesus on his way to Jerusalem and the cross, we encounter one episode of Jesus’s journey in Luke 13:31-35. Jesus, who has been preaching and teaching throughout different villages along his way encounters a group of Pharisees who catch up to him and who of course they have something to say. You might say that’s nothing new, actually sounds familiar. However that is not how today’s story is going to go. I invite you to hear this passage a little differently than we might expect as we will soon see the Pharisees throw a curve ball to which Jesus offers a fastball of his own. Therefore I’m going to honor the text and read it as such. With this in mind let us continue to open our hearts to God’s Spirit as we hear God’s Word.

Gospel Text: Luke 13:31-35 (NRSV)

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He 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. 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.’

 Jerusalem, 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!

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.’”

Honestly, you would not be alone if you were unwilling to hear this passage this way as being the Word of the Lord; however it still is and this moment where we experience an intense reaction from Jesus is not unique to this story in Luke either. This passage known as Jesus’s Lament for Jerusalem also occurs in Matthew’s Gospel. In Matthew, Jesus’s Lament comes in the 23rd chapter as Jesus is rebuking the scribes and the Pharisees and after leaving the Temple foretells of its destruction some years later.

But in Luke’s gospel we hear Jesus lamenting over Jerusalem as he displays his unwillingness to be deterred in his journey. Could you imagine watching this scene unfold? . . . . . Here come these Pharisees, these teachers and keepers of the Law who test Jesus and his disciples at every turn, and they say to him, “Hey you should move on because Herod wants to kill you.” If I was a disciple I would be shocked and I would expect Jesus’s response to be something like “ok, thank you, but I must be going.” However we get something a little different. Jesus displays his unwillingness to stop through a verbal tongue-lashing. . . “Go tell that fox for me…” Where did that intensity come from?

Now that fox is thought to be Herod and granted, scripture does not hold Herod in the highest regard. This is the same man, Herod Antipas, who is responsible for the beheading of John the Baptist and now if these Pharisees are to be believed, he is plotting to kill Jesus. Again this isn’t the first time someone from Herod’s line has plotted to kill Jesus but what is the point in telling Jesus this? Are the Pharisees for real? Is their discord within the Pharisees’ camp about Jesus? Could this be a set up? Is Herod being crafty and that why Jesus calls him a fox? Sure would be nice to know what does the fox say.

Unfortunately Luke does not give us any more details than what we have. But what Luke does give us is very important. Here we have an example of Jesus being tempted to stop in his journey towards Jerusalem, towards the cross, at a time where he could cry out and go a different direction but instead he exclaims with zeal that he will not stop, he will not be deterred, and he will continue in his journey to Jerusalem as he is busy doing the work of the Lord today, tomorrow, and the next day.  Jesus is unwilling to stop in his journey for any reason other than to serve God’s will. Through his response Jesus denounces the possibility of success by any plot of Herod’s as he affirms the power of God is greater than any power of Herod.

Besides this, Jesus foreshadows his fate in Jerusalem with a lament over the city’s and the people’s unwillingness to follow God. He powers through this trial by grieving to God over the people’s unwillingness to find shelter in his wings. Here we start to see the difference between for what Christ is unwilling and for what we are unwilling.How I pray that I could be unwilling in the way that Christ was and is. Where Christ is unwilling to be tempted away from God’s will and distraction to from his true journey, my unwillingness does the opposite as it impedes me from moving forward with Christ. My unwillingness is like that of stubbornness, I’m sure a shock to some of you, and that I am no better than the chicks in his lament, as I am not always willing gathering under his wings.

As soon as I hear Jesus’s response to the Pharisees’, I resist his words and his tone. They don’t align with the peaceful, loving, and composed Jesus who is my savior and in whom I am justified and reconciled with God. Jesus calmed storms, walked on water, fed groups of hungry people, healed the sick, and taught others about the kingdom of God all while playing it cool. Yet when my expectation of his demeanor is not met, which like some of you might be during the moments where Jesus shows intense emotion, such as: at the resurrection of Lazarus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, in the clearing of the Temple, or in his lament for Jerusalem. We must not let ourselves unwillingly deny the entire life and ministry of Jesus Christ because we may not like it as much as something else Jesus did or said in his journey. By embracing Christ’s divinity and humanity, we embrace a more fuller understanding of God and the implications for following God. Therefor I have to ask: Am I willing to lose my cool in order to follow where he calls me? Am I willing to gather together with the rest of his brood under his wing? Or going further as Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Am I willing?

In light of our passage and these questions, what can we do? If we are indeed willing to follow Christ and his example, how do we continue on our journey even when we are overwhelmed to the point we can bear any of it further? One thing we can do is find strength in the example Jesus provides in his lament. Jesus’s lament is a prayer, a prayer to God expressing his grief and sorrow over Jerusalem’s unwillingness. We all have experience praying in one form or another. We group types of prayers into categories, which we regularly encounter through worship. Just take a look at your bulletin and see the different prayers we have said today. Martha Moore-Keish, one of the theology professors down the street at Columbia has a beautiful way of describing the functions of the different prayers we say. She writes that: “in adoration we cry out in wonder to God. In confession we acknowledge our distance from God. In thanksgiving we name the ways in which God surrounds us with grace, and in supplication we ask for our needs and for the needs of the world.”[1]

But notice that a true prayer of lament is absent from our regular worship and a true prayer of lament is different than a prayer of supplication. A prayer of lament “offers up the ‘Good Friday voice of faith,’ crying out in pain when we cannot give voice to thanksgiving or praise.”[2]  We can hear some this cry of grief in Abram’s conversation with God in Genesis 15. Abram receives God’s favor as God calls Abram, soon to be Abraham, to be the father of a great nation but Abram is still childless. He and Sari, or Sarah, continue to grow older each year. Abram grieves to God “Hey God! What is going on? I am following the journey you laid out for me and I am nowhere closer to being the father of a great nation. If nothing happens, my heir will be a slave.” Fortunately God hears Abram’s cry and assures him that he will have an heir and that his descendants shall outnumber the stars.

Abram’s and Jesus’s laments are real and raw. They are not polished but are honest in their convictions. There is honesty in a prayer of lament. There is complete trust in God that no matter what we say or how we say it, God will hear our cries as God heard Israel’s cries in Egypt, in the wilderness and during the exile. There is trust that God hears us as God heard Jesus’s cry on the cross. There is trust that God will hear us as we lament today, tomorrow, and the next day. Should the Holy Spirit move in us, we must be willing to lament with one another and God about the injustices we encounter and see in the world. We must create space for lamenting within our church and within our community so that we do not become so unwilling to hear the cries of others. By lamenting together, we support one another through the journey that is our Christian faith.

We can learn to lament by actively reading the laments we have in scripture. Beyond the book of lamentations we encounter laments in the Psalms, the prophets, the calling of Israel, the life and ministry of Jesus, and in the writings of Paul and beyond. By ignoring or skipping over these uncomfortable moments of lament, we deprive ourselves of an avenue of communication with God and resist any opportunity for God to reach back to us.

By lamenting we move a step closer towards living out our spiritual discipline for this week in serving others. Through all types of prayer, God can call us to act and a prayer of lament is not an exception. As we continue on our journey, we can comfort those who grieve, we can join other communities as they lament for justice, we can become agents for change as God continues to bring God’s kingdom here and now on earth with us.

As we began our Lenten journey last week on Ash Wednesday, we marked ourselves with ashes in the sign of the cross as signs of the one to whom we belong and as a reminder for us that “we are dust and to dust we shall return” (Gen 3:19).  I cannot help but think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s quote that “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” In light of today’s passage I pray that we all have the strength to continue on our journey of faith. And that one day when that journey is complete and we return to the dust from which we came; I pray that the first words any of us hear are not the words of Jesus’s lament that he tried to gather us up under his wings and we were not willing. I pray that on that day we are all greeted by our Lord and Savior who runs to us as the father runs to his lost son, wrapping us in his arms who instead says, “Well done my good and faithful servant!” (Matt 25:21). To God be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

David Randolph (Ministry Intern)
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Decatur, GA
February 21, 2016