Luke 13:31-35 (NRSV)
The Lament Over Jerusalem
31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 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. 33 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.’ 34 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! 35 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.”’
WHETHER or not the Pharisees have Jesus’ best interests at heart, one thing is clear from their words in the text – Jesus is heading for danger, of the fatal kind. Jesus brushes aside any fear of Herod. Instead, he instructs the messengers to tell “that fox,” that he is about his Father’s business, that of bringing in the Kingdom of God. (In the life and work of Jesus, the in-breaking of the Kingdom is already come, demonstrated in the healing of the sick and the release of the demon-possessed.) However, at no point does Jesus dismiss the threat of death; he only dismisses any fear of Herod.
Here, in Jesus’ words, Luke foreshadows his fate, with a subtle allusion to the three days he will spend in the tomb. Jesus as the prophet of God must die, but he will not die outside Jerusalem. The work to be completed lies both in the journey and the destination.
Death awaits Jesus in Jerusalem. In the Lukan narrative, it is no coincidence that Jesus, whose early life was marked by two significant events at the Temple, as an infant and as a twelve-year-old who stayed behind to quiz the teachers in his Father’s house, now sets his sights for this place once more. Jesus returns, one might say, to his spiritual home. He returns there to fulfil the words that Simeon and Anna spoke over him as a child. As he starts on his journey, Jesus laments over the city to which he will return.
He laments because God’s people have refused his embrace. In
the form of the prophets before him, and now in the life of Jesus, the brood rejects the hen. They have forgotten and scorned their identity and the one who gave it to them in the first place. Will we also reject and turn away from our Mother Hen? Repentance means turning home to the one who has claimed us and sought to cherish us.
The “house”, the Temple, remains, but not for long. Jesus will approach it when he enters the city on the donkey to the chant, “Blessed
is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Lk. 19:38), the very words quoted here. We must not lose the irony. What at first seems triumph for Jesus will turn quickly to death; yet triumph for his tormentors will lead to the city’s destruction. Returning home, for Jesus, means turning to his destiny - the consummation of his whole life, his death.
Jesus returns home to die. His death spells judgment for Jerusalem. The city does not recognise its saviour, so it will be thrown down.
How does this passage help our understanding of repentance? In Jesus’ own words, to go after him means to take up his cross and follow him. (Lk.9.23) To repent, if it is to return home to God (Lk.15 – 11 ff ) in a sense means walking towards our death. As they do the work of the Kingdom, proclaiming the good news to the world, Jesus’ disciples walk towards an end greater than themselves. And our repentance, our turning from worldly lures and anxieties back to God, means walking towards our bodily death, knowing that our eternal being lies in God. Repentance means dying to the self. It means walking towards the fulfilment of God’s Kingdom, which can mean dying like a prophet.
May we be those who find ourselves under the wings of God, nurtured by His love in this world and the next. May we, like Jesus, turn our face willingly to the place of death, so that the work of the Kingdom may be completed.
13:31 - The ‘Herod’ referred to here by the Pharisees is Herod Antipas who was the ‘tetrarch’ or ruler of Galilee and Perea and the son of Herod the Great who tried to have Jesus killed in Bethlehem while he was still an infant (Mt. 2:16-18).
13.32 - Exorcism and healing are specifically Messianic signs in Jewish tradition.
13:34 - As the cultural and religious centre of the Jewish people, Jerusalem had developed a reputation as an unsafe place for those who brought divine messages of challenge and change (cf. Matt. 23:33-39)
13:35 - “Your house is left to you”. Luke is writing after 70CE when the Temple was razed by the Romans, so his first readers are aware that it will not remain standing. See also Luke 19:43, where Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple, linking this with the refusal of God’s people to recognise “the things that make for peace”.
Jesus describes himself as longing to gather his people “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings”, but they were not willing. In what ways are we unwilling to embraced by God’s love and calling?
When Jesus describes himself as a mother hen, he is using language that may be unfamiliar to some. How does this image compare to the pictures that you have in your head of who Jesus is and what he is like?
“Repentance means turning home to the one who has claimed us and sought to cherish us.” What connotations does the word repentance have for you? In what ways have you heard it used? Has it been helpful or harmful?
What does it mean to ‘take up your cross’ or ‘die to yourself’ as part of following Jesus? What does this look like for us as individuals and communities?
Spend a few minutes in silence reflecting on the idea of Jesus being like the Mother Hen who longs to gather her brood under her wings.
Ask God to help you see ways in which you might‘die to yourself’.
Pray for the courage to be able to embrace his challenging invitation to take up our cross as we build his Kingdom.
Phil resides in sunny Southern California, having moved from Dublin to pursue a Masters of Divinity at Fuller Theological Seminary. Phil is passionate about the local church, and wants to encourage and develop deep, theological foundations for the conversations and life in the church. When not writing another paper for class, he can be found expanding his whiskey and coffee palette, composing prayer poems, travelling around a small percentage of the U.S., or engaging in another deep life conversation over a pint or two.