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 away from 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.” ’ (NRSV).
It would seem that even the traditional opponents of Jesus saw danger in heading for Jerusalem. Some even understood this clearly enough to warn of the intentions of Herod. Not all the Pharisees were enemies. Our dangerous categorisation of others – or even them of themselves – is rarely as accurate as we would like.
But even their warning can not keep Jesus away from the holy city. In fact, he clearly and openly intends to continue his teaching tour all the way into the heart of the ‘city that kills the prophets’. On his way he will simply do the work God called him to: ‘…casting out demons and performing cures…’. He will continue to usher in the kingdom of God.
Even this far out there are signs that this will not be a quiet, unnoticed pilgrimage.
By now there is an expectation of death. Things have certainly evolved and become clearer for Jesus. As the passages we have considered through Lent indicate, Jesus’ mission-understanding has slowly found clarity. It has moved from a voice heard at a baptism to a resolute and determined path to Jerusalem.
Jesus has grown in his calling.
It is quite a thought. The Son of God become so human as to learn. As the Apostle Paul suggested, Jesus ‘…being found in human form…humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.’ (Philippians 2:7-8). This road to Jerusalem is taken – like all of his ministry – in humble obedience to God.
So perhaps there is something appropriate about admiring the courage displayed here. Herod does not have an outstanding track record when it comes to human rights. His reported threat is backed by a trained army that will do all that is commanded. They are not inclined to respect the often-claimed Messianic title.
But it is not the army that finds focus here. Rather it is Herod and the city he oversees.
Jerusalem. A city with a history of silencing those who speak out against the powers. Her streets are replete with thrown stones and dead prophets. It has become, for Jesus at least, the city’s reputation. This was a place of expected danger long before Herod took power.
But while Jesus can speak openly of his coming death his overriding emotion is grace. Even as he describes Jerusalem’s past, Jesus is sending out a plea – one that just may reach Herod himself – for a willingness for this city to find nurture and protection under his wings. It is a picture – another parable urging the imagination to take flight – of love and the trinity’s desire to hold and cover.
Yes, God desires. The heart of God is not unmoved.
All too soon this passion will overflow into tears as Jesus surveys the walls that will crumble against the invading armies of Rome. Jerusalem and all it inadequately protects will be crushed and broken. Why? ‘…because you did not recognise the time of your visitation from God.’ (Luke 19:44).
Such words can be read harshly – as though this is a divine payback. But they are spoken through the tears of God and reinforce Jesus’ un-revoked invitation for Jerusalem to hide under his sheltering wings.
It would seem that it is difficult – if not impossible – to reject God enough to quench this willingness to embrace.
And so Jerusalem is left in their hands. All too soon this great city will gather in fulfillment of the words of this final prophet. They will shout, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’ while paving the road with branches and clothing.
But this will not be the only prophecy fulfilled. Jerusalem’s habit of taking out the tellers-of-truth will find voice – and its accompanying violent action – once again.
But so will God’s grace.
Grace too will find voice – crying out from Golgotha. And then – after three days of deathly silence – God’s grace will violently overthrow death itself.
Grace – simply because it is the essence of God – will win.