It was at that time that a group of Pharisees came up to Jesus and said:
“You’d better leave and get going out of here because Herod has plans to kill you!”
And he replied to them:
“Get going yourselves and tell that fox: Take careful note of the record: ‘I expel demons and I dispense cures today and tomorrow and on the third day I will reach my goal’. And nevertheless it is necessary to go on my way today, tomorrow and the day after that because it is not possible [it is simply not on], for a prophet to perish outside Jerusalem.
“Oh Jerusalem! Jerusalem! You persist in killing the prophets and stoning those who have been sent to her. How often I wished to gather her children as a mother hen encircles her brood under her wings, but you would not. Therefore, you can have your abandoned house to yourself. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time when you shall [indeed] say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
We have just read how Jesus responded to a vital question about God’s ongoing relationship with Israel, His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Clearly this question arose in a political context and Luke obviously knew that and is concerned to explain to Theophilus (and to us) the political significance of Jesus’ replies, parables and statements.
An abstract view that ascribes to Jesus the remoteness of the academic theologian – dealing rationally with the hidden mysteries of the “religious tradition” – will tend to read the foregoing discussion in those abstract terms. And so
… at that time a group of Pharisees came up…
will be read as a literary signal that here is a new fragment of all the diffuse information that Luke as collected together from his “field trip”, and he sends us as his readers this signal in order to keep the momentum of his good story going.
It seems quite possible to lapse into such a theologised reading of the New Testament text when, by becoming so absorbed with what it says in any particular place, we neglect what has been clearly said in the sentences which precede it. We can get carried away with our presumptions as translator, interpreter and exegete and will fall into the fallacy that we in our interpretation in retrospect can somehow piece together the writer’s narrative with greater coherencer that the author was able to do in prospect. And so, when an assumption of an eclectic arrangement of disparate sub-texts gains a foothold in our reading, we defer to our logical-reasoning abilities as if we in our adept ability to interpret are somewhat advanced beyond what these writers had attained in their efforts to construct their narratives. And so we give ourselves credit for bringing together the sense of the narrative in greater overall coherence with its presumed context.
The above paragraph does present a problem, or a series of problems, for those who, like ourselves, would seek to benefit from ongoing efforts to understand God’s Word by reading what is written in the Gospels. My point here is only that we should not exclude from our interpretative horizon the writer’s – in this case Luke’s – awareness of the difference, or the “distance” between what he was writing in putting pen to paper and the events as they unfolded and as they were conveyed to him by first-hand witnesses or by those who has also received the story of the Gospel from first-hand witnesses.
But as we have reiterated already, the political context is already a presupposed element to Luke which he has made clear from the very outset of his Gospel. Of course, let us keep in mind that he may have come to a deeper appreciation of the wide significance of Jesus’ statements for the political context as much as for paying taxes, forming domestic life and throwing parties. I am suggesting that as he continued to write his Gospel he may have experienced many “Ah hah! So that’s what it means!” moments, just as we do as we carefully go through what he has set before us as we deal with the text of our 21st century English-language bible. Should we not also reckon with the possibility that Jesus, fully Son of Man, may also have had such “moments” and that this may have been one such occasion?
It was at that very hour…
I am wanting to suggest that it was when Jesus was teaching in response to a very Jewish identity question about the character of God’s Kingdom, that some Pharisees warned Jesus about Herod. We have been alerted to the fact that Jesus was questioned about Pilate’s involvement in a blasphemous atrocity (13:1). We have heard of King Herod’s “interest” in the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist and his superstitious guilty fear that John had been raised (9:7) when he heard of the impact of Jesus’ ministry. The warning from the Pharisees,
[which is reminiscent of what the Lord God had said in another context to Abram (Gensis 12:1)] is also taken up in Jesus’ reply,
Get going yourselves and report what I am going to say to you to Herod your boss … !
Luke documents Jesus’ direct and unambiguous response. Said in this way it also decisively informed the Pharisees of Jesus’ intention to maintain his ministry. Luke perceives that Jesus well understood the deeply compromised place that Jerusalem now had for the outworking of God’s purposes.
At this point it seems feasible to infer that it was already the venue for a push-me-pull-you competition between Pilate and Herod as they suspiciously eyed each other’s ambitions for the Holy City, let alone sending out their minions to spy on this Galilean Rabbi. This is something that Luke is keen to follow up later in his Gospel (23:12), where he notes how these “movers and shakers”, who flagged through the profound injustice that brought Jesus to Golgotha, became fast friends as a consequence.
Get going yourselves and report back to your boss Herod…
The Pharisees were revealed by this statement to be acting as pathetic “double agents”, as a professional “third way” tricksters. If they had thought that Jesus would “get going” they had better think again.Instead, Jesus put them on the spot – they are simply acting as Herod’s messenger-boys.
Here’s what I have been doing. This is my calling. I have a purpose to fulfill that has been given me from above.
These fellow Jews with their elite status in Israel should be taking another path altogether.
And here, once more, is another of Luke’s transcriptions of Jesus’ poetic songs. It would be one he would be singing on his way up to Jerusalem, and it seems that by the time he reached Bethany, the outskirts of the holy city, he had taught many to join in.
How often I wished to gather, Jerusalem’s children just like a mother hen, But you would not. Just like a mother hen encircles her brood under her wings, But you would not. Therefore, have your abandoned house to yourselves. For you will not see me, you will not see me, Only when you shall say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’
That Psalm is obviously referring to Psalm 118:26. But is it also bringing together elements of those Psalms sung “on the way up” to Jerusalem? What I here suggest as Jesus’ psalm, prophetically reveals the welcome he is to receive (19:18). And this, with its confrontation of the Pharisees, is a singularly provocative moment. Later on, as the crowds joined in the chorus, the Pharisees were not at all impressed with the manner in which they welcomed this Rabbi to Jerusalem’s outer suburbs. For their part, they were wanting Jesus to place a ban on such singing (19:38-39).