The End of the Beginning

Mar 17, 2019 by

Luke 13:31-35

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.'”

 

Sermon by Garry Blinch

 

“The End of the Beginning”

(is the beginning of the end)

 

Jesus is indeed nearing the end of his earthly life. The words he says here- ” I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work” are not literal in their sense of timing, that in three days he would be in Jerusalem facing Pilate and the cross, but he was only weeks away from what we now call the Passion week.

That repetition of the formula “today, tomorrow and the next day” speaks of a set course, a determination to keep that course and it invokes a sense of divine purpose by presenting his work in a triadic way; the use of the divine number three.

So, the Pharisees seem to be offering this pointed but helpful advice that Jesus would be wise to take a hike, to vamoose out of the area in order to save himself from a powerful and cruel ruler; indeed, the very one who had his cousin John killed. Jesus response is an unequivocal “no”; three times, “no”. “I have a task to complete, a mission to fulfil, a destiny to embrace.

Was this particular group of Pharisees being helpful or expressing a genuine concern? There were some Pharisees who were well-disposed towards Jesus, such as Nicodemus; and there was Joseph of Arimathea was “a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God”; and Luke adds that he “had not consented to their decision and action” regarding the arrest and crucifixion.

I think Jesus’ answer clarifies the true nature of their supposed concern. He replies, “Go and tell that fox for me…” This implies one very real possibility, that the Pharisees were acting as Herod’s minions, that this local despot had indeed sent them in hopes of ridding himself of a trouble-maker. Remember that Herod had Jesus before him in chains not too long after this, and he doesn’t carry out any murderous plan but sends him toute suite back to Pilate!!

Jesus is saying, “Since you’re the messenger boys for Herod take my message back to him”. The Pharisees agenda and Herod’s were aligned, so it was a case of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’.

Jesus return message contains a very disparaging comparison, that of Herod to a fox. Foxes aren’t looked upon kindly in the Bible. They are little and wily and often destructive. In the Song of Solomon, “the little foxes spoil the vineyards.” (Song of Solomon 2: 15). In spite of their small size, they can cause a lot of damage.

Herod Antipas was the tetrarch (meaning “ruler of a fourth,” for the kingdom was divided) of Galilee. This Herod is son of Herod the Great, the one who was in power when Jesus was born and who slaughtered the innocent children.

When Jesus calls him “that fox,” he is not saying that he is as sly as a fox, although he might well have been. No, Jesus is actually insulting him, for a fox is an unclean animal in the Israelite holiness codes.

Though Herod often tried to appear the pious Jewish leader, he had a lot of difficulty maintaining the loyalty of his Jewish subjects. His first problem was his very authority. He had been put in power by Caesar Augustus, the Roman Emperor, in 4 BC. And then to honor his Roman overlords, he build a grand new capital city named Tiberius, after the current emperor, only to discover that it was built on top of an old Jewish cemetery. No pious Jew ever entered it, and it was inhabited almost exclusively by Greeks and Romans.

So in our story today the scene is set and the tension is mounting. Just a short time ago there had been a second attempt to seize Jesus after he claimed equality with God. The Judean leadership is frustrated in their inability thus far to stop Christ, and their words here look like a desperate attempt to get him out of the area.

They are hoping for an end. Jesus knows and accepts that the end is coming. But he also knows it is only the end of the beginning; the beginning of a revolutionized following that will grow like yeast and change the world.

Jesus’ next words sound quite sarcastic: “… it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’

At this time Jesus is in Perea, Herod’s domain. He was safer there than where he was going. His answer to the Pharisees implies, ‘You, not Herod, are my murderers. Jerusalem, not Perea, is the place for it.’”

He indicts Jerusalem as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it”. The irony is heavy. Jerusalem, the center of the worship of God, a city considered sacred because of the temple and all that it stood for and all the nation hoped for as a shining beacon for all nations to behold how God’s people lived and cared for one another and held fast to God’s laws… but in truth, full of the same political intrigue and power mongering and willingness to murder to keep power as any other nation.

We must beware, though, lest we ever think that we would have done any different. When we see the actions of these ancient rulers and people it is but a reflection of the human condition and our need of the transforming work of the Christ in our lives. We live in no less violence than they did and we are responsible for what we know and what we have.

The narrative turns sharply, painfully, beautifully to the yearning heart of God.

“How often have I longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

How appropriate, after calling Herod a fox, Jesus likens himself to a hen. The hen calls and protects her chicks from threats such as foxes. If they will not stay under her protection they are easy pickin’s for foxes  and other predators.

Jesus says this is what has happened as a result of your unwillingness to live in a relationship characterized by compassionate protection is that “your house is left to you”.

In other words, it was not God’s judgement that resulted in Jerusalem being destroyed but the consequences of people’s own choices. God calls and warns, but we are free to do it our way.

At the time of Christ the Romans ruled Jerusalem and Judea through their representatives and largely allowed free religious practice in Judaea. At times, the divide between monotheistic and polytheistic religious views caused clashes between Jews and Gentiles. On top of this there was oppressive taxation and, of course, the fact of being a subjugated nation. So, some 30 years after Christ’s death and resurrection there was a Jewish Revolt. The revolt was successful at first: Jewish forces quickly expelled the Romans from Jerusalem, and a revolutionary government was formed that extended its influence into the surrounding area. In response, the Roman emperor Nero sent a force to deal with them  that pushed the majority of the rebels into Jerusalem by the time Vespasian was proclaimed emperor in 69 CE.

In April 70 CE, about the time of Passover, the Roman general Titus besieged Jerusalem. Since that action coincided with Passover, the Romans allowed pilgrims to enter the city but refused to let them leave—thus strategically depleting food and water supplies within Jerusalem. Within the walls, the Zealots, a militant anti-Roman party, struggled with other Jewish factions that had emerged, which weakened the resistance even more. Josephus, a Jew who had commanded rebel forces but then defected to the Roman cause, attempted to negotiate a settlement, but, because he was not trusted by the Romans and was despised by the rebels, the talks went nowhere. The Romans encircled the city with a wall to cut off supplies to the city completely and thereby drive the Jews to starvation.

By August 70 CE the Romans had breached the final defenses and massacred much of the remaining population. They also destroyed the Second Temple.

To me, this is what it ultimately means to ‘have your house left to you’. The best man can do is keep peace by force, try to negotiate, try to assert rights; but the hurt ones want injustice to be met with pay back.

Our penchant for violence, eye-for-eye, revenge –even in seemingly righteous causes, the oppressed quickly  become oppressors, abused become abusers.

All from Humanity’s unwillingness to be gathered under the care and guidance of a loving God.

The only way to end the cycle of violence is to not return in kind, to forgive the abuser and oppressor. To turn the other cheek as Bob was teaching us, in the manner of standing tall, looking the striker in the eye as an equal and refusing to ‘give as good as you got’.

The end of the beginning. The end of a cycle of violence is the beginning of endless possibilities for growth, the forging new communities and a richer life for all through cooperation. Kinda like what Christ accomplished; when his life ended, it was the beginning of communities that spread all over the world and defied all the usual barriers of race, class, culture, age, gender…you name it!

May our Mother Hen deliver us in our day from the foxes of divisiveness and fear, that we may live in the richness of unhindered communities wherever we are.

Amen.

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