fox-in-a-chicken-yardOur Lenten journey continues as Jesus in confronted by a group of Pharisees. Luke’s gospel provides a reminder of the danger that Jesus faced and of the wonderful promise we find in the resurrection.

A Conspiracy

Text: Luke 13: 31-35

I enjoy reading the occasional mystery or thriller novel. Reading along, discovering clues and making guesses as to ‘whodunnit’. I imagine that writing such a novel must be a complicated affair. You would need to first figure out exactly who committed what crime. Then you would need to develop clues which the protagonist would be able to discover throughout the course of the novel.

The challenge as I see it is to not be too obvious when developing these clues. After all you don’t want the reader to discover who did it too soon. Better that the reader is left guessing wondering who amongst a multitude of characters is the guilty party.

What I truly enjoy in these types of books is when the antagonist is secretly aligned with a larger organization. Where we might see a conspiracy at works. Not only do we discover who did it, but perhaps we also learn that there is an organization or another individual who is orchestrating events. This is something that the James Bond film franchise has done over its lifetime. In the recent film Spectre we see this shadowy syndicate again as it tries to manipulate world events.

Of course in the world today we have those who believe that certain powers, organizations and corporations have secret agenda’s that they try to enact. Whether this is a multi-media company like Disney, some shadowy group named the Illuminati or the very real Bilderberg Group, some people just like to believe that there is some secret power which is really pulling all the strings.

It happens doesn’t it? Someone gets in cahoots with someone else and before you know it a little conspiracy is born. It is with this edge of suspicion that I would like us to approach our gospel reading this morning. The Pharisees, you remember them, they have been critical of Jesus at every step. It will be the Pharisees who see to it that Jesus is brought up on charges, arrested and executed. Well today these very same Pharisees have decided to come and warn Jesus.

“Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

Now I don’t know about you, but if I heard that someone was looking to kill me I might very well get out of town. I’d lie low for a bit.

Not Jesus. Nope, Jesus doesn’t decide to get out of dodge. In fact Jesus sees right through it. I mean Herod might want to kill Jesus, he did have John the Baptist executed. And while he might have been tricked into that decision let’s not think that Herod wouldn’t want this troublesome prophet named Jesus out of the way.

Herod has cast a shadow over the life of Jesus, but for the most part he is a far away threat. It is Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees which is interesting. He says, “Go and tell that fox for me…” In uttering this words Jesus does two things. First he indicates his utter contempt for Herod who only rules because the Emperor in Rome has placed him in power.

Second, he catches the Pharisees in their ploy. How did they know that Herod wanted him killed?

Are they in cahoots with Herod? If so, what are the leaders of the temple of Jerusalem doing having conversations with the puppet king the Romans have put in power? Jesus sees all of this. He sees right through the Pharisees.

Jesus continues, “I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.” Now this and the following statement may seem odd. It is a weird way to talk about the passing of time and a journey which is to be made. On first glance we might think this is one of those instances where the Greek language doesn’t translate to English very well.

However, theologian NT Wright explains it as follows, “What matters is that Jesus has a destiny to fulfil … It consists, in picture-language of two days’ work and one day’s completion. Two days to cast our demons and cure illnesses; ‘and I shall be finished on the third day.’ No careful reader of Luke’s gospel could miss the echoes, backwards and forwards: to the boy Jesus, found on the third day in the Temple; to the risen Jesus, alive again on the third day.”

What is the destiny that Wright is referring to? Well it is to go to Jerusalem and die. Jesus knows he must go to Jerusalem, that he will die at Jerusalem. So he tells the Pharisees, go back to your master. I know where I must go, I know what will happen.

Jesus sees through the conspiracy, knows in fact that it must happen. That he must travel to Jerusalem the city which kills its prophets because the people so often do not want to hear the truth which is embedded in God’s message. Today we are no different than those people living in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. Very often we do not want to hear the truth of what God’s message is.

We don’t like to be chastised, we don’t like to be told we are doing things wrong. So Jesus goes willingly into a place where he knows he will not be welcomed. Jesus is going to Jerusalem where he will preach a message that the ruling elite do not want to hear. Not only do they not want to hear it, they don’t want anyone else too either. Jerusalem is a place where Jesus will face not just bodily harm, but death.

It is then that Jesus utters the wonderful words, “Jerusalem, how often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.” It is an interesting statement and image for many reasons.

First a natural predator of the hen is the fox. Jesus names Herod as a fox, foreshadowing that yes Jesus will die at the hands of those who feared the message he was preaching. Then we have the image of Jesus as the hen protecting its brood. It is interesting for several reasons, first it is a maternal image. The hen is female, but most importantly this image illustrates exactly what Jesus does for us. When Jesus is charged and crucified, his arms are extended on that cross. Under those arms all of creation is protected. Jesus gathers us up under his arms and dies a death so that we can be redeemed and restored. Jesus knew he was going to die and he knew what his death would accomplish.

He wishes that Jerusalem would repent. That Jerusalem would see the error of its ways. That Jerusalem would turn once again towards God and to prepare the work of the kingdom. But, Jesus recognized that this was not going to happen. So Jesus goes to Jerusalem to fulfil his destiny.

Jesus goes to Jerusalem to take on the full force of the disaster which he has predicted. He goes to take the brunt of our sins, he pays the price for our transgressions. Jesus takes us under his arms and the one pays the price for the many.

A reminder to walk in the ways of Christ. To heed God’s call to justice, righteousness, grace and mercy for all people. A reminder that when we fail in that calling and we will from time to time fail, that Jesus is there sustaining all of us. That Jesus walks not only with us, but also with those that we have let down. A sobering reminder of how deeply and fully the grace of God extends. Amen.