Painful Path, Strong Faith: Reflections on Luke 13:31-35
February 24, 2013
Before I went to Honduras for a week a couple summers ago, one of my well-traveled students gave me this advice: "You're going to a poor area of a two-thirds-world country. Just expect to be uncomfortable. That will make it easier to endure."
In Matthew, the lament over Jerusalem comes after Jesus has entered Jerusalem as a despairing conclusion to his ministry. It conveys the pathos that it is the one who loved the nation most who has the mission of pronouncing its doom.
In Luke the lament comes much earlier, in chapter 13, at the heart of Luke's Travel Narrative, in the middle of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem. In Luke I hear, not a note of doom, but of determination, the determination of the Messiah not to stop until God's plan is achieved and repentance and forgiveness of sins are preached to all nations (Lk. 24:47). (Jensen, 155)
It's akin to my student's warning, "Expect to be uncomfortable," with the element of death thrown in for good measure. "Expect resistance and rejection to litter your path as you proceed to Jerusalem. Expect your journey to end in your death."
The lament over Jerusalem this early in the game is a tipoff that it is not going to end well. How could it? Just think where Jesus is going. To Jerusalem, a city that stands as a symbol for Israel as a whole, that exists under the judgment of God (19:41-44, 21:20-24, 23:27-31). Jerusalem is the city that "kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it" (Lk. 13:34). How could it be anything other than the end of the road for Jesus' earthly life?
How could it end well? Just think who Jesus is. He is a prophet like Elisha and Elijah. Luke highlights the parallels between Jesus and Elijah back in chapter 7. Elijah healed a widow's son in 1 Kings 17:8-24, and Jesus heals a widow's son in Luke 7:7-17. Elisha healed Naaman in 2 Kings 5 and Jesus heals a centurion's slave in Luke 7:1-10. But, as we learned as early as Luke 4:24, "No prophet is accepted in his own country." On the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:19-21) the disciples explain to Jesus the details of his own identity in a way that is almost comical to us. We already know that he was a prophet mighty in word and deed who was rejected and killed. Luke 13:31-35 was just one of several spoiler alerts (Lk. 7:24-30; 9:7-9, 18-23, 9:51-56).
Jesus is a prophet like Moses and given a similar cat herding task—to reunite the scattered people—a frequent theme in the Old Testament and one reflected in Luke 13:34. (Tinsley p. 150) In Psalm 106:23 Moses is described as the prophet who suffered for the sins of the people and stepped into the breach between them and God.
How could the journey of a prophet to Jerusalem end well? Maybe if the prophet realized the danger, was overcome by the prospect of discomfort, and turned back. But Jesus is a determined sort. "I must be on my way" (Lk. 13:33). "There is a sense of determination and inevitability in Jesus' view of his journey toward Jerusalem.
I admire people who have this kind of determination. I sometimes think that if I had known what I was getting into, I wouldn't have gotten into it. You can apply that to whatever situations in your life you like, and I'll do the same. At the first sign of discomfort, I think why did I make this commitment to . . . It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I can't remember why . . . This is harder than I thought it would be . . . I didn't sign on for this . . . No one told me about this . . .
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.