Painful Path, Strong Faith: Reflections on Luke 13:31-35
In my United Methodist tradition, we baptize infants, whether they like it or not. Babies often cry when they are baptized. There are various theories as to why. The water is too cold. Their little white dress is itchy. My theory is that if they could talk they might say something like, "Wait a minute . . . what are you committing me to? What am I signing on for? Can you promise me that the life of faith will be easier than its alternative?" They can't talk and so they cry.
Nobody likes discomfort along the journey of life. That's why we coin little sayings to help us along the way like, "I can stand anything as long as I can whine about it," or "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
Neither of these sayings, however, fits our Savior's situation in Luke 13. He has signed on willingly for a journey whose path he knows will be littered with resistance, rejection, and likely death. He is not whining. He is lamenting. The context is an intense conflict of wills: the intention of Jesus' adversaries, the determination of the Messiah, the unwillingness of Jerusalem, and the determination of God to fulfill the divine will. Who signs on for this kind of drama?
How could it possibly end well? Jesus' faith in a redemptive outcome flows from his sense of mission and his deep relationship with the Father. Luke in turn offers his readers reasons for hope amid a difficult journey. There is the memory of the prophetess Anna's prediction that the child would redeem Jerusalem (Lk. 2:36-38). There is the reference to Jesus' finishing his work "on the third day" (13:32). "After three days" was a commonly used idiom to indicate "in a short time." Luke's readers would have seen in it a reference to Jesus' death and resurrection on the third day. I "finish" my work. This has the connotation of "perfect," or "consecrate." It is the word used for the consecration of priests in Exodus 29 and Leviticus 8. In Hebrews 2:10, 5:9 it describes Jesus' consecration through his death and resurrection to his high priestly work. (Ellis, 190)
Jerusalem is a site of great evil, but also of great things. Jerusalem is where human sinfulness and divine intervention meet. Our sinfulness meets a crucified prophet. Jerusalem is the end but it is also the beginning of something else, the Church. (Jensen 156)
"You're going to Jerusalem. Just expect to die." I am in awe of Jesus' faith and determination as he laments, and yet—in the context of loving determination—presses on. He presses on believing that, in this intense clash of wills, God's will prevails, believing that in the city of death, life awaits him, that in the midst of pain, there is glory.
In Luke, it's early days yet. There is still time to back out. But instead, our Savior says, "I must be on my way."
In this season of Lent let us set our feet on his path. Let us walk with him through resistance and discomfort. We will find that with him as our companion, the path leads to the joy of service and a love that is stronger than death.
Let us greet him each morning of Lent with these words from David's coronation psalm 118:26, fit for our Messiah King. "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
E. Earle Ellis, The Gospel of Luke in the New Century Bible Commentary Series
Richard A. Jensen, Preaching Luke's Gospel
E. J. Tinsley, The Gospel According to Luke, The Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible
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.