In the early 1970s, a Saturday night staple was the TV show, Emergency! It was a show about 2 brave paramedics from Squad 51 of the LAFD. When Johnny & Roy were in danger, pulses raced. Although not a devoted fan, I enjoyed the show. One week on a Saturday night my folks went to visit some friends & took my brother & me along. The children of our friends were not accustomed to watching Emergency! & so at 8:00 PM, they turned on another show. I told them that my parents did not allow me to watch that particular show & so we should not have it on. The other kids relented, & soon we were watching Johnny & Roy on their TV.
As it happened, it was not true that my parents did not allow me to watch the other show. I won’t say that I lied. It was more of what Winston Churchill once called “a terminological inexactitude.” But to hide my motivation, I made up something that pointed to an authority figure whose influence would steer things my direction. I said, “If we watch this, you’ll have to deal with my parents.”
I think something like that was behind the Pharisee’s warning to Jesus about Herod’s alleged plans to harm him. When we read this passage a few moments ago, it should have struck you as vaguely surprising to see the Pharisees, of all people, huddling around Jesus so as to protect him from harm. After all, Jesus & the Pharisees did not exactly see eye to eye on most things. What’s more, we are not too far in Luke’s gospel from a time when the Pharisees will serve as Herod’s cheerleaders in not just roughing up Jesus but actually executing him! So when we read that the Pharisees appear to be protecting Jesus in this passage, we have to conclude that either Jesus had finally run into a group of kinder, gentler Pharisees or something else is going on.
I think something else is going on & I suspect it is something devious. My hunch is that whether or not Herod was really taking note of Jesus & planning some harm for him, the Pharisees mention this to Jesus only as a way to get rid of him. In truth, it was not Herod who wanted Jesus out of Jerusalem; it was the Pharisees, the religious establishment. Jesus threatened much of what the Pharisees stood for, as even earlier parts of chapter 13 show. He cozied up to the very sinners & tax collectors whom the Pharisees shunned. He told stories that, despite being a little hard to figure out, surely seemed to paint religious leaders in a bad light. In fact, the closer Jesus got to Jerusalem & to the very center of the temple establishment, the more threatened the Pharisees felt. It was bad enough that Jesus caused a ruckus out in the sticks in Capernaum & Galilee, but they could not afford to have him within the perimeter of the temple. That would be too close to home. Go! Get away from here, they said. Herod wants to kill you. But it was the harm Jesus would cause to them that was their real concern.
In reply to this, Jesus says that although Herod is something of a fox, he wasn’t going to let Herod chase him away or cause his work to cease. Twice in this passage Jesus refers to a 3-day span of time – today, tomorrow, & the next day – which is a very Jewish way of referring to a significant event. Any time in the Bible where you read that a certain event took 3 days, with the culmination occurring on the third day, you know it is something deeply meaningful. At this point in Luke, Jesus is not yet referring directly to his resurrection on the third day but seems to be saying that the whole course of his ministry bears such a huge significance that no one – not Herod, not the Pharisees, not even the forces of hell itself – will ever derail him. Jesus never stops.
And no sooner did Jesus say that & he goes on to reveal a key reason why he would never stop: he has a heart as big as all creation. Jesus looks at Jerusalem, & his heart breaks. The Pharisees attempt to chase Jesus off only added to the sadness Jesus felt for God’s children. He was coming to Jerusalem to fulfill a ministry that would offer salvation by grace to all. But the closer he gets to it, the more people try to wave him off or chase him away. Indeed, when Jesus says in verse 32 that he will soon reach his goal, that word in Greek is the word that means “to fulfill” or “to complete.” The goal Jesus has in mind is not some artificial finish line. Jesus’ goal is the salvaging of all creation.
But the closer he gets to that goal, the more Herod the fox & those foxy Pharisees try to chase him away. Since he is surrounded by foxes anyway, Jesus decides to make the apt move of calling himself a mother hen. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets & stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. Jesus never stops calling God’s little ones to come to him, to come under the wings of his grace & salvation. He never stops. But the world keeps trying to stop him & sometimes, alas, the most religious people in the world try to stop him too.
To get their own way, the Pharisees pointed their finger at a secular figure like Herod, using his alleged threat to advance their own agenda. But the result was a foxlike chasing away of Jesus. This kind of thing happens. In fact, it keeps happening. The Pharisee’s strategy isn’t dead even in the church. How often do we hear loud cries from some church leaders about the threat represented by a certain political figure, by this or that organization, by the so-called culture war or “the war on Christmas?” Some keep saying it is the people “out there” who are the problem. But sometimes the longer & louder we say that, the more people “out there” feel like we don’t want them “in here.” And maybe that is partly true. By going on & on about this world’s Herods, maybe what we are really trying to do is keep Jesus all to ourselves by chasing away those we’re not sure about inviting in.
Maybe Herod really was making noises about roughing up Jesus. Maybe. But it wasn’t Herod who ultimately made sure that Jesus got hoisted up on a cross. That grim task was taken up by the Pharisees & their ilk. They were the ones who made sure that the dear chicks whom Jesus wished to take under his loving wing never got anywhere near Jesus. The Pharisees were the ones who made sure Jesus was made into such an ugly public spectacle that people hid their faces from him, whisked their children out of the way so they would not have to look upon the horror Jesus became.
But Jesus never stops. He never stops calling us to himself. He never stops lamenting all the lost “chicks” out there, & he wants them to come under the protection of his wings. What we should want more than anything is to help people hear the gracious invitation that comes ever & again from Jesus the Hen. But do we? Do we make Jesus & his grace the focus of our energies & public testimonies, or do we tend more often to rail against our enemies & all those who disagree with us? When people listen closely to us, do they hear us waxing eloquent about Jesus & his love or complaining that science or the media or the government are out to get us?
These are not easy things for us to ponder. But then, Lent is a time to think about hard things. Lent is a time to see ourselves as the people who contributed to Jesus’ pain, as the ones for whose sins Jesus died. And so Lent is a time to redouble our determination to leave our sins behind & stay in step with the Spirit as a response to the wonderful grace of Jesus that has caught up every one of us despite our ugliness, despite our sins, yes, despite even our attempts to prevent Jesus from doing what he came into this world to do: namely, to call all people to himself.
As our Scripture shows us, despite everything, Jesus never stops. In Lent & at all times this is something we see each time we gather at the Lord’s Table. Again & again Jesus calls us to himself, to fellowship with him in the holy supper. We are called each time to go under the wings of Jesus the Hen. And that’s really just another way of saying that we are being called home.
At a conference on the sacraments some years ago, NT Wright noted that according to Calvin’s theology, what happens to us in the Lord’s Supper is that we really are elevated into the presence of Christ. Space, time, & matter coalesce in a deep mystery in which we really do go home to where Christ is at the right hand of the Father. We really do come under his wings when we respond to the invitation to come to the feast. For now, we do not remain there, but we glimpse & experience again the home that has been prepared for us by grace.
Friends, it is a glorious thing to be a chick under Jesus’ wings. It is a glorious thing to know we have this home. That’s why those of us who are blessed to be brought home to Jesus the Hen need to go forth from this place to do all that we can to repent of any tendencies we have to chase chicks away from Jesus & to do all that we can to make sure that Jesus’ soulful, compassionate, deeply loving invitation to gather God’s chicks to himself is heard loud & clear by our neighbors, our coworkers, our friends, & our family.
The Gospels tell us that the moment Jesus began his public ministry, he found himself in the wilderness being confronted by the devil. Jesus’ ministry wasn’t 5 minutes old before someone tried to stop him. And the opposition never relented. But Jesus never stops. Foxes abound in Jesus’ chicken coop. But Jesus never stops. He never stops. And so this day he calls you & me yet again. Tomorrow he wants to use us to call still more to join us at Christ’s table in the future. He never stops.
Neither should we. Amen.