Luke 13:31-35 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
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.’”
A very interesting text that come to us from the gospel reading in Luke. We have warnings and from unlikely folks. We see two different types of animals referred to in describing actions of people. We see God taking on qualities of a woman who mothers her children. All while thinking of the song Kum Ba Yah.
Powery writes in his book “Were You There”,
“Regardless of where one finds themselves on the Lenten journey, this spiritual reveals a yearning heart that resonates with many who find themselves in a wilderness. That heart makes a repetitive plea: ‘Kum ba yah, my Lord,’ translated ‘Come by here, my Lord.’ It is a prayer for the presence of God wherever one might find oneself.”
Jesus was in a time of needing God to “Come by here” when dealing with the events in our gospel reading. This leads us to wonder why the Pharisees were trying to warn Jesus about Herod? Were they looking out for his welfare? Were they trying to get him to flee the country in hopes to save his life? Were they trying to goad Jesus into making a stand, overthrowing the evil Empire led by Darth Vader—oh wait I mean led by Herod? Actually, none of those are true—Jesus is not killed by Herod. He will go on to Jerusalem, be killed there as the prophets had been killed, and eventually come again as the Son of Man.
Throughout history Jerusalem has rejected the true prophets and tried to kill them, many times successfully unless they were able to get out of town and stay hidden—see Elijah and Elisha. More often than not the established church of the day, the synagogue, killed those who disrupted the status quo. Jesus himself was an agitator and disruptor of the status quo. The Mission for Jesus is to fulfill his calling to bring all righteousness to the people of God.
Jesus can not fulfill that mission by running away to Capernaum or Lystra or (FM/Brush). He must go to Jerusalem and it is a dark valley that he must walk. Jesus will have to “Come by here” from the words of the spiritual, meaning the temple and the city of pharisees and Sadducees. Jerusalem will reject Jesus and kill him. Its house, therefore, will be abandoned, and it will not see Jesus until he comes as the Son of Man.
Jesus calls Herod a fox. The fox is an animal that lurks around the edges, waiting for the right moment to seize its prey. The Bible consistently depicts evil as dangerous and predatory, nothing one can flirt with, without risking one’s life. As a representative of the powerful who oppress God’s people, Herod is depicted as a devouring fox. Herod wants to enjoy his wealth and entertain his friends and build monuments to himself. He has not time for a back-water, country hick from a no-nothing town like Nazareth becoming a nuisance. Least of all having to listen to those whining church people who get all moralistic and want something done about this so-called false prophet.
The danger to the community of God’s people is real and present. God is not only a redeeming God but a protecting and nurturing God. To illustrate this facet of God’s nature, the Bible turns to mothering images. Jesus likens his desire for Jerusalem, as God’s spokesperson, to that of a mother hen who instinctively draws her young under her wing when danger threatens. The Bible has several references to God mothering as n Ps 36:7 “Her love is steadfast.” And in Ps 17:8 we are the apple of her eye. And then in Isaiah and 1 Thessalonians we are reminded that a mother can not forget her nursing child.
There is a link between the mothering hen and the desire for God to protect God’s people. “How often has she wanted to gather her young to herself?” What more tender image could there be to describe God’s love for us.
Do we hunt like the fox and prey on the weak, or do we seek the protection of the hen and God’s redeeming love in our shelter of the mother’s wings? The answer is yes! When we are empowered, we want to stay on top and keep those who might threaten us in their place. When we are the vulnerable, we run and hide hoping someone or something will save us.
Imitators of Christ is what Paul calls us to be in his letter to the people of Philippi. This is why the Lenten journey can be so difficult for us. Following or imitating someone who was so despised by his peers that they had him crucified makes for a tough role model. Being unwilling to go with the flow and not rock the boat is just not in most people’s make-up. We like to think that we are our own person, but when push comes to shove, we don’t like shoving.
Paul calls out three things that get us into trouble, “their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.” (v.19). How true that is and it leads us right back to where Jesus was tempted by the devil last week in the wilderness—food, glory and earthly power. The ability to eliminate these in our lives is nearly impossible for us as mere mortals because we are not Jesus. We live in this tension of life. We know what is good for us and right for us, yet we are tempted to satisfy the yearnings of this world. We yearn for a champion to lift us up and out of our own selfish ways. That champion is not of this world—it is Jesus who is from another Kingdom and who also longs to be with us.
Powery writes, “You might need God right now, today regardless of your situation. Things may be fine with you. You could be singing up a storm full of joy, but this doesn’t neglect the need to pray, “Kum ba yah, my Lord,” nor your need of God in your life. This repeating line challenges us to make these words our words repeatedly. It suggests our vast need for the Presence (of God). Come by here, my Lord. It would be a sad pilgrimage without God. It would be lonely but the spiritual reveals a faith in asking, believe that the Lord will come by here. Will come by you today. Underneath these words of prayer is the reminder that when we pray this, God will come because God is a God who is with us. Here. There. And everywhere. With you. Today. Now.”
This is the purpose of our annual Lenten journey. A reminder that even though we are functioning adults, we need God in our lives. We need a cheerleader and friend, a comforter and a hope. “Kum ba yah, my Lord, Come by here!” Amen.