Commentary on Luke 13:31-35
This text reminds us of Jesus’ daily ministry in the face of his approaching passion.
In Luke 9:51, Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem where he knew that he would face opposition from religious leaders and eventually death (9:22). Along the way, he demonstrates the presence of God’s kingdom through repeated deliverance from demons and healing from sickness. Crowds of people from Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem follow Jesus along his journey. Today, Jesus might have a host of social media followers tracking his journey on foot from Galilee to Jerusalem and turning out to see him in person as he passed near their town. Wherever Jesus goes, he brings signs of God’s kingdom.
Jesus’ daily ministry:
Every day (what Jesus described as “today and tomorrow”), Jesus is about the work of healing and deliverance. Since the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4), this has been the work that Jesus has done. There are specific stories of Jesus’ deliverances in a synagogue (4:33), among the tombs (Luke 8:27-39), and generally among the crowds who came to see him (4:41). Jesus also gives his disciples power to enact deliverance (9:1; 10:17) and explains that deliverance is a sign of God’s kingdom breaking into this world (12:20). Similarly, Jesus has healed many people (4:40) sometimes without regard for the appropriate time and place. He has healed in the synagogues and on the Sabbath, and these very actions bring criticism from the religious authorities (6:7). And Jesus sends his disciples out to heal (9:2). Healing and deliverance are central aspects of Jesus’ message and daily work, and they are still available today. As preachers, we might think about the need for healing and deliverance within the church as well as for those who are not yet part of God’s people.
Jesus’ approaching passion:
As Jesus goes about his daily work of healing and deliverance, he is also keenly aware of his destination. There are two senses here. He knows he is headed to Jerusalem and to his death. While Herod (the same ruler who had John the Baptist beheaded) wants to kill Jesus, it is clear that Jesus is in charge of his own timetable. Today and tomorrow Jesus will continue his daily work, and Jesus is the one who will complete that work. It will be completed on the third day. The third day is an allusion to Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 9:22; 18:33; 24:7). Jesus’ work of healing and deliverance does not end with his crucifixion. No. It is made perfect and complete by his resurrection. Although Jesus is aware that he is traveling towards Jerusalem — a city with a hostile record towards prophets — his work will not be undone by death. Rather, it will be completed by resurrection. As we contemplate Jesus’ passion during Lent, let us also remember that Jesus’ death was only one part of the process by which Jesus completes his work of deliverance and healing among his people. Attention to his death should not exclude reflection on his resurrection during this season.
Jesus is headed towards the historic seat of Jewish power where both kings and priests have their home. Prophetic ministry in the face of power is a dangerous activity that jeopardizes the lives of those who would speak the truth of God’s kingdom to the powers that be. Jesus is no exception. But what is surprising is Jesus’ reaction. He characterizes the city as killing prophets and apostles (“those who are sent,” Luke 13:34), but his response is the compassion of a mother. Jesus longs to gather Jerusalem under his wings (v. 34). Jesus longs to comfort those who would reject him. He envisions Jerusalem as a brood of vulnerable chicks in need of their mother’s protection and longs to offer the same protection, salvation, to the very city where he will die. Unfortunately, Jerusalem also has a longing. The city does not want to be gathered under the salvation of Jesus.
In this passage, we see three examples of longing. “Want” (the word θ?λω, thelo, may be translated as “wish,” “will,” “would,” or “desire” depending on the English translation) is used three times in this text. First, the Pharisees report that Herod wants to kill Jesus (v. 31). Next, Jesus tells us that he wanted to gather Jerusalem under his wings (v. 34). Finally, Jerusalem is described as a city that did not want to be gathered (v. 34). During this season of Lent, we might ask ourselves what it is that we long for and desire. Do we want to experience the ministry of Jesus even if it is uncomfortable or challenging? Or, are we tempted to respond with murderous anger (Herod) or perhaps rejection (Jerusalem)? Do we long to be like Jesus, to be able to find compassion for our enemies, even those who want to put us to death? In this world of religious and political violence, what does it mean to long for our enemies to experience Jesus’ compassion even as we ourselves have?
Jerusalem’s refusal to be gathered by Jesus is not without consequences. The city is described as abandoned and unable to see Jesus until the day when they receive “the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Psalm 118:26). Although a large crowd of Jesus’ disciples will shout this same passage when Jesus rides into Jerusalem (Luke 19:38), Jerusalem itself will become the place of Jesus’ death. Those who reject Jesus’ compassionate offer of salvation, deliverance, and healing, find their city rejected, abandoned, and left to its own devices.1 In this season of Lent, as we contemplate the ministry and passion of Jesus, we must also remember that rejection of his ministry comes with consequences of our own choosing. Jesus’ longing is to have compassion, but his longing must be met by our own longing for salvation, deliverance, and healing.
1 Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, NICNT, Eerdmans, 1997, p. 539.