- He Answered Them
A Short Sermon on Luke 13:31-35
Updated: Jan 1
Luke 31-35 brings about some uncomfortable parallels regarding the events occurring in Eastern Europe; it can seem perhaps a little trite to discuss some of the theology raised in the passage, but it truly shows us the message of Christian hope: The work to bring about the Kingdom of God must continue, even in the face of tumult and conflict.
To put this into perspective of a first Century Jew, we must realise who the Herods were: There is no single King Herod in the Bible, The Herod’s were a royal dynasty that reigned Judea and Samaria between 47bc and 97ad- they bookended Jesus’ entire time on Earth as the son of Man. The first Herod was called Antipater the Idumaean, and the Jewish Historian Josephus tells us he was born in the lands of Edom; he was an Edomite, if that race of people rings a bell somewhere in your mind it’s because you've met them before, back in the book of Genesis. The Edomites are descendants Esau, who was the twin brother of the patriarch Jacob. In biblical prophecy, confirmed by history: we read in Genesis 25, that God tells the mother of the twins, that in her womb are two nations who will be greatly divided, those two nations are the Edomites (that is the Herods) and the Israelites (that is the Jews): so, what we can understand from the first part of the reading, is that the Gospel events are framed in this Conflict.
The form the conflict takes is of deeper significance. In Hebrews 12:16 we are told that Esau is considered to be godless because of the way he gave up the inheritance of the original Covenant of Abraham. The implied meaning here is that the Edomites, and anyone under their control are doomed to a godless existence, and yet the Pharisees: the spiritual leaders of the times, are facilitating the rule of the Herods, the conflict between Herod and Jesus is spiritual in nature, and it is about the souls of the people. It’s so age old that it’s almost a natural state of things. Jesus alludes to that by comparing himself to a Hen and Herod to a fox, beyond maybe the conflict between cats and dogs there is no greater analogy.
Moreover, the original Greek manuscript, when it says Herod means to Kill you, uses the word apokteino which could mean both to end natural life, or end a spiritual life. We know that the Herods don’t mean to physically kill Jesus, as they have their chance later in Luke’s Gospel and merely hand him back to Pilate. This spiritual death, the ceasing of Jesus’ ministry would mean much more for the Pharisees. They need Jesus to leave the area governed by the Herods, but that area is split into what is known as Tetrachy, a huge area of the Levant controlled by the Herods: Herod Archaleus, Herod Antipas, Herod Phillip II and Herod’s sister Queen Salome.
This is the reason this reading is used in the period of Lent; Lent is about placing your heart into the correct place. Ordering your spiritual life around what is truly important despite any obstacles. That’s why, traditionally, Christians give up certain things at this time, certain pleasures, so that we can focus on important spiritual truths.
The previous week's scripture in the liturgical calendar to this chapter is Luke 4:1-12, Satan’s temptation of Christ. 40 days where Satan seeks to make Jesus use his spiritual gifts for himself alone. To feed himself, protect himself and to take things for himself. Much like what the Pharisees had started to do, using their spiritual monopoly for their own gain, but Jesus has no intention of doing that. His heart is in the right place. He knew what was coming to him and he wasn’t prepared to stop.
The word quarantine derives from this biblical concept of 40 days away from something, the Roman word quadraginta meaning 40, Jesus comes out of his quarantine and faced the same problem albeit from a different source: people wishing to stymie the good spiritual works needed to bring about the Kingdom of God. To take his heart away from what was important, this time it is a Pharisee.
Putin could be seen as a modern-day Pharisee, although he is guarded about his religious beliefs he is closely tied to the Russian Orthodox church. It is an uncomfortable truth for Christians, but he has used the idea of the Holy Rus- that is a religiously unified Belarus, Ukraine and Russia as part of his pretence for launching invasion. Like how the Pharisee used the name Herod as a means of leverage, it’s clear that spiritual truth can become second to political motivations. It’s clear Putin is misguided, and his version of the Kingdom of Heaven is vastly different from that of Jesus’.
That is why it is important that we have our hearts in the right place.
We too, emerge from our quarantine, in which we had ample time to figure out where our hearts should be. And although the world is different, it has changed very little. Just like for Jesus. Nowadays there is still war, still death, still loneliness and there is still daily tragedy affecting millions. Good works, good spiritual works are still needed. Prayer is still needed, for Ukraine and for Vladimir Putin. The real Kingdom is needed, and the work Jesus began we must c