The Second Sunday in Lent, Year C, St. Andrew’s Church, New Johnsonville

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” (Lk. 13:34).

I’ve never been to Jerusalem, but everyone I’ve ever spoken to who’s been tells me that it’s an unforgettable experience: the city of David and the seat of the kings of Israel; the site of the ruined Temple; and of course for Muslims, a holy place as well. No wonder people from many religious traditions make their way to Jerusalem.

For Christians, Jerusalem is above all else the place of Jesus’ death and resurrection. St. Luke’s Gospel never lets Jerusalem wander far from view; in fact, the city has been mentioned in our Gospel readings for each of the last three Sundays. We’ve been edged on to Jerusalem at each turn of the page, journeying on like Jesus himself to the city where everything, the most crucial part of his life in fact, will take place.

Our Gospel reading today lets us know about the conspiracy against his life. “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you,” the Pharisees tell Jesus (Lk 13:31). He’s casting out demons and curing people of illness, Jesus says, and “on the third day” (Lk. 13:32) he finishes his work: a reference to the resurrection. “Go tell that fox” (Lk. 13:32), Jesus says to the Pharisees, baiting the king who wants to kill him! Go tell Herod that I’m on my way.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” (Lk. 13:34). Jesus’ cry orients his own ministry, setting it within the context of the ministry of the prophets of God. Years before, the prophets were sent to proclaim the word of the Lord and to call the People to repentance, yet the People would not hear them. Our Gospel tells us that when Jesus journeys to Jerusalem he’s walking in their footsteps.

Take for instance the prophet Amos, who came to the Northern Kingdom and proclaimed, “Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you” (Amos 5:14). Amaziah the priest of the royal sanctuary at Bethel told him: Get lost, go back home and prophesy there, but never come back here, because King Jeroboam doesn’t appreciate being constrained in any way. He doesn’t like bad news.

The prophet Jeremiah had it even worse. He told the people of Jerusalem that the Babylonian army would destroy the Southern Kingdom; that the Babylonians were sent by God to punish the People for their sins unless they repented. This made King Zedekiah very angry, and Jeremiah was put in prison. Then the prophet told the People that they should surrender to the enemy army, because it was the only way to save their lives. This caused the authorities to threaten him with death, and Jeremiah was cast into the bottom of a muddy cistern. Kings don’t like to be contradicted, or to have their plans and decrees fooled with. Prophets in ancient Israel were in for a rough time.

Our Gospel sets Jesus in this great tradition. It’s a role he takes on with full knowledge. “Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem” (Lk. 13:33). He’s headed there under his own steam. He knows what’s ahead.

“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing” (Lk. 13:34). That’s the question for us, dwellers in Jerusalem, the city of this world. It’s a moment of decision. Jesus seeks to gather us like a mother hen: are we willing? Are we going to tell him to get lost, to never prophesy in our neighborhood again? Will we cast him out, threaten him with death? Well, by the time we get to Holy Week even worse things than this will have happened, and all humanity will stand implicated in the death of the Messiah.

Yet he still desires to gather us, to stretch out his loving arms for the world. Even today we’re invited to hear the word and to accept it. We may live in Jerusalem, the city that has stoned the prophets and crucified the Savior, but Jesus has come for judgment and mercy, crucifixion and resurrection. He comes for forgiveness, for the redemption of those who are willing. Now is the time. Jerusalem is the place.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee