3-13-22 — Threats and Warnings — Luke 13:31-35 — Rev. Joshua D. Gill

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Threats and Warnings

Luke 13:31-35

Rev. Joshua D. Gill


The City of Jerusalem has seen a profound amount of bloodshed. Within the lifetime of many who knew Jesus, the Romans besieged the city and burned it, leveled the place, and began crucifying 500 hundred Jews each day. In 1099, Godfrey, Raymond, Tancred, and thousands of Crusaders broke into the Arab-controlled city and slaughtered the population. Ninety years later, Saladin took it back for the Muslims. Then in 1917, General Allenby took the city for the British. Firefights, wars, and terrorist attacks have been part of the city — a city in which three major religions call their home.  A city in which one of the best-known pilgrimages is the Via Dolorosa, “the way of sorrows.” [1]

In our text, the Pharisees come with a warning for Jesus. I think if Jesus was asked for a status update on his relationship with the Pharisees, he would probably say, “It’s complicated.” As the Jewish Annotated New Testament describes, Jesus shares at least three meals with Pharisees. The Pharisees are mentioned as part of the Christian Community in Acts, and they are not mentioned during the Passion Narrative. Instead, they seem to be repeatedly misunderstanding Jesus and his call.   Throughout Luke, the interactions with Jesus are very tense. He tells them frequently that they have neglected the poor and neglected justice; he warns his followers to beware of them. Josephus described how the Sadducees only had the rich on their side; the Pharisees had the crowds. So, when the Pharisee comes with this warning, it can be interpreted as an ominous threat or just another misunderstanding.  The Pharisees approach Jesus, telling him that Herod wants to kill him. This shouldn’t be news; Jesus had experienced attempts on his life before. In the gospel of Matthew, a different Herod made Jesus a refugee and had to flee for his very life to Egypt.

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is direct. He calls Herod a fox, which is not a compliment in this culture. Foxes are considered sinister creatures. He tells the Pharisee precisely what he has been doing, casting out demons, curing the sick, and that he will do it today, tomorrow, and on the third day.  Jesus is not running from danger, but he is running into danger.

One has to wonder if Jesus understood the future Jerusalem would face. He mourns for the city. Mourns that Jerusalem rejects him, mourns how they kill prophets and messengers from God. Even within this mourning, his response to a public threat against his life is to state how he would like to be like a mother hen who protects her chicks from a fox. Jesus continues to live into his purpose even as the danger grows. [2] Telling us that there are always foxes in this life and things will always threaten us, but there is always room under God’s wing.

On the internet and our TV screens,  we see bloodshed in another major religion’s home.  John Burgess, professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, writing for the Christian Century shares the following: to understand somewhat what is happening here, you need to go back all the way to year 988. The legend is that Prince Volodymyr chose to be baptized in Crimea and the Orthodox church became the official religion of the Byzantine Empire.  According to the legend, Volodymyr was so struck by the description of Orthodox liturgy that engages all the senses that he connected to God’s holy presence. When he returned to Kyiv, all his warriors and their families were baptized en masse in the Dnieper River. This state-sanctioned faith united the people, becoming part of the birth narrative for Ukrainians and Russians.  In the Middle Ages, Mongols swept through this area, destroying Kyiv.  With this conquest, focus of the Slavic Orthodox church moved to Moscow. With the conquest of Constantinople, mythology rose the Moscow became the Third version of Rome. The Polish/Catholic tradition influenced the Western portion of Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was dominant. Stalin oppressed these churches, and the priests and parishes had to go underground. The majority were forced to become Russian Orthodox. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian church made a comeback. Those churches began to display the Ukrainian flag and raised funds for the Ukrainian Army. These actions infuriated Putin and the Russian Orthodox church. [3]

We see the unprovoked attack on civilians on a neighboring nation; we have read stories of violations of the articles of war with the suspected use of cluster bombs and vacuum bombs.  We have heard stories of 2 million people fleeing their homes. Of the men from ages 18-60 staying behind and to serve their country. The women who are fighting alongside the men. These images and stories should cause us to mourn, weep, and cry out for peace.  While reflecting on this war, the Rev. Dr. John Burgess of the Pittsburgh Theological seminary noted that “for the Orthodox Church, Lent began on Sunday night. Typically, it begins with “a beautiful vesper service called forgiveness vespers.”  The war thus goes on even as Orthodox Christians “are praying for forgiveness from one another and from God,”[4]

It can be hard to know what to do in moments like these. We may cry out to God, wondering why God would allow more bloodshed. When we ask this question, we are in good company with the psalmist who said, “Why oh, why have you forsaken me” or “Why, O Lord do you stand so far off.” What scripture tells us is that Christ is right alongside all those experiencing these horrors. We can show solidarity with our neighbors affected by this war. We can give to organizations that are working to support the 2 million refugees already fleeing this war. We can pray for peace, pray for peace, and an end to violence. That God would gather these people all under the shadow of God’s wing.



[1] Green, Joel B. Connections A lectionary commentary for Preaching and Worship, pg 55.

[2] https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2022-03-07/luke-1331-35-3/n

[3] https://www.christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/russia-s-war-ukraine-about-religion

[4] https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/there-is-a-culture-war-going-on-in-this-war-and-poor-ukraine-is-stuck-in-the