LECTIONARY READING: Luke 13:31-35
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.'”
WOW, you think you know a person… Finally, after many months, I went to the protest at the White House. Our very own Emmaline has been there for 213 days. Wait, that’s now 214. Through heat and cold, sweat and snow. Day after day after day. 214 days. That’s commitment.
I’m ashamed to admit that it took me that long to stop by and see it… but I think somehow I knew how hard it would be to attend. Even as they were getting underway, and a small crowd of people started to gather, I was already feeling uncomfortable. Many of the people gathered were only slightly interested, while others were eager to be dismissive or even derisive. And everyone, it seemed, was unimpressed by the– shall we say– lack of professionalism. All of us are so oversaturated with overproduced, slick, professional presentations that it’s a little underwhelming to see several ordinary citizens speaking passionately and off-the-cuff about matters close to their hearts. It’s not professional, or polished, and so it seems ripe for dismissiveness.
And wow, does that ever happen! Some low moans, some quiet jokes, some smart-aleck cracks. Escalating all the way up to people who will shout and run around and grab the signs on display…. one man was running laps around the group, shouting the whole time. If you care about your friend who is up there, you can’t help but want to protect her from all of this.
But that was exactly the power of this protest. This was the prophetic genius, embodied in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. Because this is a non-violent, peaceful protest. So hecklers are allowed to heckle. Sign-grabbers are politely asked to put the signs back. Police and Secret Service are thanked and honored. Profanity is not allowed. And a funny retort will earn you a smile or even a snicker from the designated speaker.
Oh, and I forgot to tell you about the powerful, brilliant humor embedded in this protest. They are deadly serious about their grave concerns about the President, but they don’t take themselves too seriously. You know her as Emmaline, but there she is known as Trumpet Lady. And there is also Snare Drum Lady, and Tambourine Lady. And Dragon Lady, who paces back and forth delivering an almost religious litany of denunciations… clothed in a furry dragon costume, with a flag draped across her back, while waving another flag. Trumpet Lady (aka, Emmaline) will cue up popular karaoke songs, but sing lyrics that have been adapted for the occasion. It’s pretty cheesy, yes, but that’s part of the point. Trumpet Lady has a fantastic voice, and the lyrics are hilarious, and soon people are singing along and busting out their best dance moves.
Here’s some prophetic truth about prophetic protest: if you’re going to make fun of a person in a Dragon costume, guess which one of you looks foolish? If you’re going to try to shout down a woman unapologetically belting out I Will Survive, which one of you is the dumb one? If you can laugh at yourself, you’ve gained some kind of superpower status— you are invincible!
The Lectionary Reading for today depicts a similar scene. There are hecklers all around, mockers, and detractors. And some folks who are even more dangerous.
13:31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”
Now right on the face of this, we should not take these words at face value. This is a disingenuous request (like spectators on the sidewalk). These religious leaders approach Jesus and say, “Hey, you should be quiet and keep a low profile– the Roman leader is looking to kill you!”. But of course as we know from the larger narrative, these religious leaders aren’t exactly on Jesus’ side. They have been opposing him at every turn, and Jesus has responded in kind. So when they sidle up to Jesus and say, “Hey, friend, look out!” they are really serving their own interests.
But Jesus, at least in this situation, takes them at face value. He doesn’t address their duplicity but speaks much more directly of the threat.
13:32 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.
Jesus seems to affirm that indeed, Herod wants to kill him.
Now, this term ‘fox’ is not the one we used in the 70s and early 80s to describe pretty girls… not Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady”.
It’s a catty insult comparing the supreme leader to an animal that was considered of quite a low standing.
(Ella chimed in here to give some historic-literary background of the archetype of ‘fox’ as a scheming figure in many literary traditions.)
Jesus boldly pronounces that he will continue to do his work.
13:33 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.’
13:34 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!
13:35 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.'”
Jesus uses some incredible, touching, and particularly maternal imagery… motherly language. “I want to gather the children like a chicken gathers her chicks under her wings to protect them” It’s wonderful, arresting, and counter-cultural– both then and now. Jesus is tender, nurturing, gentle. We should pause and let this sink in.
At the very same time, this passage also expresses some troubling assumptions and perspectives.
I heard a fantastic interview this week with Barbara Brown Taylor, who I absolutely love. Back in the day I read all of her published sermons, and wrote an article for a magazine, and when I met her years later she thanked me for it!
She was talking about her new book, which is about finding God in the faith of others. And in the interview, she spoke at some length about getting a letter from a man who had also been reading her published sermons. He liked them, of course, but also noted his disappointment in her use of the “language of contempt” that she was conveying.
This man, a Jewish Psychiatrist, was pointing out something that she said has knocked her off balance for years. It was the unconscious way in which she was repeating the Bible’s use of language that is very unfair to Jewish people. BBT noted the irony, that while there is a lot of harsh blaming of first century Jews, the Romans get off almost scot-free. And they are the ones who destroyed Jerusalem!
This passage is a chilling example of this phenomenon, with the early identification of the ‘Pharisees’ and then later this language about “Jerusalem”, which is a kind of circumlocution where we talk about a place instead of a person. Kinda like when people speak disparagingly of “D.C.”, or “San Francisco”, or “Hollywood”, or “Wall Street”. Those places signal certain stereotypes. And the idea that is evoked here is the way a particular religion has mistreated the prophetic messengers of that same religion.
I’ve been somewhat sensitive to this tendency, tending to describe Scribes, Pharisees, and Saduccees as ‘religious leaders’… (because that’s the more essential function they represent, and their habits are not at all different from religious leaders of other religions!) . But yes when I slow down and read the Bible more critically— or perhaps with an ear more loyal to people of other religions, I take much more pause. My New Testament mentor Scot McKnight described the Gospel writers– who were themselves Jews!– as ‘Loyal critics’, and that’s a helpful lens I think. But I think we need to be even more aware and empathetic– BBT said that she hasn’t gone to Good Friday services in years, because she can’t imagine hearing all of those passages blaming Jews for the death of Jesus if she was sitting next to a Jewish friend. (And again, *the Romans* killed Jesus!)
(Doug chimed in here to offer his thoughtful dissent, referencing Dorothy Sayers’ play cycle on the life of Jesus (?The Man Born to be King?) and concluding that a proper reading of the Easter week narratives will bring scrutiny to the Romans, the Jews, and (most especially) the crowds who called for Jesus’ execution… and ultimately onto us.)
Aside from that caveat, though, I’d like us to focus on Jesus as prophet, and the way in which he faced opposition from both civil and religious groups. That’s a really big deal, and it’s difficult to think of contemporary analogs to this kind of personality. Prophets so powerful, so full of challenging truth, that polite society and pious religion would like to have them killed. That’s Jesus.
So, let’s think about this kind of prophetic challenge. What are some of our favorite prophetic statements of Jesus? JESUS GREATEST HITS (on board?; via an amanuensis?). His most powerful prophetic statements.
Diving further, what are some prophetic truths we need to hear today? Your truth, or a message from someone else. Something that would– if you said it out loud– get you in trouble with polite society. That you perhaps wouldn’t want to share with people at work.
Write down your contribution, and we can read them so you remain anonymous (prompt sheet is below).
SECRET PROPHET PROJECT
(aka, a truth that scares me a little (or a lot)…):
FLASH BENEDICTION (written right after the Eucharist):
the words thunder from the heavens
surgically slicing our souls
truth that burns
but the heart, the heart
it beats with warmth