31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. 33 Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ 34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! 35 Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Luke 13:31-35 (ESV)
“Go and tell that fox, “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow and the third day I finish my course.”
That fox. It was not a favorite animal among the Jews of the first century. The fox was not admired for his cunning or slyness, but was disdained for his weak character and a penchant for ruining a vineyard. So Jesus uses some harsh words for Herod whose father had once killed all the infant boys of Bethlehem in an effort to prematurely exterminate Jesus. This is Herod the Great’s son. A man who was equally paranoid and weak, who allowed his illicit wife lead him around by his nose. Herod was afraid of Jesus. When he first heard of Jesus he thought perhaps it was John the Baptist come back from the dead, the man he had beheaded. He was afraid of anyone who might challenge his authority and right to the title which was rather shaky.
John had been one such person to challenge Herod’s authority, and Herod took the weak way out. Rather than repent of his sin. Rather than give up his illicit relationship with his brother’s wife, the full debauchery of which is hinted at in that she had her daughter, his niece, dance for him and his guests, he had John killed. Herod was interested! Herod would listen to John for hours and hours concerning the faith and the coming messiah, concerning the law of God, the Torah of the Old Testament. He would ask him for advice. Oh how frustrating it had to be for John! Herod didn’t want to kill John, he would rather just keep him in prison indefinitely so he didn’t cause a scene, but where he could also listen to what the man had to say. He sat on the fence. He wanted to continue. But there came a time of reckoning and John lost his head. The coward’s way out.
It gives me pause to think. How often do we find ourselves doing the same sort of thing? How often do we do what is expedient rather than what is right? How often do we take the easy way out? How often do we silence John ourselves when he tells us what is the right thing to do, when God’s word speaks to us with the law. Perhaps as he spoke to the tax collectors saying take only what is right, and we chafe because the government comes to takes its share, and we are tempted to fudge the numbers just a little here, and a little there? How often are we afraid to make a confession of Christ when we see his head resting on a silver platter, and the Herods in our own life seem to be sharpening an axe. Perhaps it is the risk of losing a good friend, a husband or a wife. Maybe it is we risk the development of a promising relationship. If they aren’t threatening to take our life physically, it seems as though everything that makes it worth living is on the line, hopes and dreams.
That fox, that coward. Jesus takes the threat seriously. He believes the men have ties to Herod’s court and that what they are saying is true. But he isn’t scared. Not of this coward. He knows that Herod won’t do anything. Just tell that fox, I cast out demons, and perform cures today and tomorrow and the third day I finish my course. Jesus wasn’t about to cut and run, or be intimidated by a fox. He had a course to follow. And he wouldn’t take the easy way out. Don’t worry about me, I’m on my way to Jerusalem because it wouldn’t be right that a prophet should be killed outside of Jerusalem. He continues to Jerusalem because it is a city for which he weeps, even as he weeps for you. It is a city which he loves and wishes to protect as a mother hen protects her young, even as he does for you. I continue to do my thing, he says. He has been rejected by men, and salvation then should be impossible. Yet Jesus doesn’t let it end there. He goes to the cross anyway! He won’t be dissuaded from his path! He is going to save you despite your best efforts contrary wise. You silence John, you take the easy way out, and he takes the hard way in, the cross. But on the third day I complete my course.
It is obviously a reference to the resurrection. The Pharisees would not get it. Perhaps they would report back to Herod not to bother because in three days he will be gone. But that isn’t what Jesus is saying. No he is speaking to the Pharisees. He is letting them know what the program is. I will die in Jerusalem. That is the city that brings judgment upon itself because it kills those who are sent to it. Jerusalem is a city of Herods that will not listen, that would rather kill than repent. Even this city is one that Jesus weeps for in frustration they way John must have with Herod. But the city will not gather under his wings, and so they will all perish in the fire to come. But there he will die for you and for me. There he will die for cowards and foxes who fail. There he will take the hard way, that in him we would find the narrow path, salvation offered in the most unlikely of places, in the mouths of sinners forgiving sins, in the seemingly simple waters of baptism, in the simple breaking of bread the body of Christ given for you.