Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

Luke 13.31-35
Second Sunday in Lent- Year C

Other texts:

The Revised Common Lectionary has three readings from Luke 13, but in a non-sequential order. On 2 Lent C we read the last verses in the chapter. On 3 Lent C we read the first 9 verses of the chapter. Luke 13:10-17 is assigned for Proper 16 C. Verses 18-30 are not assigned.

Most of the outlines I have on Luke make a major division between verses 9 and 10. Luke 12:1-13:9 is a single discourse with several topics woven together. Jesus is speaking in most of the verses. Only occasionally are there comments by the narrator. 13:10 presents a different day and a different setting and greater comments by the narrator. However, our assigned text is primarily a discourse from Jesus.

The first three verses of our text, (31-33), are found only in Luke. The next two verses (34-35), are nearly identical to Matthew 23:37-39 -- suggesting a Q origin.

These two sections are connected by words like "kill," "prophet," and "Jerusalem".

These two texts have contrasting animal images: fox and hen. They are also connected by the word thelo = "to wish" or "to will". Herod is wishing to kill Jesus. Jesus wishes to gather Jerusalem's children under his wings, but they do not wish it. There is a clear difference in the "wills" of these two men -- one is like the sly, predatory fox; the other like a comforting, protective hen.

Richard Jensen (Preaching Luke's Gospel) states (and quotes Tiede):

Today's text reveals great conflict of wills in Jesus' journey to Jerusalem. We have before us in these few verses, "...the intention of Jesus' adversaries, the determination of the Messiah, the unwillingness of Jerusalem, and the fulfillment of the will of God." [p. 154]

Both the Greek and Hebrew words for "fox" can also be translated "jackals".


This passage comes in the midst of Luke's travel narrative. Tiede (Luke) presents the general theme well:

This passage stands in the midst of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem which began at 9:51 and will conclude at 19:28-44, climaxed by his entry and cleansing of the temple in 19:45-46. It is a reminder that the way of the determined Messiah is God's mission which will not, cannot be deterred. But it is also a prophetic sign that the Messiah is well aware of the resistance and tragic rejection which lie in the path of God's saving purpose. The Messiah is caught up in God's passion, love, and judgment, and the struggle of wills is far from completed (pp. 259-260).

HEROD -- THE FOX (vv. 31-33)

Luke begins this paragraph with "in that very hour" (also 10:21; 12:12; 13:31; 20:19). What hour is he talking about? Presumably it refers to the same time as what occurs in the preceding paragraph.

In the paragraph before our text, Jesus has been "teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem" (v. 22). As part of his teaching, he talks about those who find the door shut. They knock and say, "Lord, open to us." He replies from behind the door, "I don't know where you come from." Those outside begin to list all the good things they have done with Jesus, but the reply from behind the door is repeated, "I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!"

Perhaps this context might explain the Pharisees who come and warn Jesus. They may be doing what they think is the right thing, but does Jesus know where they come from? Does Jesus know their real motives? I think not. As Tannehill (Luke) states: "We cannot be sure of the Pharisees' motives in warning Jesus about Herod." We don't know "where they are coming from," when they offer Jesus this bit of advice. Thus, they are some of the evildoers from the previous paragraph -- even though they seem to want to protect Jesus.

Note also that it says: "some of the Pharisees". Green (The Gospel of Luke) comments:

[Luke] does not lump all Pharisees together in one composite group character, but as here, he can speak not of "the Pharisees" but of "some Pharisees." In this case, faced with the option of siding with Herod over against Jesus, some Pharisees actually align themselves with Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus continues to share meals with the Pharisees and to instruct them, clearly signifying the possibility and hope that the Pharisees may join him in his solidarity with God's redemptive project (see ch. 14!). (p. 537)

It is possible that these certain Pharisees were sympathetic towards Jesus and his cause.

We have been told that Herod had John beheaded and that he wants to see Jesus (9:9). However, when Herod is involved with the trial of Jesus, he does not seek to kill Jesus. He sends him back to Pilate, which Pilate interprets as a sign that Herod did not find Jesus guilty. (23:6-17).

Could it be that their motives were to avoid a conflict? How often do we pray that a trouble-maker in the church might go away rather then confront such a person? How often do pastors start looking for another call rather than confront rising difficulties in the parish? Is flight ever healthier for the parties involved than staying and dealing with the conflict?

What about the well-meaning members who "suggest" that someone change what they are doing because it is upsetting to "lots of people" in the church?

Literally, the Pharisees command Jesus (imperatives): "Depart and go from here."

Jesus turns it around: "You go and tell that fox...." and "It is necessary for me to go today and tomorrow and the next day, because it is not possible for a prophet to be destroyed outside Jerusalem."

Green writes about the designation of Herod as "fox":

... "fox" has a range of virtual, metaphorical properties not all of which are actualized here. For example, we read in the Lukan narrative no hint that Herod is particularly cunning or crafty. More appropriate is the metaphorical presentation of Herod the fox as one who lacks the status or is impotent to carry out his threat. In this case, Herod's rank would be relativized by the recognition that Jesus, whose mission is rooted in divine necessity, thus serves one of greater status and power than Herod or the Rome he represents. Herod's threat is blunted because his design runs contrary to the divine will. A further foxlike trait is potentially actualized in Jesus' use of this metaphor -- namely, the proclivity of fox for malicious destructiveness: "Upon hearing of Herod's threat," then, "Jesus pegs the Tetrarch as a varmint in the Lord's field, a murderer of God's agents, a would-be disrupter of the divine economy." [quote from Darr, Character Building, p. 144] (p. 536)

The little Greek word dei = "it is necessary (for me)" or "I must" -- is a term "frequently used of a necessity imposed by God's hidden purpose" (Tannehill). It is not God's will for Jesus to escape the confrontation in Jerusalem. Jensen writes: "A 'divine must' hangs over Jesus' mission."

The three days: "today and tomorrow and the third/next day" used in vv. 32 & 33 most likely refer to the journey Jesus is traveling. On this journey he is casting out demons and completing (apoteleo) cures. On the third day, Jesus is completing (teleioo) his task/journey. [apoteleo and teleioo are nearly synonymous in meaning: "to bring an activity to a successful finish" (Lowe & Nida)]. It is unclear in v. 32 what is successfully finished on the third day. Is it the end of Jesus' healing ministry in Galilee (part of Herod's territory) or the end of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem, which will result in his death? Although the commentaries I've looked at stress the journey aspect of the three days, it certainly brings to mind the third day on which Jesus successfully finished his ministry on earth with the resurrection. Frequently the word for "third" (tritos) is used to point to the resurrection -- 9:22; 18:33; 24:7, 21, 46.

THE HEN (vv. 34-35)

Tannehill (Luke) suggests this approach to these verses:

Although Jesus is the speaker in verses 34-35, some features of these verses are easier to explain if we understand Jesus to be speaking prophetically, so that the "I" in verses 34-35 is not only Jesus, but also God (or the wisdom of God, as in 11:49). "How often" in verses 34 is puzzling in the Lukan context, since Jesus has not yet conducted any mission in Jerusalem. Although Jesus' ministry to this point might be understood as an effort to gather Jerusalem's "children" (in the broad sense of the Jewish people), this does not explain the refusal that has already taken place, in which Jerusalem must have participated. If Jesus, as a prophet, is speaking God's words, however, verses 34b refers to the long history of God's dealings with Jerusalem. The imagery would also fit the scriptural imagery of God's wings as a place of refuge (Ruth 2:12; Ps 17:8; 36:7). [p. 225]

This approach may also help in understanding the phrase, "You will not see me." If it refers to Jesus, then it might mean that the people "will not see" him properly, i.e., as the Messiah, the Son of God. If it refers to God, it might mean the absence of God, the divine protector, from the city (cf. Ezekiel's vision of the departure of God's glory from the temple, Ez 10:18; 11:22-23; or Amos' words about a famine of hearing the words of the LORD, Am 8:11.)

This interpretation can be supported by translating the first line of v. 35: "Behold, your house is left (aphiemi) to you" (as NRSV does, RSV had "your house is forsaken" and NIV has "your house is left to you desolate"). To paraphrase the translations: "You're on your own now. You have refused divine help, so you won't get it."

"House," in this interpretation refers to the entire city or the population of the city. It could mean "the temple" and the phrase might refer to the destruction of the temple, which had occurred some years before Luke was written.

Jesus, knowing the rejection that awaits him in Jerusalem, still expresses the wish to love and protect these people. In a sense, Jesus doesn't play the game: "Because you don't like me, I won't like you."

"Blessed is the one coming in the name of the Lord" comes from Psalm 118:26. This is a processional psalm that was sung as pilgrims entered the city of Jerusalem. The disciples sing nearly identical words as they enter Jerusalem (19:38), but some of the Pharisees tell Jesus to have his disciples be quiet. The city is not yet ready to sing those words. They are unable to see Jesus/God.

Those words are part of the Sanctus which is sung/said during the communion liturgy. A few years ago there was some discussion in TABLE TALK (on about crossing one's self when those words are uttered, which, according to one interpretation, is a reminder that the one who is coming in the name of the Lord is the one who came and died on the cross. With that line, do we open ourselves to see and receive "the one coming in the name of the Lord" -- the one who comes to us in bread and wine?


There's a Peanuts cartoon that I've kept for years that I think speaks to this text.

In the first frame, Lucy is standing next to a tree. Looking up, she shouts to Linus, "What are doing in that tree?"

Linus answers from the branches of the tree, "Looking for something." Then he adds, "Can you see Snoopy? We climbed up here together, but now I don't see him."

Lucy unsympathetically shouts back up the tree, "Beagles can't climb trees."

The next frame shows Snoopy falling out of the tree right on his head with a loud "klunk." "You're right!" Snoopy concludes.

Then Lucy lets Snoopy have it, "You stupid Beagle, what are you doing climbing around in a tree?" Snoopy's sore head is still spinning.

Linus interrupts from the tree, "Don't yell at him.... We're trying to find a strange creature in a nest...."

Lucy walks off saying, "You're both crazy! Go ahead and knock yourselves out! I couldn't care less!!"

Then Snoopy with his head still sore and spinning things, "Rats...I was hoping for a hug!"

Do similar scenes happy to us. We hurt ourselves -- perhaps physically or emotionally. A parent, friend, pastor, parishioner gives us a lecture about how stupid we were. "Rats," we may say to ourselves, "I was hoping for a hug!" There are those times when what we need most is to know that somebody still cares and loves us, because we already know we have acted like jerks.

One of the most dreadful Christian sins is that we too often act like Lucy. We are too quick to open our mouths and give lectures to others. It is so easy for us good and righteous believers to judge and condemn others for their stupid mistakes. What compounds our sin is that we think that we are doing the proper and right thing by giving them all our good advice. "You shouldn't have done that. You should have known better. You're getting what you deserve." And so on. Sometimes people need good teaching. Jesus is often teaching the people, but many times, especially after making a stupid mistake, people feel more like Snoopy: "Rats...I was hoping for a hug!"

Offering an embrace is much more risky than lecturing. Suppose that when the demon-possessed man came to Jesus, Jesus just gave him a lecture about the evils of the occult. "You shouldn't have ever gotten involved with that kind of stuff." That wouldn't have done the man any good. But with a lecture, we can keep our distance from other people. If they reject our wise advice -- they've rejected our wise advice. When we get close enough to people to really care about them, to offer an embrace as a gesture of love, and that is rejected, it is much more painful. They are rejecting us. "Don't touch me," says a spouse. "I'm too big for that," says a son.

When a daughter admits to her parents that she is pregnant, it's not the time for a lecture about morality. When a son admits to his parents that he is hooked on drugs, it's not the time for a lecture about the evils of addiction. When the police bring a child home after a car accident, it's not the time for a lecture on irresponsibility. Such people already know about the problems of immorality, addiction, and irresponsibility. They are in much more need of a sign of love and acceptance than judgment.

Sometime ago there was a TV show where they interviewed a doctor who was treating people with AIDS. To paraphrase one of his comments: There are other doctors in this town who give lectures to dying AIDS victims rather than helping them. "You are just getting what you deserved," is what some doctors have said. Who is in more need of a sign of love and care than a person who has been informed that they are going to die within a short time? The TV program showed the helpful doctor hugging a person with AIDS.

A related image: The image we are given is of God/Jesus as a hen gathering a whole bunch of chickens under her wings. What might that imply about our relationship with those other chickens? It requires a physical closeness to be packed together under those wings. It implies a learning to get along with one another if we wish to stay packed together under those wings. How do we balance our own comfort level of space with this image of physically gathered together under God's loving wings? being packed together in a pew? rubbing shoulders with others on the way out of church? sharing the peace by touching others with a handshake -- or an embrace (when appropriate) -- or even a kiss between spouses?


Jensen (Preaching Luke's Gospel), after talking about Jerusalem as the city where great evil takes place, then offers these words of hope:

Human sin dwells deep within each and every one of us. Will God have anything to do with sinners such as you and me? The answer is YES. Grace and sin met in Jerusalem long ago. Grace won! So it may be for us. Our sinfulness meets the crucified prophet. Grace wins again. Grace is God's final word on the sinful character of our human hearts. [p. 156]

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901