31 Just at that moment, some P’rushim came up and said to Yeshua, “Get out and go away from here, because Herod wants to kill you!” 32 He said to them, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Pay attention: today and tomorrow I am driving out demons and healing people, and on the third day I reach my goal.’ 33 Nevertheless, I must keep travelling today, tomorrow and the next day; because it is unthinkable that a prophet should die anywhere but in Yerushalayim.
34 “Yerushalayim! Yerushalayim! You kill the prophets! You stone those who are sent to you! How often I wanted to gather your children, just as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, but you refused! 35 Look! God is abandoning your house to you! I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of The Lord’
The story about Herod and Jesus reaction to his threat is only found in Luke, who uses it to emphasise that the opposition to Jesus comes from secular as well as religious power. It is seen as a threat to keep Jesus away from Jerusalem, or to kill him before he can get there. Jesus’ reply indicates an amused scorn (that fox) and an insistence that he will continue his life-giving work against all threats, until he reaches his “goal”, which he defines as death in Jerusalem. Here Jesus uses the Greek verb “dei” (must) which indicates his ironic sense of being commanded by God: true prophets must be killed in Israel’s holy city!
The lament over Jerusalem that follows has been influenced by subsequent knowledge of the killing of Jesus, and of (probably) the destruction of the temple by the Romans in CE 70. Matthew gives it in almost the same words. Perhaps also we can detect the influence of the figure of Lady Wisdom ( Proverbs 8) in the self- characterisation of Jesus as a sorrowing female. And yet with all these influences, at the heart of the lament there is the image of the common hen, wanting to protect her chicks, which gains its power from its wry domesticity- the son of God as an anxious mother bird-and which is hard to attribute to anyone other than Jesus himself. Set against the image of Jerusalem as the place of Herod and the religious hierarchy this reduces its power-brokers to the status of chickens, heedless of impending danger. It also defines Jesus’ ministry in a robustly comic way as an instance of the eternal gathering love of God, through which his people may take shelter “under the shadow of his wings.”And it pushes the reader back to Herod, the fox, who may have designs on the farmyard.
Against all the images of urban civilisation, its towering skyscrapers, its festering favelas, its conspicuous consumption, its exquisite arts, its poisonous effluents, its anonymity, its noise, its weapons of mass destruction, Christian believers can set this image of the true ruler as a mother hen, offering shelter.
But what safety is there with this prophet who is going to die in Jerusalem? What protection can be offered by a failed messiah? Luke’s purpose in bringing so many elements of Jesus’ life and teaching within the story of his journey to Jerusalem, is to define what that safety is, and what it is not. His gospel is endlessly inventive in asking difficult questions and supplying even more difficult answers.