- Lent 2.19 “Stand Your Ground Savior” Luke 13:31-35
The three days at the heart of our Gospel today have confused lots of people—“scholars” especially! Most people think Jesus’ line that He must “journey today, tomorrow, and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem” must be spoken the Tuesday before Palm Sunday. But it’s basically impossible to fit everything Luke reports Jesus doing and saying after this scene into three days. It seems we have only two unappealing options to explain this: 1) Jesus eats like three dinners at three separate houses on that Friday evening alone, covers miles and miles of territory in minutes with His entourage, and crams an unbelievable amount of healing and teaching into three days—which is just absurd or 2) Luke has got his facts mixed up and the Bible isn’t reporting straight, historical information.
Holy Higher Criticism Batman! What does the loyal churchman do?! Well, fear not, first off! There is a simple third alternative that makes perfect sense of the Story—especially to those who’ve read the whole Story the Scriptures tell of Jesus, and read it in company with all the devout readers of the Story since the early days of the Church. The “third day” of verse 32 is not the same day as “the day following” the first two in vs. 33. And neither sequence need put Jesus in Jerusalem Friday before Palm Sunday.
The fact that we get ourselves all knotted up about questions like this shows how silly (if not downright stupid) most people’s reading of Scripture has become since about the 18th century, and is worth some reflection. A reasonable 1st century reader would not find this difficult at all. He/she would look back to the beginning of this section in 13:22 and notice “on that very day” Jesus has been traveling through cities and villages apparently near the border of Samaria and Galilee from clues in chapter 13. He has just answered the question “whether only a few are saved”—proclaiming the Way is narrow and difficult and many seek to enter, yet will not be able, because: when they stand outside the locked door of the Master’s House and demand entrance, they’ll be refused because the Master will say “I do not know you; depart from Me, workers of iniquity”—even though they insist Jesus must know them: teaching in front of their house, eating lunch with them days earlier. (Which is why it’s important to correctly translate Jesus’ Words of institution of the Supper—that we do this not in remembrance of Jesus, but into the remembrance of Jesus—that is, we eat and drink His flesh and blood not mainly so we will remember Him, but that He will remember us—like the thief on the cross!).
Jesus warns that some of the last and least likely members of the Heavenly Company will be first at His Feast, and some of the real pillars of the church—biblical scholars, super-saints, and Fred—who was one hell of a Christian—will be last and left out.
It was “on that very day” that some of the Pharisees who heard these hard words of the Narrow Way came and said “Get out, and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You!” And that’s when Jesus says “Go, tell that fox: ‘Behold I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. Nevertheless, I must journey today, tomorrow, and the following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem.”
Now, you’ll understand this easily if you’ve read everything in the Bible up to this point—which, I realize, few have. But I have, many times, so let me fill in a couple key points you might have missed. There is an old tradition in Israel that if you run away from the authorities, this shows you’re guilty. The soldiers who retreat in battle usually end up dead. They tell Jeremiah in our OT reading that he’s going to die if he keeps talking like that, which is a warning to flee, run away. But Jeremiah never runs (unlike an anonymous contemporary of his who denounces the king, runs away, and is killed by the king’s soldiers). Jeremiah stands his ground and says “you want a piece of me? C’mon on over here and git you some! [Southern Text tradition/translation] But know for sure if you kill me it will go real bad for all of you and for this city!”
Nehemiah was similarly warned they are coming to kill him and he should run and take sanctuary in the temple. And he says “No way! That would be an admission of guilt and ensure my death. I’ll stand my ground because I’ve done nothing wrong. God will protect me.” Paul tells the Philippians not to be in any way terrified or afraid of their enemies, not to flee or back down, to stand their ground because this is proof of the enemy’s perdition and of their salvation. And finally, you might remember that Martin Luther guy was ordered by the Roman Emperor to recant all his writings or die; and Luther told him it was mostly bible quotes and since they’d failed to point out any errors in any of it: “Here I stand! God will help me! Amen.” Which is the ancient version of “You and what army, buddy? Buzz off”.
Which is precisely what Jesus is saying here: “I’m going to stand My ground! I’m not going to run away from danger because that would suggest I have done something shameful and wrong. But, as a matter of fact, there’s demons to cast out, cures to perform today, tomorrow and the third day I shall be perfected” [this references, for us, Easter Sunday]. “Nevertheless, I have to journey today, tomorrow, and the following day because I’ve got people to heal, demons to boot. So, when you see Me walking away know this: I’m not running, I’m walking away to do My own Thing, where, how, when I want. And when Herod gets His piece of Me, when I die you will see, the Third Day, your mistake and My Majesty, True Glory, Real Victory…”(!)
That’s the original “Stand Your Ground” law, right there. Jesus would like to stand and have a three-day stare down, but He’s got a busy schedule that He sets and no one else. He’ll get to Jerusalem His own Way…
Immanuel Kant and his philosophical wrecking crew insist that “true” “factual” “historical” “scientific” accounts are those that tell a story in strict chronological order, with no sci-fi, parables, jokes, irony, miracles, rabbit holes, romance, or wonders—and at least three independent time-stamped accounts backing it up. But you just Kant read it like that. It’s stupid. Don’t follow the herd. Read the simple, sound-it-out Way Mom taught and you will see right away the Bible isn’t that kind of Story. It digresses. It flashes backwards and forwards, takes strange turns, dives down every rabbit hole (that looks interesting!) and does it in a Way that’s utterly Enchanting and Divine—a Way you simply know is true.
The best part of the Story is how it pulls you in, makes you present right there with Jesus in all His trials and troubles, so you can practically see the vein bulging in His forehead as He, with disgust, rips the Pharisees a new one, taste the dust He kicks up as He hits the Jerusalem road, feel His absolute determination that nothing will stop Him from doing His Dying-on-the-Cross-Thing which alone rescues and redeems His lost and straying sheep—from laying IT all on the line for you, for me…
And made contemporary with Jesus by such Faith alone, you’ll hit the road with Him, you’ll kneel, eat, drink from His wounded hand the Body, the Blood, that alone makes Peace surpassing understanding, guarding heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.