by Chris Ritter
March is Women’s History Month and I can’t let it pass without pointing out how significant Luke’s Gospel has been to women down through the centuries. In the 19th Century, Alfred Plummer called Luke ‘The Gospel of Womanhood.” When you compare Luke’s treatment of women to the secondary status they had in the First Century, you can see that Luke’s emphasis on the contribution of women is remarkable. Of course, we should not ultimately credit Luke but Jesus himself. The Gospel would be impossible without women.
Luke’s Gospel opens with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Of the two, Elizabeth was the one who demonstrated greatest faith and asserted herself positively at the naming of John the Baptist. Luke tells the story of Jesus’ nativity through the lens of Mary and her special role in God’s plan is highlighted. You have the beautiful, prayerful fellowship between Elizabeth and Mary that is a prototype of the church of Acts. Mary is a model of prayer, faith, devotion, and discipleship. We also have Anna as an example of long-suffering watchfulness.
Jesus ministers to many women in the Gospel of Luke. He heals Peter’s mother-in-law. He heals a twelve year old girl and a woman with an issue of blood. He heals a woman who had been bent over for eighteen years. He raises a widow’s son from the dead.
Jesus highlights women as good examples. Jesus pointed to the widow who gave two copper coins and said that she gave a better gift than all the others. Jesus defended a sinful woman that wept in repentance at his feet. Jesus told parables involving women: The persistent widow and the woman with the ten coins.
In Luke 10, Jesus eats at the home of Mary and Martha. Martha is busy with arrangements and Mary chooses to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen. Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to get up and help. Jesus said, “She has chosen the better part and it will not be taken away from her.” These words of Jesus gave license to female monastic communities down through the centuries. It made it acceptable for women to pursue a contemplative life of prayer and service to the Lord. Luke’s Gospel gave birth to convents.
Not only did Jesus minister to women, but Jesus was ministered to by women. Luke 8 tells us that women were part of the travelling party of disciples that worked with Jesus and financially supported his ministry. Women walked along with Jesus on the way to Calvary and stayed by his side at the cross when other disciples fled. They are were the first at the empty tomb and the first people to be entrusted with the Good News of his resurrection. The leadership of women continues to be highlighted all the way through the Book of Acts.
When you think about Women’s History, think about Christian history… and certainly think about the Gospel of Luke.
Today we are in Luke 13:
1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”
32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”Luke 13:1-9, 31-35 (New International Version)
Next week is Palm Sunday and that means we just have a few messages left in this message series on the Gospel of Luke. Next Sunday we will study Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. On Maundy Thursday we will gather with the disciples at the Last Supper. On Good Friday we will experience Luke’s description of Jesus’ final hours before his death. Don’t you hate it when an author kills off your favorite character? Spoiler alert: There is a surprise twist at the end that we will cover on Easter Sunday.
For now we continue to journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem. All the way back in Chapter 9, Jesus sets his face toward the City of David as he realized his destiny. Most of Luke is a travelogue documenting Jesus’ final journey from Galilee to the cross.
The Contagion of Fear
There are so many interesting conversations and interactions along the way. We are going to see there are multiple opportunities for Jesus to turn around. Our Christology teaches us that Jesus has a divine nature and a human nature. His human nature was subject to all the same forces that tug at us each and every day. One that is so prominent in Luke 13 is fear.
Notice the things that come up in the conversation in Luke 13: Pilate killing a group of Galileans, a disaster in Jerusalem, and a death threat by Herod. Fear is one of those forces that tries to knock us off the path God has for us. How does fear do this?
- Fear gets our eyes off the goal. It sets us spinning our wheels with a series of “What If’s.” It puts our eyes on the obstacles instead of what lies beyond those obstacles.
- Fear breeds doubt. It causes us to second-guess our decision. It looks for an escape hatch instead of a path forward.
- Fear makes us smaller. It causes us to detach from others. It makes us blind to opportunities for connection. Like a pill bug, it makes us want to curl into a ball.
- Fear tries to steal our gratitude and our joy. It deflects the positive that God is doing in our lives and causes us to dwell on the negative.
Bravery is not the absence of fear. It is moving forward in the face of fear. David knew how to do that. He measured Goliath not against himself, but against God. Faith puts fear into dialog with God’s promises.
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.Psalm 118:6
What can mere mortals do to me?
Let me ask you: What would you do for God if you were not afraid? Your answer to that question may help you identify the very thing to which God has called you.
Hurdling the Fear Barrier
Jesus needed to jump over the fear barrier on his way to Jerusalem. People came to him reporting on a story ripped from the headlines of that day. Pilate killed a group of Galileans in Jerusalem, mixing their blood with the blood of their sacrifices. Pilate had a reputation for harsh cruelty. Jesus, of course, is leading another group of Galileans to Jerusalem. Is he leading them to the slaughter?
Jesus will address this fear by putting in the context of a greater concern. The prevailing mindset of the religious people of Jesus’ day was the bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people. Jesus will tell the group that the Galileans that perished were not being punished by God for their sins. But God’s judgement is coming to all who refuse to repent. Jesus would not live in fear of Pilate because he lived in the fear and reverence of his Heavenly Father.
The fear of the Lord actually frees you from lesser fears.
Jesus brings up another story from recent headlines. Eighteen people died when the Tower of Siloam fell on them. This is evidently a tower on the wall of Jerusalem near the pool of Siloam is Jerusalem. Were these eighteen worse sinners than the others living in Jerusalem? No. But unless you repent you will likewise perish.
This world is broken and full of hurt. Bad things happen. Life is full of uncertainty. But there is great certainty in the righteous judgement of God. If you live in the fear of God, all other fears will disappear.
Every blessing God has for you lives in the other side of your fear. How do you overcome the fear barrier?
Take a baby step toward your discomfort. Our perspective changes when we move. A lot of times the monster in the closet is just a dirty sock being moved by the ceiling fan. I counseled someone recently who was getting calls from debt collectors. They lived in constant fear of what they were going to do to her. My advice: Answer the phone. Talk to them. Review your options. Things are not as dire as you make them out to be. God starts working for us when we take a step of faith.
Do a gut check. Name your fear and why it has power over you. What is the heart of the issue? Your pride? Your fear of the opinion of others? Rejection you felt as a child. Fear usually preys on some inner insecurity that we have that is out of alignment with God’s Word.
Identify the voices keeping you stuck. There may be very well-meaning people in your life that help you stay stuck. Who are you listening to? You may need to turn down some noise in your life. You need to be in the Word of God and meditate on what God says about you
Jim Rohn said: “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” I might reword it this way: If you don’t follow God’s plan for your life, you will follow someone else’s inferior plan for your life.
Opportunity and Challenge
Jesus offers a little parable. A man had a fig free growing in his vineyard, but for three years never saw a fig on the tree. He said to his worker, “Cut it down so that it will stop using up the soil.” But the worker asked for one more year. He said, “Let’s dig around it, fertilize it and give it one more season.”
Why did Jesus tell this parable in this context? He is reminding us that this season of grace is where we live. God is calling for fruit in our lives. Do you remember John the Baptists’ preaching all the way back in Luke 3?: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Don’t say “We have Abraham for our Father.” God is able from these stones to make children for Abraham.
In many ways, these would be Jerusalem’s final opportunity. The city was being given an opportunity to repent. Jesus saw the disaster of 70 AD on the horizon when one stone would not be left on another.
God is looking for fruitfulness in our lives. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. The fruit of repentance, according to John, is justice, serving, and giving. Fruitful Christians share the Gospel in word and deed.
Go Tell that Fox
Some Pharisees came to Jesus at the end of Chapter 13 and tell him to run away because Herod wants to kill him. This is the same Herod that beheaded John the Baptist. This is not an idle threat. Did Jesus run and hide? No. He replied, “Go tell that fox: I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow. And on the third day I will reach my goal. I will press on today and tomorrow, for no prophet can die outside Jerusalem.”
Do you see his courage and resolve?
Let the haters hate. Let the threaters threaten. Jesus is still moving forward.
He calls Herod a fox. My family I moved to Geneseo in 2009. There were rabbits everywhere. I had a beagle at the time name Scout and he wanted to chase each one. He almost pulled my arm out of its socket. Now when I walk I don’t see as many rabbits. But guess what I see in town that I did not used to see in town?: Foxes.
Foxes are cunning, adaptive predators. From ancient times, foxes have been identified with wily opportunism. Remember who at the Gingerbread Man? Our foxes in Geneseo were smart enough to realize that if rabbits can live in town, they can, too.
Jesus calling Herod a fox will make more sense when we understand what Jesus says next. He begins to weep over Jerusalem. Here, I believe Jesus is speaking both in his our voice and the voice of Israel’s God. How often he has longed to gather them together like a hen gathers her chicks. But they were unwilling. They will not see him again until they say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
I grew up around chickens. When I was a boy, my dad managed an egg farm with 300,000 hens. Much to his chagrin, I wanted to raise chickens at our house, too. I had an incubator and the whole works. I don’t think my mom was too fond of the ways my chickens scratched up her flower beds.
Jesus is pointing to a particular behavior that hens have when they are overseeing a brood of chicks. Whenever there is a threat, the hen will call to them and extend her wings. Instinctively the chicks come under the shelter of her wings. But not Jerusalem. Though countless prophets had been sent to her, she would not accept the grace offered.
When a fox comes in the chicken yard, the hen spreads her wings and shelters her young. The fox grabs the hen instead of the chicks. Jesus will spread his arms on the cross. He will face the full fury of evil, violence, and hate on our behalf.
The real tragedy, this Holy Season, is when we fail to recognize the grace we are being given. The real tragedy is when we fail to run to the cross and receive the mercies so freely given there. It is a foolish chick, indeed, that thinks he does not need what is being offered.
If you have never come to the cross for the grace being offered by Jesus, I invite you pray a simple, yet profound prayer: “Jesus, I run to you and to your cross. Forgive me for doing things my way instead of God’s way. Wash me clean in your blood. I take the cross and my shelter and welcome your Holy Spirit into my life so that I will evermore live for you and your glory. Amen.”