Here is a shock for your Wednesday, the Pharisees are trying to help Jesus out! It is pretty strange to read the first verse. We usually consider the Pharisees to be some of Jesus’ greatest enemies, but the reality is that the Pharisees are not a monolithic group, anymore than modern Christian denominations are monolithic. Some commentators suggest that the Pharisees aren’t really motivated to protect Jesus, but they have gotten so tired of his teaching (see earlier in the chapter) and particularly his success at attracting crowds of listeners. So they come up with this story, that probably contains some truth, in order to drive Jesus out of town. It is possible, but Jesus seems to think that their story contains a great deal of truth given his response calling out Herod. Jesus’ response is fascinating. It comes in three parts. The first is a statement about how Jerusalem is the place prophets die (validating and accepting the Pharisees’ statement). Jesus is pointing to the sad history of Jerusalem’s response to God’s prophets. He is calling himself a prophet by saying he cannot leave, and he is prophesying his own death. Is there a place like Jerusalem for us today? There isn’t really a location of unified religious and civic power, but perhaps we can broadly say that any place of power is a difficult place to speak words calling for repentance and change. The second part has Jesus speaking words to Jerusalem about how much he wishes they would respond to him. And here we are reminded of all the times we could follow Jesus, and have chosen another path. The third section is Jesus discussing the outcomes of these first two items. Failure to repent and follow God leads to desolation.
It is a haunting message, but one that is imminently appropriate to Lent.