Since when do Pharisees warn Jesus? I mean, if we can’t count on their adversarial interactions with Jesus, how is the Gospel supposed to move along? I have to admit, that reading this passage makes me wonder about the whole nature of their relationship.
Sure there were some Pharisees who were secret disciples of Jesus—Nicodemus, for example. But what about this passage? Jesus and the Pharisees are supposed to be at odds—that’s the way things are supposed to work. The Pharisees are the stodgy religious elite, and Jesus is the Messiah who puts them in their place. That’s what gives us such satisfaction in reading these stories. I don’t know the whole protagonist/foil thing just seems threatened.
But in all seriousness, what we see in the usual behavior of the Pharisees is a mark of who they are—their people concerned with the preservation of their way of life. Jesus happens to be a person who continually challenges the ‘heart’ of that ‘way of life’ and is at continual odds with them. That being said, we should stop and take a second look at this interaction. Because whether Jesus eats dinner with some of them or not, they still don’t get along all that well. But, here we have a group of Pharisees warning Jesus about the threat of Herod.
We can trust that the threat is real, because the Herod that they’re referring to was Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee. It was Herod the Great, the father of Herod Antipas, who tried to have Jesus killed in his infancy. And, as we probably remember, this Herod Antipas was the one who had John the Baptist beheaded to impress a woman. He is the ruler of Galilee, but we know the real power is Rome, so all of Herod’s authority is borrowed. All the same he doesn’t come from a particularly nice family.
Being well aware of the kind of person Herod Antipas was, the Pharisees seem to act with true concern for Jesus and we could probably agree that the sooner he leaves Galilee, the better. But this is where the tables turn. When Jesus responds, he threatens to upset the power structure by making it very clear who holds true power over his life, and it isn’t Herod.
Jesus says to the Pharisees “go tell that fox”, that caricature of a puppet king—tell him that he doesn’t get to have me. Jesus says that he is casting our demons and performing cures—he was doing it that day, and he would be doing the next day and the next day after that. He hints that his mission will inevitably be completed by his death. But he assures them also that he will not die anywhere but Jerusalem—and he will not be the victim of some random act of violence.
Jesus already knows that he must go to Jerusalem. I suppose that after the conversation he had with Moses and Elijah on the mountain of Transfiguration, he had a pretty good idea of what awaited him. And rather than falling victim to the anxiety of the Pharisees, Jesus uses this moment to drive his point home—Herod has no power, certainly not over him, and certainly not above the will of God. After all, everything was happening according to God’s plan. Each person played a role in moving Jesus closer to the purpose of his work. The Pharisees were the status quo that needed to be challenged, the people that Jesus met along the way were people who needed to hear the message of hope that is promised in the Kingdom of God—but this threat by Herod is one which attempts to disrupt Jesus’ mission. So we see in today’s reading these assumed roles changing slightly so that we can see that the Messiah’s work would not be stalled by anyone. By being obedient to no one but God, Jesus takes the power away from Herod, and sets his sights upon Jerusalem.
Where I think this translates for us is that each of can think of places where we allow others to have power over us. This isn’t the same as allowing certain people to have authority, or how we withhold some of our own rights so that we can avoid anarchy. What I’m talking about are systems which are only maintained by fear.
The easiest examples of this can be seen in our government. We watch as certain things are legislated which may be unconstitutional, but we make allowances based on perceived threats of terrorism.
We could also think a little closer to home, and our finances. We know that there is need now in Chile, Haiti, and much of the world. All the same, it seems impossible for us to give to organizations which offer aid to these countries, because money is just that tight right now.
I don’t want to diminish the importance of these things—I understand not having money, and I understand that there really are people who want to harm us. These threats really do have teeth, just like Herod Antipas. But the question is what do we allow to rule us? To what do we give power over us? Will it be our financial security? Will it be our perceived safety? In the end all of that is perpetuated by fear.
The good news is that we don’t have to be ruled by that fear—we don’t have to let it own us. Instead, Jesus stands as the only true authority in life. Not only does he take the power away from Herod, in our lives he takes away the power of fear and anxiety—in whatever form they may take. The question is, will we allow him? Will be open enough to trust in God, and allow God to dissipate the immobilizing effects of fear? Because only by giving up our fear can its power over us be taken away—and then, with that fear pushed aside, we can begin to see the one who has the true power in our lives—Jesus Christ, our Lord.