In these few verses in St. Luke, the writer plays on the animal vocabulary to describe two opposing groups. In the process it also echoes the exodus motif.
In this text, Herod is described as a fox. A fox is known for its cunning and deceitful ways. Herod wants Jesus out of his way. As N.T. Wright observes, “Herod is a predator.” The Pharisees come along and ask Jesus to flee the fox and exodus from the town. On the other hand, Jesus describes his purpose in gathering Israel to a hen protecting her own.
Herod wants to kick Jesus out and Jesus wants to kick demons out (exorcism). Jesus wants to gather his brood, but they will not listen. They do not want Jesus’ hen-like protection, and so they will suffer destruction. Their home will be left desolate. The glory will exodus from Israel’s temple. Jesus will journey out of the region, so that He may depart to Jerusalem. Finally, Jesus will work on day one and two, but on the third day He will depart and cry It is finished.
As we embark in this Lenten Journey, we follow the footsteps of our Lord from His entrance into the wilderness and His entrance into death for three days.
Luke 4 offers an extraordinary glimpse into the temptations Jesus endured in the wilderness. The typological significance of the event is inescapable. Jesus is the Final Adam. He puts an end to a long line of failed Adams. He hears the whispers of the Tempter and strikes back. When Adam heard those first words he sat attentively in the classroom and absorbed every lie as if it came from His Creator. Adam lost his ability to discern truth. He mastered listening, but forgot that to be a good theologian in God’s Garden, you need to be a good exegete.
In the wilderness, a garden stripped of colors, fruit, and water, Jesus faced the devil again in a re-match. He knew well that temptation had a triumphant history of subtly winning arguments. Jesus wasted no time and rebuked temptation. Just like He would do with the demons and the demonic-like religious teachers of the day.
We are not to sit at temptation’s classroom. God already said we are to flee from it; to rebuke it with the only source of authority that is permanent and stamped with divine truth.
On this first Sunday of Lent, the Church finds herself in a wilderness scenario. She is stripped of its former glory. But she is destined to journey from glory to glory like her Lord and Master. As in Luke 4, we need to sit in Yahweh’s house. We need to be instructed by the two-edged sword that muzzles the Tempter and tells him to not come back again. He is not welcome and neither are his offers.
In a technical, but fascinating piece in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, John C. Poirier observes that Jesus is the true Messiah Priestly Elijah figure. And further, that interpretations that have viewed Elijah as merely a prophet has led to “unnecessary complications in the text.” As central proof to this priestly role of Elijah is the “matter of Elijah’s defeating the 450 prophets of Baal with a superior sacrifice on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18:20-35), a showdown that involved Elijah’s performing undeniably priestly duties.” This, then, has some implications to the Lucan account in chapter four (16-30) where Jesus’ life is put at risk. If Jesus is the Elijianic figure, the priestly fulfillment of Elijah, the one who is the greater priest who pleases God, as Elijah pleased God with his sacrifice against the 450 Baalite prophets, then the “violent reaction to what Jesus says about Elijah and Elisha has nothing to do with any sort of insularity or anti-Gentile sentiments…but rather with Jesus implying that the Nazareth crowd is the antitype to Israel of Elijah’s and Elisha’s day.” In other words, the Nazarenes were like the “apostatized public of Elijah and Elisha’s day.” But the end of the story is also Elijianic. Jesus escapes the tyranny of the crowd, like Elijah “slipped through the grip of Ahab and Jezebel (cf. John 8:59).”
Eric Auerback (Mimesis, 14-15) writes that the intent of biblical stories:
“is not to bewitch the senses, and if nevertheless they produce lively sensory effects, it is only because the moral, religious, and psychological phenomena which are their sole concern are made concrete in the sensible matter of life. But their religious intent involves an absolute claim to historical truth. . . . Without believing in Abraham’s sacrifice, it is impossible to put the narrative of it to the use for which it was written. . . . The world of the Scripture stories is not satisfied with claiming to be a historically true reality—it insists that it is the only real world, is destined for autocracy . . . The Scripture stories do not, like Homer’s, court our favor, they do not flatter us that they may please us and enchant us—they seek to subject us, and if we refuse to be subjected we are rebels.”
Jim Jordan writes in his Judges Commentary that Jesus has “destroyed the gates of hell, leaving the kingdoms of Satan wide open for conquest by the Church.” When the tomb was opened on the third day it left not only an exposed grave, but also an exposed babelic kingdom.
There is a liturgical pattern that is inherent in the word of the Lord. In Samson’s narrative, the gospel first comes in word, that is: accept this offer to be incorporated into Yahweh’s bride. But the consequence and negative sanction of rejecting the word of the gospel is a sacramental action. Whereas in word we hear in sacrament there is action. We eat and drink. Negative sacraments also function similarly in sacred violence. In rejecting messiah figures, you are ultimately rejection the Messiah-Man, Jesus Christ. When word is rejected, sacraments are applied. In negative sacraments, Yahweh’s enemies are eaten altogether. They are put under his feet.
Jim Jordan is right to assert that the third day is the day of “preliminary judgment.” The third day is the day of production. As James puts it: “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” Vegetation and life spring forth from the ground to show forth God’s creative work. Similarly on the third day, from the ground came the true fruit, Jesus Christ who rose from the grave victorious. Biblically, the works of the third day–when found pleasing– are vindicated on the day of rest (seventh day). Jesus’ resurrection was the pleasing aroma springing forth from the ground and vindicated by the Father.
Common to Egyptian mythology is the sphinx. The sphinx was the mythical creature with a lion’s body and a human head. Those who could not answer his riddles were eaten by this Egyptian creature. Samson comes along and changes puts flesh into this myth. He not only tears the Egyptian sphinx in two but also tells a better riddle; a riddle, which they cannot solve on their own.
Leithart continues his response to Witherington by noting:
I can agree that Jesus’ victory is the “antithesis” of the victory expected by many Jews. But Jesus remains a warrior Messiah, which is exactly what we would expect from the Old Testament. All the warrior figures of the Old Testament – the Seed of the Woman, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samson, David – are paradoxical figurae Christi
“Biblical liturgies, and for us this means the Lord’s Supper, encapsulate the sequence of biography and history. Because we have rejected God, we have also rejected the life He has planned for us, both individually and as churches, cultures, and world history. Biblical rites are designed to insert us back into God’s guidance of our lives, to plug us back into God’s true history so that our lives and cultures can develop properly.”
James B. Jordan, From Bread to Wine, Toward a More Biblical Liturgical Theology. Available from www.biblicalhorizons.com