Luke 13: 31-33 – Herod’s Intention to Kill Jesus

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Luke now gives a report about Herod’s (Antipas, the ruler of Galilee) murderous intentions with regard to Jesus (Lk 13: 31-33). It is exclusive to our evangelist, who would have derived it from his private source ‘L’. Jesus’ response to Herod’s plan puts the theme of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem into sharper focus (Lk 13: 32-33). Luke has already alerted the reader to the goal of Jesus’ journey, namely, Jerusalem, in Lk 13: 22. Now that goal is further emphasised in this episode.

In the previous episode (Lk 13: 26-28) Jesus gives a warning to his contemporaries about the possible exclusion from the Kingdom; in the present one Jesus is warned about Herod’s desire to eliminate him. We should recall that Herod had already done away with the prophet John the Baptist (Lk 3: 19-20; 9: 9a). we may also recall that in Lk 9: 9c Herod’s “desire to see Jesus”, that is, his stance towards Jesus was already hinted at. But only here in this report do we come to know about the real motives of the Galilean ruler in desiring to see Jesus. Later events too will further unmask Herod’s real intentions and attitude towards Jesus (Cf. Lk 23: 8-11).

Why, of all people, the Pharisees bring the information about Herod’s murderous plan and warn Jesus to flee is not explained by Luke. Jesus’ reaction to the warning is one of firm and uncompromising determination. Jesus also exposes the cunning nature of Herod’s character by describing him as a ‘fox’. In fact, Herod had manifested his fox-like cunningness when he beheaded John the Baptist. Besides, he did not dare to take action against Jesus earlier at the height of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. Instead, only now, and that too in a disguised manner, does he intimidate Jesus to leave his territory. Implicit in Jesus’ reply is a defiance of the political power of Galilee.

Jesus’ reaction (Lk 13: 32-33) occasioned by this report, clarifies a fundamental aspect of his ministry and journey to Jerusalem. “I cast out demons … Nevertheless, I must go on my way …”. By these words Jesus affirms that he will continue to teach and set people free from demons (evil) till, by divine necessity, he reaches his destiny. Jesus’ ministry is prophetic and therefore it is likely that he too will have to face a prophet’s end: “for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem” (Lk 13: 33b). That end will come about only in Jerusalem towards which “he had set his face” (Lk 9: 51). What drives Jesus to move out of Galilee towards Jerusalem is not the fear or the threat from the political authority, Herod, but the inner compulsion of his mission, the necessity of subjecting himself to the authority of God. Therefore, Jesus’ life cannot be threatened by anyone. Jerusalem alone has the role of being the killer of prophets (Lk 13: 34) and Herod cannot snatch it away! This narrative thus makes it clear that Jesus’ prophetic role would take him to his prophetic destiny or death as in the case of other prophets.

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