Friday, 6 February 2015

Little chicks!

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.

This passage is found in Matthew 23:37. It has been a verse that I have always held dear, for it is incredible really to see Jesus so compassionate and loving in the midst of pronouncing judgement. Also, it is a verse I have always taken to mean, in the context of some Old Testament references, and even since I tried to put down my "Nicene goggles", as a good passage in support the eternal Lord Jesus, eternal not just forward in time, but back as well - what Tuggy refers to as the "pre-human Jesus" (I don't like this title I must confess).

So for me - along with a bunch of other passages, this passage I have always maintained as a suggestive passage of something like Nicea.

H O W E V E R, today I am reconsidering that position on this passage, because of some light shed from commentaries which provide a more obvious alternative suggestion that I never considered before. This is R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew from The New International Commentary of the New Testament, a well respected and recent scholarly series, taken from page 883:

"The same charge of killing the prophets which Jesus has directed to the scribes and Pharisees in vv. 29-32 (and by implication to the chief priests and elders in 21:34-36) is now applied to the city as a whole; the specific mention of stoning (cf. 21:35) reflects what happened to the Zechariah of v.35, according to 2 Chr 24:21 (and to Jeremiah according to later legend, Liv. Pro. 2:1). But it will soon be the fate of Stephen as well, also in Jerusalem (Acts 7:58-59), and since Jesus has just spoken in v. 34 of how his own emissaries will soon be treated, there may be a future as well as a past dimension to this charge.

Jesus' words suggest a more frequent and extended appeal to Jerusalem than has been recorded just in chs. 21-22; this is one of the hints which occur int he Synoptic Gospels that the writers were aware of Jesus' previous visits to Jerusalem (as the Fourth Gospel records them) even though they have chosen to record only the one climactic arrival. His appeal to them as Messiah should have been unifying and protective, like the instinctive action of a mother bird, but it has instead been counterproductive, and will result not in safety but in destruction. The blame is placed firmly on their choice, like the Jerusalem of Isaiah's day who refused God's offer of security through trusting  him (Isa 30:15-16).

The almost wistful note of this lament over Jerusalem provides an important counterbalance to the sharpness of the preceding polemic. As Jesus contemplates what lies ahead of the people he came to save, it gives him no pleasure. He had "wanted" to gather them, not condemn them."

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