How do you help someone who does not want to be helped?
I constantly struggled to crack that nut as a pastor. One of the first couples I married comes to mind. The writing was on the wall for these two from the beginning. The road which led them to our congregation was broken on so many levels. And the wedding was no panacea. Imagine any challenge that harasses a married couple and before their first anniversary they knew it. If I am honest with myself, I am not sure I could have helped them anyhow, but I will never know. When I offered (and begged) to walk alongside them, they responded with indifference and distance. It was not long before their relationship with our congregation was as lifeless as their marriage. The hardest part for me was that they lived directly between my house and the church. Which meant, twice a day, I was reminded of their refusal to seek forgiveness and life in Christ. Twice a day, I was reminded of my inability to help them as a pastor.
Pastors are not the only people who know this heartache. Teachers with struggling students know it. Parents with wayward children know it. Adults with declining parents know it.
Jesus knows it, too. “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing” (Luke 13:34). He was talking to God’s chosen people. The people God had delivered from Egypt. The people God had fed in the wilderness. The people God had welcomed into the promised land. And Jesus was not God’s first attempt to help them. God had sent prophet after prophet to call them back, to remind them of His goodness, to restore them to life. But they would not be helped.
So, what does Jesus do? Two things. First, He laments. He mourns their sin and rebellion and refusal to be gathered. Then, He finishes His course (verse 32). He goes on his way and completes what he came to do. He returns to Jerusalem as he had promised (verses 35), not only to receive shouts of Hosanna but also shouts of crucifixion. But this was not the end of His course. Rising from the dead, He continued His mission of gathering people together from all the ends of the earth, and that work continues still to this day.
Rising from the dead, He continued His mission of gathering people together from all the ends of the earth, and that work continues still to this day.
Which is where your hearers come into the picture. Unlike Jerusalem, they are not refusing to be helped; that is why they have come to worship. They have gathered together in this place with faith in their hearts to receive forgiveness, life, and strength.
But remember, we are in the season of Lent. Lent reminds us that sin remains even among the baptized children of God. Your job as the preacher is to help them take a second look at their willingness to receive God’s gracious help. With some honest reflection, they will admit they have kept some things in their lives from God’s gracious intervention. Perhaps it is their refusal to forgive someone who has violated their trust. Perhaps it is the anger they have justified as righteous. Perhaps it is a sinful habit they have stopped struggling to correct.
After exposing their reluctance to receive God’s help, you might follow Jesus’ lead in our text. This would begin with lament. Lament the wrong which has been done to them that they are struggling to forgive. Lament the many things in their lives and in the world that make them angry. Lament the sinful habits they have been unable to purge from their lives.
But do not stop with lament. Like Jesus, continue by finishing your course. And what is your course? It is tied up inextricably with His. As a servant of the Word, your job is to proclaim the promise that Jesus went all the way to death and through it for us. He came back to Jerusalem, as He had promised. He endured the rejection of His people, as He had promised. His course led from death into life, as He had promised. And He promises to lead us on that same course from death to life, from lament to joy.
You might conclude the sermon by offering to help them once again. Offer them hope in forgiveness, life, and salvation. Offer them guidance through Bible study and counseling. Offer them the church as a source of support and accountability. You cannot force them to receive this help any more than I could force the couple I had married. But remember, that it is not your job to force anything. Your job is to proclaim Christ and life in His name, and then to trust that His Spirit will work where and when He pleases.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 13:31-35.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 13:31-35.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 13:31-35.