October 27, 2011 - Thursday of the Thirtieth week of Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

What does Jesus mean when he says that "it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem"? Many prophets died outside of Jerusalem throughout history. The translation could be improved to "it is not permitted that a prophet perish outside of Jerusalem."

The first change from "impossible" to "not permitted" stresses that this is part of Jesus' mission. The Pharisees warn him to get out of town before King Herod kills him; Jesus is going to leave and go to Jerusalem, but because this is the will of the Father, not because King Herod wants to get rid of him. Jesus is telling them that he will leave town, but not because he is afraid. He is compelled to keep going until he reaches Jerusalem.

The second change from "die" to "perish" emphasizes that Jesus is speaking about being killed. Only Jerusalem is religious enough to kill a prophet. In another town, Jesus would have been welcomed or feared. Only Jerusalem has the capability to really understand his teaching and actually reject it. The Pharisees warn Jesus to leave before Herod kills him. Jesus will leave, not to escape death but to meet death on his own terms.

A third point, not an issue of translation but of nuance, is the use of "a prophet". Greek has no word for "a" so the text merely says "prophet". In English, the the sentence sounds like a general rule for prophets, but the original is open to something different.

Moses promised the Israelites that someday a prophet like him would come to teach them the will of God, to complete the work of Moses. None of the prophets of Israel had ever fulfilled this role. Not even the greatest, not Elijah or Elisha or Jeremiah nor any other prophet spoke with the authority of Moses as a man directly passing on the will of God.

The Torah ends by saying that this promise has never been fulfilled, that the Lord never raised up a prophet like Moses to whom he spoke face to face. Now Jesus is saying that he must go to Jerusalem because a prophet is not allowed to perish elsewhere. This is no general rule. Jesus is telling the Pharisees that he is the prophet promised by Moses, so he must go to Jerusalem to die.

Jesus is the prophet promised by Moses; he is the king promised to David; he is the priest promised in the psalms; he is the Son of Man revealed to Daniel; he is the son promised to Eve; he is the suffering servant spoken of in Isaiah; he is the just man prophesied in the book of Wisdom; he is the Lamb of God pointed out by John. He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and the New Testament is a covenant in his blood. He is not afraid of Herod. He is going to Jerusalem to die because that is the will of God. He going to Jerusalem to die because that was what we needed.