17th March 2019
Genesis Chapter 15 verses 1 – 12 and 17-18
Philippians Chapter 3 verses 17 – Chapter 4 verses 1
Luke Chapter 13 verses 31 – 35
Maggie Cogan - Reader
I’m sure we all love a good story and, Aesop's fables are classic children’s ones. The stories use animals as their subjects to teach moral truths. Do you remember the one about the tortoise and the hare? What about the mouse and the snail? Aesop’s animals teach children truths about life. There are other writers who have used animals to communicate more complex truths to adults. George Orwell's Animal Farm uses pigs and barnyard animals to talk about totalitarianism. Believe it or not, here we have in the thirteenth chapter of Luke, Jesus using two animals as metaphors to teach us a moral truth---a fox and a hen.
Our Gospel reading begins with Herod trying to drive Jesus from his territory through threats and intimidation. The Pharisees, for some unknown reason, come to Jesus and tell him that Herod is out to kill him. Maybe Herod thought Jesus was John the Baptist having returned from the grave to hunt him down. Hearing of Herod's intimidation Jesus calls Herod a "fox."
A fox is known to be sly, crafty, and cunning with the amazing yellowy green eyes that can haunt us if we catch them in our headlights when driving at night. Herod was sly and cunning in his ethical and political life. Behind a public facade of concern he acted with evil and deceitful intent. His pretence of religious sensitivity was betrayed by bankrupt morals. As a predator, Herod fed off the lives of the oppressed people he ruled. He used his power to threaten but, Herod was really a petty fox, afraid of those who publicly raised questions about his actions or who opposed his self-serving ambitions.
The lion, not the fox, is the king of beasts. In Rome the proverb was, "Today, when people are at home they tend to think of themselves as lions, but in public they are just foxes." In public Herod is a fox. And to Jesus, Herod is more of a fox than a lion. Jesus publicly defies the fox's intimidating death threats with the message that he won't cower before the fox's gleaming, sharp teeth, but will continue on with his mission of casting out the forces of evil and offering healing to the sick. Jesus' real threat isn't in Rome, but in Jerusalem, where they wring the necks of prophets. To Jesus, Herod is a sly, insignificant, little fox---no one to fear.
We may have caught a glimpse of the fox in the sly ways political leaders howl about Brexit or have concern for the poor, but conceal their real intents and pull the wool over the people’s eyes with cunning words. The world of the fox is cruel, cold, calculated, and compassionless. In order to escape the teeth of this cunning predator we need to name the fox, as Jesus did, and seek a place of refuge from his cruel and cunning ways and make sure we deal with the obstacles in the way.
Where does one go for protection against the fox? Jerusalem was once a safe place, a haven from the enemies of God's people. Sadly, to many of the prophets, Jerusalem had become the symbol of a people under God's judgment. The social order was unjust. The city had itself become a carnivorous animal, feeding on the weak.
The prophets who came to Jerusalem with the message of God’s reign were chewed up and spat out. There was a pattern of the people rejecting the liberating and emancipating word of God that came through the voices of the prophets. So, Jesus, who was bringing the message of liberation and the dawning of God's reign, lamented over the city of Jerusalem. Jesus cried out:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood, but you would not”.
In contrast to the fox, Jesus offers himself to the people of Jerusalem as a mother hen. St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, among many others, spoke freely of Jesus as our mother when he said: “But you, Jesus, good Lord, are you not also a mother? Are you not that mother who, like a hen, collects her chicks under her wings? Truly master, you are a mother. For what others have conceived and given birth to, they have received from you. It is then you, above all, Lord God, who are mother.”
Jesus describes his own ministry of salvation, compassion, and protection like that of a mother hen. Jesus knew God to be like one, who gathers her children under her warm wings. Could he have remembered the Psalmist's words?: Take pity on me, God, take pity upon me, in you my soul takes shelter/I take shelter in the shadow of your wings? (Psalm 57:1)
Did Jesus remember how Boaz said to Ruth about caring for Naomi: May the Lord recompense you for what you have done and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge?(Ruth 2:12) In harmony with God's motherly purposes of protection, care, and salvation, Jesus is telling us that he is like a mother hen, who seeks to gather together his people into a redeemed community under the compassionate wings of God. But then, how sad it is to hear Jesus lament..."but you would not."
Will we gather together under God's motherly wings? God seeks to gather us under her protective wings, as a hen gathers her chicks. God wants a relationship with us that is as personal and intimate as that of a mother to her children. It is God's desire to gather us together to him, when it seems that the destructive forces of our lives circle over our heads or when our enemy, the fox, tries to prey upon us. God wants to gather us under her wings when we grieve, when we're anxious, or when we need the warmth of God's accepting presence.
Will we allow God to spread her wings over us? Or will we turn to the fox, who claims we will be secure through power, violence, and control? Gathering under God’s wings is a vulnerable place to be. We can’t strike back. Even so, not striking back doesn’t mean we’re a chicken. It does mean we don’t rely upon the power and weapons of this world to protect us. Will we gather under the vulnerable wings of Christ? Will we be a mothering church that offers her body and blood for the world? Together under the wings of Christ we live by vulnerable power of the cross as we face a world full of foxes. The reign of God is like a fox and a hen.
So today’s Gospel message reveals Our Lord living on the edge of danger. Controversy is swirling around his feet. His outspoken style and his constant challenge to the established order have drawn the attention of powerful people and now Jesus has an increasing number of enemies.
That is the context in which we find our Lord speaking to us in this lesson. We might like to have more stories about calling disciples, fishing for people, and curing the sick, but, instead, we get opposition and the threat of a deadly confrontation in Jerusalem.
It speaks clearly of Jesus’ courage and determination. It challenges us to emulate the example of Jesus by living our lives with similar courage and resolve. But I wonder if this challenge serves any purpose? Do we need courage? Are we doing anything that could possibly incur the wrath or displeasure of someone in authority?
Most of us shuffle along in the shadows of life. When was the last time, any of us put the full armour on for the Lord to engage in a noble struggle? Many people have never done this. If we are honest I think we would acknowledge the painful truth that if we were on trial for our life and the charge was that we are a Christian – would there be enough evidence to convict us!
One of the great challenges to the Gospel is the manner in which so many people today have more or less privatized their relationship with God. This is a major reason why many people feel no need to go to church, participate in a Bible study group, or blend themselves into any form of Christian community.
The Church provides us a collective identity and a communal mandate that we simply cannot find anywhere else. Jesus speaks to us today and only when our faith is vital and important can the urgency of the Gospel message touch us. And there is a sense of urgency, as these well-meaning Pharisees come to warn Jesus that he is in danger for criticizing Herod. These sympathetic Pharisees encouraged Jesus to cool his rhetoric. In fact they urge him to find a little bolt hole and hide away for a while.
But the idea of hiding from Herod infuriated Jesus. He would have no part of that and so he bluntly tells these concerned Pharisees: Go tell that Herod, listen: today and tomorrow I shall be casting out devils and working cures; and I shall be doing it the following day.
Do we have a threatening Herod in our life? The challenge to stand up to Herod can come in varied and unexpected ways.
During the darkest days of World War Two, just after France had fallen to Nazi Germany, Winston Churchill gathered his cabinet and described England’s plight with excruciating clarity. You could cut the despair with a knife. But then Churchill smiled and said: My friends, I find it all inspiring!
So let us strive to be people of courage. Let us resist the Herod’s, who would seek to silence us. Let us confront wrong wherever we find it, always determined to live as citizens of God’s kingdom now and in the age to come.