Feb. 21, 2016
I know firsthand what it’s like for a varmint to get into the henhouse. Years ago, while a seminary student, I pastored two small congregations in southern Indiana. I wanted to get a feel for living in the church community, so the family moved into an old farmhouse just down the road from one of the churches. I drove the 60 miles to seminary twice a week for classes. Anyway, on the property of the old farmhouse was a chicken coop. I asked around and managed to get about 20 old laying hens. All was well for a while. Then one winter day I was driving home and noticed the neighbor’s dog running through the corn stubble with something in his mouth. I thought perhaps he had caught a pheasant or something. But when I turned into the drive I saw the reality. Dead chickens scattered all over the yard. Feathers everywhere. The neighbor’s dog had gotten into the henhouse, killed most of them and took one home for dinner.
Some Pharisees come to Jesus and warn him that King Herod wants to kill him. Now this is not the same brutal King Herod who wanted to kill baby Jesus. This is the son, Herod Antipas, but he’s as ruthless as his father. This Herod has already taken a machete to the head of John the Baptist. Now some Pharisees warn Jesus that the same fate awaits him.
Jesus tells the Pharisees that he is not going to alter his plans on account of Herod. Go tell that fox, “I will keep on doing what I’ve been doing. I’ll drive out demons. I’ll heal people. Today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.” He is on his way out of Galilee and toward Jerusalem, but he will not hurry his timetable or change his local mission just because of Herod’s threats.
Jesus calls Herod “that fox.” He isn’t referring to the cunning qualities of the animal. No doubt he is referring to the ruthless or even the vicious acts foxes are capable of committing. But Jesus doesn’t seem disturbed by the message or the King. It is on God’s schedule not Herod’s that Jesus’ time will come. Perhaps that’s a reference to his resurrection in three days. Jesus goes on to say that no prophet can die outside Jerusalem. Jerusalem has a bad reputation for killing prophets. The list is long and bloody. Jesus will continue his journey to Jerusalem and then they will meet.
So, what is Jesus’ plan against “that fox,” Herod? What does he become? If you were going to be an animal to go up against a fox, what would it be? To go up against a fox you’d want to be something stronger, more aggressive, dangerous? right? “You tell that fox, the bear will meet him in Jerusalem.” Wolf, coyote, badger? What about the mighty eagle of Exodus (19:4), or Hosea’s stealthy leopard (13:7)? What about the proud lion of Judah (Rev 5:5), mowing down his enemies with a roar?
Of all the wild beasts in the animal kingdom, Jesus calls himself a hen. Jesus chooses to put a mother hen up against a fox. What a dumb idea! Doesn’t have a chance. That rallying call doesn’t inspire much confidence. No wonder some of the chicks decide to run away and side with the fox. (Can you imagine Mel Gibson’s Braveheart character, shouting to his Scottish followers, “I’m the mother hen, follow me!”)
Many of us probably aren’t used to female images for God. Most of our images and ideas about God are very male-oriented. But we forget that the Bible does show feminine images for God also. Here Jesus compares himself to a mother hen gathering her children under her wings. He calls Herod a fox; a conniving, selfish, untrustworthy beast. Now he compares himself to a nurturing mother hen.
If you go to Israel, there’s small chapel situated on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. This is supposed to be the place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. On the altar is a mosaic that is said to date from the 7th century, a mosaic of a hen and her chicks. The words from Luke 13 are around the perimeter. In the mosaic, the hen has its wings spread wide to protect its chicks. Spreading wings wide puffs the chest out, making the hen appear so vulnerable.
And that is the way of Jesus. Turning every single one of our ideas and conceptions about him upside down. Which will he choose? Lion or hen? First or last? Vulnerable or victorious? Throne or cross? He speaks not from power but from his heart. Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem, not waving flags of defiance, but with a heart full of love. The kind of love that makes him lament as he sees this city’s inability to love and listen.
Jesus is not and won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first. And on the cross Jesus spreads his wings wide, puffs the chest out making him appear so vulnerable, and dies. (Barbara Brown Taylor sermon)