Hen in the Foxhouse

  • Luke 13: 31-35
  • Gen. 15:1-12, 17-18

It is, of course, the second Sunday of Lent – the time of waiting in the wilderness. In times of sorrow and waiting, many of the scripture we have heard this morning can offer comfort and hope. Indeed today’s theme in worship is that “God gathers us together in safe shelter.” We wait, fearful in the cold and dark, but God’s comfort is near. Indeed there have been tragedies in the world and in our lives this week in which we have longed for God to surround us like a warm comforter – the tragedy of violence in Iraq and other nations; the tragic and unexplainable deaths and injury of Bluffton University baseball players in Georgia; the sudden and possibly fatal illness of Karen Solberg’s stepdaughter Kateen in England and the grief and confusing of her family. Surely you are aware of others, perhaps touching you even closer to home. The Psalmist’s confidence to say, “I will see goodness in the land of the living…let your heart take courage and wait for the LORD!” is the kind of confidence that, though it does not answer our ‘why?’ assures us that God will meet our need.

The texts that we’ve heard today speak strongly of waiting in patience and hope. God will fulfill the promise and be faithful to us. In Deuteronomy we have God’s promise to Abram proven through arcane ritual, from Psalms the assurance that goodness of the Lord will come to those who wait with courage, in Philippians, Paul’s assertion that Christ will transform humiliation to glory. All texts of hope and expectation, until we get to Luke. Luke’s story of Jesus’ encounter moves from warning to lament to warning. Offering brief comfort, but despairing that those who need it most have already rejected it.

At this point in his journey to Jerusalem – to the cross – Jesus’ position is not glorious. The Gospel text opens with the Pharisees’ warning that Herod wants to kill Jesus. Jesus has had an ambiguous relationship with the Pharisees, at best. So their motivation for telling Jesus this in not clear – perhaps they want to see how he will react, perhaps they are genuinely concerned for his safety, maybe they want him to leave their territory.

What is noteworthy is that Jesus’ response does little to dispel the fear that his death will come to pass. He lets them know of his intention to keep working in spite of the threat. And it is a very real threat. Jesus says to the Pharisees, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.'” The use of ‘ fox’ by Luke may imply craftiness and slyness as we often think of it, but the audience would more likely have associated the fox – both the word and the king – with destruction and death. As in, a fox in the henhouse.

Herod is previously shown in Luke to be both curious about Jesus and a person capable of getting rid of those he doesn’t like. He beheaded John the Baptist when his prophetic voice became too loud and threatening to the powers and now we hear from the Pharisees that he wants to kill Jesus. When he finally meets Jesus later in Jerusalem he wants to see Jesus perform a miracle or sign, but he is also derisive and contemptuous and cruel.

Jesus will finally meet Herod when he embarks on the final leg of his journey to the cross. It may not ultimately be Herod who kills him, but Herod is a puppet of the Roman rule, he is still a corrupt and tyrannical ruler. The scene plays out like a classic confrontation between truth-telling prophet and evil king in the Hebrew Bible (though here through the intermediary Pharisees). And this king is known to kill prophets.

Herod does represent the powers that will ultimately bring Jesus to his death. He is trusted and respected by Pilate, who sends Jesus to Herod in consultation before sentencing him. In Acts 4, these two are represented to be part of the allegiance who blindly reject Jesus as Messiah and who are opponents of God’s Reign. Though Herod the fox does not kill Jesus by his own hand or his own order, he is a part of a destructive dominant culture of both Jews and Gentiles who publicly mock and shame him.

Jesus is the hen in the fox’s house. In the midst of the hurting and chaotic world, he says to the Pharisees that he will continue in his work of healing, and casting out demons and this work will bring him ultimately to Jerusalem. But in Jerusalem, it seems there will be no more hope than he finds in Herod’s territory. Here warning turns to lament.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that stones is prophets and kills those that who are sent to it! How often I have longed to gather your children together like a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Strangely, Jesus speaks this lament over Jerusalem before he has yet entered it in the narrative of Luke. Perhaps when he talks about offering comfort and being rejected, he foresees the way that Jerusalem and the world will treat him and already mourns. Or perhaps he speaks on behalf of God who knows that much of the world will still be part of the fox’s agenda – mocking, destructive and disdainful of the saving work of his Christ. Perhaps Jesus is biding his time. He knows that the powers of his world, the fox’s house, will do him in but he has the work of God’s reign to carry out and nothing will keep him from it.

In many ways we are still living in the fox’s house. Threats and examples of destruction upon destruction are everywhere. Perhaps it is apropos that Fox News is named as it is. I’m joking – mostly. Because, in many ways we too may be participating in the work of the fox’s house, hurting each other and earth both intentionally and unintentionally. Rejecting Jesus’ commission to heal and do justice. Rejecting the closeness that Jesus’ offers.

Jesus, the mother hen, enters into the fox’s house with an offer of comfort and protection, and what does Jerusalem do? What do we do? We run away. We stone the prophets. You’ll see in your communicators the ad for the play ‘My name is Rachel Corrie’. She was a young doing justice work in Gaza who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer when she stood in front of a house that was to be demolished. No wonder Jesus despairs of our rejection.

I imagine he is like the parent who’s toddler is no longer patient with the hugs and cuddles but needs to go off and play and make mistakes on her own, or perhaps even more like the parent who’s more grown up teen or young adult is making choices that are destructive and harmful for himself or others and yet the parent is powerless to stop it. Next week we will hear more of this kind of rebellion in the story of the prodigal son.

And Jesus has leaves the house of the fox to destroy itself. In his despair, Jesus says, “See, your house is abandoned.” I can just imagine his weariness in this statement. I’ve made my offer, and now you’re on your own…

So what hope can I offer after painting this dreary picture? There is a glimmer even from Jesus himself. He seems determined and world weary, but still the offer of gathering comfort stands. Jesus the mother hen is always longing to gather us his scattered and frightened chicks under those soft and warm wings.

The closer I come to being a mother hen myself, the more that ‘nesting’ kicks in, the more I think about the needs of children – of my own child. This week I’ve been reading about baby slings. Learning how to make a pouch that will help be carry my baby close to my body from when she is first born to when she is a toddler. By now it is fairly well established that infants thrive on close contact by their parents or caregivers and the sling allows for that swaddled closeness, especially in their first months. In almost every culture you will find ways that mothers have contrived of strapping their infants to them – to care for and protect them while at the same time being able to go about the work of the household. We are no different in our needs than babies needing their parents’ touch and protection, though we may rebel and kick and think we’re better off on our own, the mother hen still longs to carry us close to her body any time we’re ready for it.

The second glimmer of comfort is paired with the sorrow of the word of abandonment. “See your house is left to you.” And continues “you will not see me again until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'” But…we will see him again. These words are echoed almost exactly in the words of the crowd on Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. (Lk 19:38) “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” We know what happens in Jerusalem – Jesus comes that much closer to death.

But we also know that in God’s story death is not the end. If you’ll remember the text we read from Genesis, Abram has given up hope that he will have any descendants. God’s promise of making a great and chosen nation from Abram and Sarai’s progeny is symbolized in a weird and gruesome ritual of sacrifice and fire. Dead animal bodies are consumed by fire and thus the promise is sealed. For God death is not the end but the beginning. The end of Jesus’ journey is also the beginning because it is the resurrection. With Paul we can be ready to proclaim “our citizenship in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting our Saviour.”

As we move into a time of reflective silence, I invite you to think about the ways that you are participating in the fox’s house and offer those confession to Christ, mother hen, who is waiting with open arms to bring you and your pain and your sin under the shelter of her wings.