Luke 19: 41-44; Luke 13:31-35
Henry was an almost-grown puppy who lived on a farm with Farmer. Henry adored Farmer and tried to do everything he was told. For months, Henry followed at Farmer’s side when he patrolled the chicken coop every morning and evening. Once in a while Farmer would find signs of digging under the fence. Whenever this happened it seemed like they also found broken eggs shells, and scattered feathers of the color of one of their hens. Henry’s dog- sense told him that for sure this was highly distressing to Farmer. These scratched out holes under the fence caused bad things to happen and Farmer to be unhappy – something Henry never wanted to see happen.
Henry took to patrolling the fence on his own. Once he was able to alert Farmer to signs of digging and Farmer was very pleased. Farmer began to trust Henry to keep watch over the chicken coop, especially during the night when Farmer was asleep. One night Henry was walking the fence line when he was suddenly aware of another creature accompanying him on his path. Henry started to bark but the creature interrupted him, “all that noise is bad for Farmer and the chickens – they can’t sleep with you making a racket.” Henry had never seen a fox, so this advice seemed wise to Henry, and he became quiet. They continued to walk the fence line until they were both sure there were no intruders tonight. Fox slunk back in to the forest.
Well, Fox began to show up to walk the rounds with Henry every night, and Henry began to imagine this creature to be another dog, a new friend. Fox waited for his opportunity, as he built trust with Henry by pouncing on snakes or chasing a weasel.
One day, Farmer decided to teach Henry about hunting. He loaded the pick-up with supplies, so Henry knew something was happening. He could feel the excitement. They would leave first thing in the morning. So that night when his red puppy friend came to walk the yard with him, he told him about the plans. He asked Red to keep an eye on the place while they were away. He would be back next evening to return to his patrol, but if Red would keep an eye on the chickens while he was away, he would be much obliged.
I can see you beginning to smile. Yes, we know what happens next. Red – the fox – saw that his patience had born fruit and he would have a wonderful feast tomorrow! Even the chickens knew him by now. There would be no alert for the neighbors to hear. No Henry, no Farmer to protect the hens and chicks, he would have his feast.
The fables, like this one, see the fox as sly, wily, a trickster. I am not sure if a fox is more devious than the next predator, but perhaps it gets this reputation because it looks so much like a dog – best friend of humans! A few years ago in Alaska, I got to watch a fox play with a young bear, who seemed to be getting a little too close to the kits. From our distance, it looked like play, but the result was to lure the bear away from the fox’s home. Fox the trickster? Perhaps.
In today’s scripture from Luke 13:31-35, we meet a sly fox out to devour and destroy. We also meet a courageous hen willing to lay down her life to save her chicks. But it’s complicated.
Who is the fox in this story? Herod? The Pharisees? Jerusalem? They all have fox behaviors. Let’s take a look.
Just a bit of context. Last week we talked about Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness as his vision quest, the place he went to commune with God and soak in God’s direction for him. It was the place that sealed his ministry, even though the devil tried to dissuade him.
Now we pick up the story of Jesus’ ministry journey nearing its end. He has been through a time of wild popularity through his teaching, healing and feeding the people. He had brought the shalom – health, wholeness and well-being – of the kingdom of God into the midst of the ordinary people, no longer reserved for the Temple people. This good news was for everyone, especially for those who have no other champion than God. Jesus’ popularity was so great now that he was getting the attention of the powers that be. Today, Jesus might be seen as having a host of social media followers, tweeting his short pithy statements and following him to every stop on his journey, just to get a great selfie with Jesus.
Like every movement, eventually the masses have to confront the powers that be. And the powers were beginning to get cautious about this man. He was on their radar. He was gaining too much power among the people. Even with their wealth and military backing, such a mass of followers was dangerous. Herod was beginning to amass troops in Jerusalem in preparation for the clash.
Jesus has also attracted the ire of the Pharisees, the pious religious ones among the people. When their movement began many generations ago, they taught people to love God by living lives according to the law. Even if they didn’t have a Temple, or couldn’t get there, they could live lives pleasing to God by following the law in their everyday lives, not just through Temple sacrifices. It freed the common folk. The Pharisaic movement was grace to the people. It was God coming near to them.
But over the years, the movement became rigid and institutionalized and lost its heart. Now the Pharisees were just another version of oppression. The Temple was beyond the common people who could never be pure enough, or wealthy enough to offer the proper sacrifices. Now the life under the law had also become so weighty and so demanding that it was beyond them too. Where was God? Out of reach for the poor? Not according to this Rabbi Jesus.
So now the politically-backed Temple and the Law-backed Pharisees found themself in the same camp. The Pharisees, had begun to collude with Herod, who controlled the Temple with his cronies, the Sadducees. Yes, Herod, who flaunted his immoral family relationships and had people killed on a whim. The Pharisees had invited the Fox to guard the hen house.
Today the Pharisees come to Jesus to warn him to stay away from Jerusalem and Herod, because Herod wants to kill him. Jesus sees through their ruse. He senses that the Pharisees are actually in Herod’s camp. He tells them to go back to Herod and tell him that he is not afraid of Herod. Jesus will keep on doing what he is doing until he dies.
Jesus response to that fox, was in two parts. The first part seems a bit cryptic: “I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.” It is easy to get caught up in these numbers and allusions. But “today and tomorrow” simply means “everyday.” In other words, I am just going to keep doing what I have been doing all along, which is to deliver people from their oppressions and heal their diseases. “On the third day” might be a veiled reference to his resurrection, but just as likely is a reference to completion, in this context. Three is the number for wholeness or completion. So today and tomorrow means everyday, and the third day, refers to when the work is complete. So Jesus is saying, “I will keep doing what I am doing until the work is done.” Then Jesus adds that he is aware that Jerusalem is death to prophets. But he still must go to Jerusalem, for that is where his path leads.
I can hear an echo here of Jesus strength when he responded to the devil after his desert vision quest. The strength of passion has not faded. He is willing to stand up for his mission to whoever stands in his way – whether Herod the fox or the Pharisees, as foxes in chicken clothing.
The second part of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is so tender and beautiful! Clearly, Jesus responds out of love rather than anger. You can almost hear him weeping, as he does when he arrives at Jerusalem and gets his first view of the city in Luke 19. Jesus knows that this city doesn’t listen. It kills the prophets and others who are sent to her with gospel, or warning. But Jesus, overwhelmed with compassion and sorrow, longs to comfort those who would reject him. He envisions Jerusalem as a brood of vulnerable chicks in need of their mother’s protection.
Any of us who have loved rebellious teens have an inkling of what this might be like. I remember working with a mother whose son was completely beyond her influence. A single mom. She was desperate. She saw her son spiraling deeper and deeper into drugs and flirting with crime and violence. She so longed to take him into her arms and hold him, but he would not have it. The only way to hold him that she could find was to send him forcibly to a wilderness “boot camp” experience. I remember sitting with her the morning after the camp staff had come in the middle of the night and taken him right out of his bed to the van, while he glared hatred toward her. I don’t know who was more desperate, the son or the mother. It was unbelievably heart-wrenching!
When I read this story of Jesus yearning for Jerusalem, I hear echoes of this mother’s love and absolute lostness at the same time. What could possibly cause someone so loved to reject it? There are no words. Jesus wants every good thing for Jerusalem of his heart. Here he uses the imagery of mother-love; in a few more chapters, we get his tears. His heart is broken.
His vision, given by God is so strong! His compassion is so deep! And yet, people will not let him love them. They think they are wise in the words of scripture, or wealthy in the treasures of this world, or powerful in the latest weaponry. They think that the fox is protecting them. But they are just baby chicks, not understanding a thing about the world, and what truly gives life. They scurry from one distraction to another, without seeing what really matters.
As we walk with Jesus in the journey of Lent, may the eyes of our hearts be open to the compassion of our God, the vast love which refused to strike even the down on the heads of the precious chicks. Protecting, loving his people, Jesus goes all the way to the cross, never giving up on the vision that one day they would let themselves be embraced, taken under the wings of God who loves them more than life itself.
May our Lenten journey offer us enough time to pause, to listen, to sense the love which God has placed in our hearts, in order to be able to respond to the Spirit. May we open our hearts to the clues left like breadcrumbs of love-infused sunlight, song, green buds and extravagant color! May we take moments to feel the strong embrace of God, and to relax knowing that all is well.
A sermon by Rev. Carley Friesen, 2-21-2016