Luke 13: 31-35
Perhaps Jesus was more of a country bumpkin than a city slicker coming in from the Galilee but he was not stupid. When he caught sight of the big city of Jerusalem, a place that he had traveled to often for the Passover and other Jewish festivals, and when he thought of the havoc that the tyrannical Herod’s throughout the years had imposed on this tiny spit-spot in the vast Roman Empire, Jesus lamented greatly.
Jesus is well into his ministry by now and he is setting his face toward Jerusalem. It’s that time. He has been up in the Galilee, primarily an agrarian culture where farming and fishing were the norm and his parables drew upon that context from which he grew. He calmed storms and gathered thousands of people on the side of large and rolling hills and talked about flowers of the field and the birds in the air. Now he is winding his way “through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.” (Luke 13:22)
This is where we find him in this morning’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, the 13th chapter.
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’
He said to them, ‘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. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.”
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 under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’
The fox in literary history is rarely connected with warm and fuzzy roles. In the world of the brothers Grimm and other fairy tales and fables they are usually depicted as unpredictable, cunning and sneaky red-coated critters that become involved in the story yet lurk in the margins waiting for the right time to pounce on their prey. So it may (or may not) be a surprise that Herod Antipas, direct descendant of Herod the Great, aka Herod of the Nativity, and our Christmas pageants, was analogous to a fox prowling in the alleys of Jerusalem, waiting and watching to get Jesus.
And Jesus. It’s hard to imagine Jesus name-calling, isn’t it? I mean, really Jesus come on! Name-calling? And a fox? Herod Antipas is still in charge of the Roman Empire and still the Herod’s have not reconciled their relationship between Jesus the King and the Herodian dynasty. Still the Herod’s were out to best him, to outfox him at every juncture.
This is one uncomfortable text on several levels and Lent is the time for uncomfortable questions and hard truths and so we need to hear this text and make sense of it for our lives if we are to journey with Jesus into Jerusalem. We were never promised an easy trip if we follow Jesus to this holy city. Jesus never said to his disciples, come follow me down Easy Street to that glorious kingdom.
Jerusalem is no ordinary city. The moment you set foot within the boundaries of the city you know that you have entered a place where prophets, priests, and ordinary people compete for sacred space and that the presence of God is palpable around every corner built of golden Jerusalem stone. It is thrilling, sacred, humbling and certifiably crazy to be and live in Jerusalem.
Not much has changed in this very ancient city, the axis mundi, the center of the world where heaven and earth meet. Divinity and humanity at its best, and at its worst. As Barbara Brown Taylor notes, “When Jerusalem obeys God, the world spins peacefully on its axis. When Jerusalem ignores God, the whole planet wobbles.”[i] Jerusalem is wobbling! And Jesus laments.
‘Go tell that fox, that sly guy Herod that I’m busy casting out demons and performing cures and on the third day I’m outta here!’ Jesus expresses his sorrow over the destructiveness of Jerusalem and their inability to repent and follow the teachings of God. He also knows that in just another forty years the temple will be destroyed. While we might want to wag our fingers at Jerusalem for not being faithful to God we need to think through this because who among us has been able to completely follow every teaching and command that God has issued? Who among us has not fallen short of God’s expectations for our lives?
We, like Jerusalem have the ability to squander away the precious resources that God has bequeathed to us, depleting our warehouses of earth’s riches and goodness. We, like Jerusalem don’t always listen to the call that God placed upon our lives as stewards of our time, our talents, and our treasures. We, like Jerusalem sometimes just plain old forget that we are called because God wants us just as we are to advance God’s kingdom here on earth, that our mission is not ours, but God’s mission, that we exist for others just as much as we exist for ourselves. That we as a church will implode if we are only self-focused and not other focused.
And when we loose sight of God, the foxes of power, of avarice, of hatred advance.
Yet, there is so much redemption in this passage to find reassurance in. The hen enters and it is her instinctive loving nature to gather her chicks, her brood no matter their behavior, in her protective care. She outstretches her wings to expose her own vulnerability only to protect and preserve her young, her impressionable and vulnerable, her wayward. The hen does all that she can to protect her brood, her beloved young from the fox. No matter how far we may stray and cross paths with the fox, God is there with wings of mercy outstretched.
A fox, a hen and her brood. It sort of sounds like a lewd joke or maybe the beginning of one of Grimm’s fairy tales. But it is not a fairy tale. It is a story of redemption. It is a story of God’s love for us. It shows us that when we sin God still loves us; that even though we fall short, God’s deepest desire is to protect us from harm and danger and unhealthy living. The truth in this passage is that Jesus laments, intercedes, and grieves for us and in doing so God gathers us closely in forgiveness and grace.
May these words reassure and enrich your living as you journey into Jerusalem with Jesus during Lent.