March 13th, 2022 homily on Luke 13:31-35 by Pastor Galen
“The Fox and the Hen” – An Aesop’s Fable
Aesop was a Greek fabulist and storyteller who lived 600 years before the time of Christ and is credited with a number of fables known collectively as Aesop’s Fables. One of the stock characters in Aesop’s fables was the fox – a sly, wily animal who was always using cunning and trickery to try and capture his prey. But on one such occasion he was outsmarted by a wise old Hen who escaped his clutches by using her own cunning.
One bright evening as the sun was sinking on a glorious world, a wise old Hen flew into a tree to roost. But just as she was about to put her head under her wing to rest, her eyes caught a flash of red and a glimpse of a long pointed nose, and there just below her stood Mister Fox. “Have you heard the wonderful news?” cried the Fox in a very joyful and excited manner.
“What news?” asked the hen very calmly, though she did have a strange, fluttery feeling inside her, for, you know, she was very much afraid of the Fox.
“The news that your family and mine and all other animals have agreed to forget their differences and live in peace and friendship from now on forever. Just think of it! I simply cannot wait to embrace you! Do come down, dear friend, and let us go into the forest together to celebrate the joyful event.”
“How grand!” said the Hen. “I certainly am delighted at the news.” But she spoke in an absent way, and craning her neck, seemed to be looking at something afar off.
“What is it you see?” asked the Fox, a little anxiously.
“Why, it looks to me like a couple of Hounds coming this way. They must have heard the good news and…”
But the Fox did not wait to hear more. Off he started on a run.
“Wait,” cried the Hen. “Why do you run? The Dogs are friends of yours now!”
“Yes,” answered the Fox. “But they might not have heard the news. Besides, I have a very important errand that I had almost forgotten about.”
The Hen smiled as she buried her head in her feathers and went to sleep, for she had succeeded in outfoxing the fox.
The Fox and the Pharisees
It’s possible that Jesus had Aesop’s fable of the Fox and the Hen in the back of his mind when the Pharisees came and warned him that Herod was seeking to kill him. After all, just a few chapters earlier in Luke the Pharisees had been lying in wait for him, trying to trap Jesus in his words (see Luke 11:53-54), and so their supposed concern for Jesus’s safety in this situation was certainly suspicious.
Whether Herod really was trying to kill Jesus or not we don’t know. We do know that Herod had killed John the Baptist, although somewhat begrudgingly, and that Herod’s father, Herod the Great, had used cunning and deceit to try and convince the Wise men to lead him to baby Jesus when he felt threatened by the existence of a newborn king.
And so it’s possible that all of this was a carefully laid trap, either by Herod or the Pharisees to try to get Jesus to let down his guard. But like the wise old Hen, Jesus was not about to fall into whatever trap the Pharisees or Herod had waiting for him. And he certainly was not going to deviate from his mission.
And so Jesus told the Pharisees to go back to King Herod – who he calls “that fox” (Luke 11;32) and to tell Herod that Jesus was a little busy at the moment, casting out demons, and healing people and all in all providing the sort of leadership and care and concern that was certainly lacking from both the religious and political leaders of his day.
In the following verses, Jesus makes it clear that he knows that he will indeed eventually be killed – like many prophets before him. But, like the prophets of old – it will take place in the region of Galilee where Herod rules – as would be expected. Rather, he will be killed in Jerusalem – the seat and center of religious power. The very city that should have recognized and welcomed him with open arms. He will be put to death at the insistence of the very religious leaders who were pretending in this instance to be on his side. The very people who should have recognized Jesus for who he was and should have welcomed him with open arms.
Yes, if the people of any city should have recognized Jesus and welcomed him, it should have been the people of Jerusalem. Jerusalem had more priests and scribes and religious scholars per capita than any other city in Palestine. Most towns had a small synagogue where people could come together to hear the law, but Jerusalem contained the temple itself – believed to be the dwelling place of God, the place where Heaven and earth met.
But Jesus, who claimed that he himself was the dwelling place of God, the place where heaven and earth met, posed such a threat to the power and prestige of the religious elites that they connived together with the political authorities to have him crucified and killed.
Like a Mother Hen
Jesus, knowing what was in the hearts of the Pharisees, knowing what they would eventually do to him, should have been filled with fear, or anger, or righteous indignation. He should have turned it around on them, used his own cunning or trickery to get the better of them.
But instead we see here in Luke 13 that he was filled with sorrow and compassion. Sorrow for the people who would reject him, compassion for the very people who will turn their backs on him. Grief for the people who will connive together to have him killed.
Jesus is filled with such compassion that he cries out, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Luke 13:34). Like a mother hen, he longs to gather them close to him, to shield and protect his children. But they do not run to Jesus, they do not recognize him for who he is. They do not realize he is looking out for their good. And instead they run the other way.
Jesus as our Mother
It’s worth noting that while we often refer to Jesus as our brother and God as our Father, here Jesus compares his compassion for the city of Jerusalem to that of a mother hen.
In doing so, he follows in a long line of biblical authors who describe God using motherly imagery. In Hosea 13:8, God is described as a mother bear.
In Deut. 32:11-12, God is described as a mother eagle “that rouses her chicks and hovers over her young,” and a few verses later God is described as “the God who gave you birth” (Deut. 32:18).
God says in Isaiah 66:13, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
Psalm 91:4 says “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” And there are about a dozen other verses throughout Scripture where God is described as a mother bird, gathering us under God’s wings.
In describing his care and concern for the people of Jerusalem using this imagery of a mother hen, Jesus is once again expressing the heart of God, who cares for us as both a mother and a father.
This led St. Anselm, writing in the 11th century, to pray:
“Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you; You are gentle with us as a mother with her children.”
It led Julian of Norwich, writing in the 14th century to say:
“It is a characteristic of God to overcome evil with good. Jesus Christ, therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is out true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him and this is where His maternity starts. And with it comes the gentle protection and guard of love which will never cease to surround us. Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother.“
He Gave His Life for Us
Those of us who have little to no experience raising barnyard animals might miss some of the power and significance of this mother hen imagery. We often think of chickens as timid and cowardly – when someone is referred to as a “chicken” it usually means they are the opposite of brave.
But nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to mother hens. Blogger Carolyn Henderson describes mother hens this way:
“…Chickens seem like pretty mundane, primeval creatures (which they are, and they aren’t), and left to free range, they patrol an area regularly for worms, grubs, and grass. But a mother hen is something different indeed, easy to identify from a distance even when you can’t see the chicks near her feet:
She stands straighter. She’s alert, constantly looking for danger. And when she senses that danger, she emits a special clucking noise that brings the chicks — the smart ones that wind up surviving, that is — to her at a run. They gather under her outspread wings, which she then enfolds around the chicks, sheltering them from the threat.
Most dogs and cats take this as a strong indication to keep their distance, and even wild creatures think twice about approaching a puffed out, inflated, extremely belligerent creature. And while the chicken is not generally thought of as a noble animal — like a lion, a tiger, or even a polar bear, all of whom don’t take kindly to strangers messing with their children — the mother hen is noble in her own right, and she will give her life to protect her brood.“
This is, of course, what Jesus did for us. He stood up against the powerful predators of sin and death and the grave – and ultimately he gave his life to free us from the power of sin and death. Even when we rejected him and turned our backs on him. Even when we did not love him with our whole hearts, even when we did not do God’s will, and rebelled against God’s love, still Jesus gave his life for us. Still he longs to gather each and every one of us under his wings.
Run to Jesus
We live in a world where there are many foxes. People – including sometimes those who are close to us – who we don’t know if we can trust. Systems and organizations that appear interested and concerned for us, but in the end we find out are only looking out for their own interests.
In the midst of this chaos and confusion, Jesus stands, ready and waiting to gather us under his wings. Like a mother hen, he is constantly looking out for our good, constantly inviting us to run to him.
This morning, whatever you may be going through, whatever your worries or fears or concerns, let us bring them to Jesus, that he may shield us under his wings of love.