The Fox and The Hen
Where is the rooster, when the mother hen is protecting her baby chicks? I don’t know much, if anything, about raising free-range chickens. But apparently, the men folk live separately, and are mostly good for breeding and crowing! And the foxes, and other predators of the chicks, like to raid the chicken coop, just after sunset, or just before dawn, when rooster, and hen for that matter, are basically blind.
There was an urban pastor who raised chickens for a time, as some kind of small urban, civil disobedience, because she disagreed with the restriction against having them within her city limits. Or maybe we should just say, she ran a-foul of the law!
Anyway, one of the things she learned in her experiment was that her hens not only sheltered her own chicks, but they also willingly took in those from other breeds, whose mothers had died. She saw Hestia, her last hen, do this more than once. She was very unselfish, like a foster mother, always on call, welcoming every-one of every stripe, to gather under her protective wings. Fox or eagle, whoever the predator, Hestia was available, and proud to help.
One night as the pastor returned home late, she heard a struggle going on near the chicken run, and shined a flashlight on the situation only to discover a possum, with Hestia, in the grips of its jaws! At first, it looked like a lost cause, but when the possum was scared away, Hestia gave out a loud cackle, and the pastor discovered Hestia was alive, though one wing was broken badly. Unfortunately, before a vet could be found to repair the damage, Hestia’s infected wing did her in. Hestia was the last of her hens, and the Pastor gave up her urban protest, and resumed her hunt for eggs in the local grocery store.
When some of the Pharisees came to warn Jesus that Herod desired to kill him, and if he had any sense, he’d get out town – Jesus said, “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.’”
Jesus will not be moved. He has his agenda and his road map. Though he is in Herod’s territory, in Galilee and Perea in the north of Israel, he has his sights set on Jerusalem in Judea. Luke’s gospel more than the others, makes this clear. Jesus comes from the rural north, gathering followers from fishers and local tax collectors, men and women, cast-offs and commoners, but his message is also for the rich and powerful, and urban dwellers of Zion. Jesus is a uniter, a gatherer. His tent is big, but the door is narrow. He doesn’t build walls, but welcomes the stranger.
So Jesus is not afraid of the fox. He’ll leave Herod’s territory when the time is right, for him. His ministry of prayer and healing and inaugurating the new age, is the priority. And Jesus knows his real threat is Jerusalem, for “today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way,” as Jesus says, “because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.” Jesus knows his fate, if things don’t change. Yes, Herod is a fox, but prophets – and here Jesus is not afraid to call himself that – are always dealt with in Jerusalem. Which indeed, happened to the prophet Zechariah, amongst others, and which as Luke knew, happened to Stephen, who was stoned within a few years after Jesus died, and Luke writes about it in the book of Acts.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it,” says Jesus! And you can feel his anger building. He knows the traditions and expectations. He has followers and adoring fans that will follow him. If only he will fulfill their hopes and dreams and fight back – and make their country great again! They want a strong lion to chase away the Wiley fox. They want King David, the mighty warrior who stared down Goliath, and conquered all comers!
Still, knowing all that, here is what Jesus told them: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” Yes, Jesus wants to come as our savior – in the form of a chicken! Not a lion, or an eagle, or King David, but a mothering hen. How long do you think Jesus would have lasted, out on the 2016 campaign trail, with that kind of compassion?
Has Jesus gone soft? Perhaps he refers to spiritual matters, a Savior in the realm of faith; the master of our hearts and good intentions? We can trust Jesus, of course, to keep us calm in the midst of an overwhelming day, and tame the monsters in the darkness, and give us “rest beside the still waters” of our every anxiety.
But he is also offering us the opportunity to fully know the One, Jesus called, his Father, in this motherly message, and to count ourselves among those in Jerusalem who are willing to be gathered-in by Jesus.
When Jesus characterizes the city as killing the ones Sent to it, the prophets and apostles, the surprise is, he doesn’t desire to respond in kind, but he models the compassion of a defenseless mother hen. Jesus longs to gather Jerusalem under his wings, and to comfort even those who would reject him. He envisions Jerusalem as a brood of vulnerable chicks in need of their mother’s protection, and longs to offer the same protection, and salvation, to the very city where he is on his way to die.
A mothering hen says, Barbara Brown Taylor, “stands between [her] 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 children with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first.” That is the way of the cross Jesus chooses, for the sake of the world.
During this season of Lent, as we make our journey to Jerusalem, we might ask ourselves what it is that we long for and desire? Do we long for the ministry of Jesus, to protect, and be protected, as a mothering hen, even in a world filled with ruthless foxes? Do we have a desire to be like Jesus, to find compassion for our enemies, even those who want to put us to death? In this city and world of violence, what does it mean, that we desire even our enemies to experience Jesus’ compassion, as we ourselves have?
A big part of Jesus’ mission in the gospel of Luke is, a gathering together, as opposed to, the scattering, by foxes like Herod. Jesus desires to gather us protectively, but in a way that guarantees liberation, and freedom for all. A freedom that is a sometimes fragile, and one that has to “want” to make sacrifices.
If you have ever loved someone you could not ultimately protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament, for the people of Jerusalem. All you can do is open your arms, though you can’t make anyone walk into them. It’s the most vulnerable posture in the world – wings spread, breast exposed — but if we mean what we say, then this is how we stand.(BBT)
This is what the Pastor of poor Hestia learned. Hestia was not a chick, but a mature hen. And the Pastor realized that even adult chickens are susceptible to predators. Even Jesus, the mothering hen, despite his self-assuredness in the face of danger, had no wing under which to find shelter.
But he knew that all along – “today, tomorrow, and the next day” – and that is how the world is transformed for us. For in Jesus, arms spread wide open, we see our own sin and cruelty, writ large. We see how quickly, we default to scattering the ones we scapegoat, in our own day and age, and understand how essential it is – and how rewarding too – that we protect openly and freely, and risk whatever it takes. For in Christ Jesus there is life, and no fox can scatter us, under those wings.