“Go tell that fox”. Luke 13:32
Calling him a fox, Jesus speaks about Herod in less than complimentary terms. Jesus’ comment shows that comparing cunning and devious behaviour to that of a fox goes back a long way.
Foxes in the Bible are not often encountered and when they appear, it is rarely in a favourable light. In Judges 15, Samson ties fiery torches to the tails of foxes and drives them into the wheat fields of the Philistines in order to destroy their harvest.
In the book of Nehemiah, Tobiah pours scorn on the efforts of the Jews to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem by saying their efforts are so feeble that the light tread of a fox would destroy them, “What they are building—if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!”
Foxes in the Psalms and in the book of Lamentations are associated with death and destruction. Psalm 63 says that those who fall by the sword “shall be a portion for foxes”’ Lamentations says Jerusalem is desolate “the foxes walk upon it”.
The Song of Solomon speaks of foxes bringing destruction to vineyards and the prophet Ezekiel condemns false prophets as being like “the foxes in the deserts”.
The only neutral reference to foxes there seems to be in the whole Bible is the line from Saint Matthew’s Gospel and saint Luke’s when Jesus talks about being a wandering preacher, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
When Jesus says, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal”, he knows the associations that people will make; he knows he is speaking in open disrespect. Perhaps many of his listeners would have shared his opinion; this is the Herod who had John the Baptist murdered, hardly a man of principle.
Jesus is open and blunt in expressing the truth, in saying what had to be said. Word would have got back to Herod that he had been spoken of with disdain , yet Jesus is not going to be cowed by what people think, nor what they might threaten.
“Go, tell that fox”, says Jesus and his attitude towards the corrupt Herod might have been a model for Christians down through the ages to stand up and call things as they were., except we didn’t.
Fintan O’Toole’s book “Ship Of Fools” at one point talks about the ‘Unknown knowns’ – the things everyone, or at least an awful lot of people, knew, but preferred to ‘unknow’ , to prefer not to think about so as not to have to say anything. There were foxes, and far worse, in senior positions in church and state but no-one was going to call them as they were.
A friend was an altar boy in Artane parish in the final years of the industrial school.
“You didn’t have anything to do with the school?”
“Oh God, no”.
“Did you know that the place was bad?”
“Of course, everyone knew”.
“Why didn’t anyone say anything?”
“Who were we going to say anything to? The priests ran the country”.
There must have been people who knew what was going on. Families committing girls to the Magdalene laundries; politicians sanctioning state funds for the appalling industrial schools; teachers who said nothing about colleagues’ abuse of children; former pupils who would have known that the abuse they suffered was continuing, but were cowed into quietness: how many people were engaged in a fearful conspiracy of silence? How many were afraid to speak, as Jesus would have done, against evil and corrupt rulers?
The Ireland in which detective novels were banned because of the fear of corrupting the pure morals of the Irish people was an Ireland where children could be raped and not a voice be raised.
Even the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin seems to have been afraid to raise his voice. When Archbishop McQuaid, the Dublin Council of Trade Unions and the Dublin Corporation ganged up against the staging of plays by Joyce and O’Casey, the Church of Ireland did not condemn the foxes. John Cooney quotes Sean O’Casey writing to the Irish Times in frustration:
“There we go; the streets of Dublin echo with the drumbeats of footsteps running away. The Archbishop in his Palace and the Customs Officer on the quay watch to guard virtue and Eire; the other Archbishop (Barton) draws the curtains and sits close to his study fire, saying nothing; and so the Hidden Ireland becomes the Bidden Ireland, and all is swell”.
Jesus knows what lies ahead. He knows the fox Herod will conspire with the equally unprincipled Pilate, because neither of them could stand being confronted with the truth, as Herod was by John the Baptist and as Pilate would be by Jesus. Yet being the embodiment of truth, Jesus must speak the truth, “Go tell that fox”.
Herod and Pilate tried to bury the truth; they had Jesus killed and thought it the end of the matter. He came back.
The truth always comes back. The truth of the society denounced by Sean O’Casey all those years ago has been broadcast around the world in the past year, and time and again the question has been asked about the silence, how many people there must have who knew of horrible truths and said nothing.
“Go tell that fox”, says Jesus. He is unafraid to speak the truth about Herod. May no-one in Ireland ever again be afraid to speak the truth.