Click here for a sermon on Luke 9:28-36, the Gospel reading on the Transfiguration of Jesus, the reading for the Sunday before Lent in the Church of Ireland lectionary.
“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” Luke 13:34
Foxes, hens and chicks – Jesus spoke in the language of the ordinary people.
“Go and tell that fox for me”, he says in saint Luke Chapter 13 Verse 32. Calling him a fox, Jesus is speaking about Herod in less than complimentary terms. 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 the book of Judges Chapter 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 Chapter 4, 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 Chapter 5 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 Chapter 8 and Saint Luke’s Gospel Chapter 9 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,”, Jesus knows what he is saying about Herod, 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, Herod is a fox.
What foxes are there in our own times of which we should beware? There are plenty of people who would prey on us, use us for their own advantage, we should watch out for the foxes.
If Herod is the fox, Jesus presents himself as being like a hen. “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,” he says in Saint Luke Chapter 13 Verse 34. This picture that Jesus uses, is, for anyone who has grown up on a farm, a picture of absolute security. It’s a picture of care and protection. It’s a picture that says all is well with the world. It is a picture of how deeply Jesus felt about those who had rejected him, those who had turned him away. It is a picture of great sadness. God sends his Son to his beloved people, God offers them his care and protection, and they are not willing.
Jesus wanted to gather the people of Jerusalem, he wanted to hug them as his very own loved ones, but they didn’t want to know. They couldn’t accept a God who was gentle and humble and caring, a Messiah who described himself as being like a hen. They wanted a God who would give them what they wanted. They wanted a God who gave them power and control and dominance. They were not willing to accept Jesus because he didn’t fit into their picture of God. To turn to a God who was gentle and warm and caring meant you had to accept a need for such a God, it meant accepting that they were frail, that you had weaknesses; that you could not cope alone. They weren’t going to do that, they wanted a God who made them powerful.
I wonder what picture we have of God. Bolts of lightning? Armies of angels? Blinding lights? Astonishing events? If we had to describe God how many of us would ever use the picture of a mother hen? This is the picture that Jesus uses, a picture of a God who is gentle and warm and caring. Do we believe in such a God?
The fox, the hen and, finally, the chicks. Anyone who has had hens with chicks will know that when trying to catch a chick, it is occasionally possible to position yourself so as to block the chick’s path to safety. At this point the chick becomes frightened and panics. It runs this way and that cheeping loudly in fear. It will run anywhere to escape. This is the picture that Jesus is using to talk about those who say “no” to him, they become like one of those chicks separated from the hen. They run frantically through their lives going this way and that desperately searching for security.
Are we like the chicks? We can think that if we have particular property, or a particular job, or a particular house, or a particular car, or a particular amount of money, or if we are friendly with particular people, or if we have a certain social standing – then we will have happiness and contentment and security and all those things for which we we are searching. We can run through life like a chick. The chick only rests content when it finds security under the hen’s wings. We only rest content when we find security with God.
Jesus would gather us “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings”. The people of Jerusalem did not want to hear him, they were not willing. Do we hear him?