“Go tell that fox’. Luke 13:32
Calling him a fox, Jesus speaks about Herod in less than complimentary terms. Jesus’ comment shows that the way people today would compare cunning and devious behaviour to that of a fox goes back a long way. More importantly, it shows Jesus as he was, a person of absolute truth and integrity. Jesus is not “meek and mild”, he is not a storyteller wandering the countryside telling interesting tales, he is not a picture book character being nice to everyone he meets; he is the one who describes himself as “the truth,” with all that it means to be the truth.
Foxes in the Bible are not often encountered and when they appear, it is rarely in a favourable light. In the book of Chapter 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 the church became corrupted by the world.
The church became powerful, it became rich, it came to dominate the whole of medieval Europe. Church leaders became part of an elite who ran countries for their own benefit. The teachings of Jesus were pushed aside. Scripture was in Latin, people could not read it for themselves and so discover that their spiritual superiors were as bad as Herod.
Christianity became something private and personal, so, even in the present times, when corruption is apparent, it is not seen as our business.
How many Christian leaders have been afraid to speak, as Jesus would have done, against evil and corrupt rulers? There are pictures of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the walls of the school where I teach. It is easy to read the writings of Bonhoeffer and read of his brave opposition to the Nazis and to fail to recognize that Christians are still silent in the face of wrongdoing in our world.
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, but the truth came back. The truth always comes back.
‘Go tell that fox’, says Jesus. He is unafraid to speak the truth about Herod. May the church have a similar courage.