“The Fox and the Hen” (Luke 13:31-35)

Second Sunday in Lent
March 17, 2019

“The Fox and the Hen” (Luke 13:31-35)

Have you ever noticed how we sometimes describe people by comparing them to animals? For example, if you call someone a “pig,” that word carries with it some associations that are not particularly flattering. On the other hand, when a father calls his little girl “kitten,” he’s using that word as a term of endearment. Animal imagery abounds in our language: “like a bull in a china shop”; “like an ostrich with its head in the sand”; “as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” These references to animals are effective, because they create pictures in your mind that bring with them the intended ideas.

Well, we run into animal imagery in our text for today, the Gospel from Luke 13. There Jesus makes not just one but two such references. So now let’s hear about “The Fox and the Hen.”

“The Fox and the Hen”: That sounds like it could be one of Aesop’s fables. But this is no fable. This is something that actually happened. It concerns real persons, in real human history. And the bottom line to this story is more than a moral. Rather, it is life-giving gospel.

First, the “fox.” The fox is Herod. “Which Herod?” you ask. There were a bunch of them. This was not Herod the Great, the wicked king who ruled at the time of Jesus’ birth. No, this was his son, Herod Antipas. This Herod was the tetrarch of Galilee at the time of Jesus’ ministry. And that is where Jesus was, at the time of our text–up in the region of Galilee.

Some Pharisees come to Jesus and say to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” Keep in mind, this is the same Herod who had John the Baptist beheaded not too long before this. So any threat from Herod would have to be taken seriously. But Jesus replies: “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.’ Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”

What’s going on here? Well, Herod apparently sees Jesus as potential trouble. He wants to get rid of him–at least get him out of his territory. Herod probably did not actually want to have Jesus killed. That would have been politically risky with the people. After all, Herod only killed John because he was forced into it by his own rash promise. Killing Jesus now on top of that could be too unpopular. But by leaking this death threat, tricky old Herod may have been hoping to scare Jesus off. The Pharisees, whether wittingly or unwittingly, convey Herod’s threat. So how does Jesus respond? He says, “Go and tell that fox. . . .”

To Jesus, Herod is “that fox.” Now a fox is known for being sly and cunning and crafty. A fox can be destructive; he can do some damage. But at the same time, to call someone a “fox” is to dismiss that person as ultimately insignificant, little more than an annoyance–a nuisance, rather than a serious threat. So Jesus here is saying, “Go and tell your puny king. . . .” You see, Jesus will not be intimidated. Nobody can deter Jesus from completing his mission. He’s not afraid of any “fox.” Jesus is determined to keep going and to reach his goal. He will complete his appointed course. He will work till his hour has come. God, not Herod, will decide when he is to die. So Jesus is not deterred. On the contrary, he is determined.

“I must go on my way,” Jesus says. He must carry on with his public ministry of mercy and healing. No interference or intimidation will get him to stop. Like the Energizer bunny, Jesus just keeps going and going and going, energized with the power of divine love.

Jesus says that he will finish his course. “It cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” This journey to Jerusalem was for Jesus an appointment with his Passion, his suffering and death for the sins of the world. Jesus would indeed reach his goal, and that goal was Golgotha. There, hanging on the cross, Jesus would cry out, “It is finished!” The goal has been reached; the course, completed. Mission accomplished. The Son of God dies for the sins of the world. And because he does, all your sins are forgiven. The gift of eternal life is yours today. In Jesus Christ, through faith in him, now you too will finish your course and reach the goal of heaven, where our risen Lord lives and reigns to all eternity.

Jesus pressed on and finished his course. But we are so easily discouraged. We become weary and disillusioned and give up. How often we fail to follow through with what we have started. Not so with Jesus. He never gave up. He followed through, fearless before the foxes. Jesus completed his saving mission with courage and determination. Isn’t it good to know that you have a Savior like that to rely on? Trust in him. He will see you through.

Well, so much for the “fox” imagery. Now comes the “hen.” And the hen is Jesus himself. We see that in his words: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” Like a hen with her chicks, Jesus tenderly calls out to gather his people to himself. Just as Jesus persisted in reaching his goal, so he persists in patiently calling out to his children: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

But there comes a time–a tragic time–when, after persistent rejection of the gospel, there is nothing left but the awful prospect of judgment. Listen to the mournful tone in Jesus’ lament, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” Hear the sorrow in his voice when he says, “and you would not!” You see, grace is not irresistible. The gospel can be resisted and rejected. That’s what the people of Jerusalem did. Jesus was willing–he longed to gather them unto himself–but they were not willing. They persisted in their stiff-necked unbelief.

How about you? Will you refuse the gift? Will you, like Jerusalem, say, “No thanks, God, don’t bother me. I don’t want your call on my life. I’ll take a little bit of religion, but that’s about it. I’ll decide how much is enough. I’m in charge of my life, God, not you!” That is not the voice of faith speaking. That is unbelief rebelling. But faith gladly receives the gifts that God offers. Faith says, “Lord, I need everything you have to give me. I need you.”

Faith in Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works through the gospel, through Word and Sacrament, to give us that willing receptivity. As we say in the Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel.” And the Spirit keeps us in that one true faith.

By the Spirit, through the gospel, our Lord Jesus Christ continues to call and gather his church unto himself–like a hen gathering her chicks. Jesus says, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” Luther said of this text, “When you look at a mother hen and her chicks, you see a picture of Christ and yourself better than any painter could paint.” That same tender imagery appears in a hymn by the great Lutheran hymn writer, Paul Gerhardt. In his hymn, “Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow,” Gerhardt writes, in the German: “Breit aus die Fluegel beide, O Jesu, meine Freude, und nimm dein Kuechlein ein!” Literally, that says, “Spread out thy wings, O Jesus, my joy, and gather thy little chick in!” And Jesus will gather you in, my friends, under the safety of his wings.

The story is told of a henhouse that was struck by lightning and burned down. Later, as the farmer poked through the ashes, he found the charred remains of a hen. But underneath the hen’s body were six chicks who had survived the fire. The mother hen had “gathered her chicks under her wings.” She died so that they might live. This is a picture of our Savior’s sacrificial love for us. He died so that we might live. We are safe under his wings. And greater than that hen, Jesus rose again from the ashes of death! Now he lives forever to guard and guide us and to bring us home.

“The fox and the hen”: No fable here. This is the true story of a real-life Savior. Unafraid of any “fox,” Jesus was determined to go on his way and to finish his course. Jesus is determined to get where he is going. And that is, to Jerusalem, where he will suffer and die and rise again for your salvation. Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem, and nothing is going to stop him. And Jesus is determined to get you where you are going. And that is, to the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city where you will live forever with our Lord and with all his saints.

“The fox and the hen”: Well, Jesus has outfoxed the foxes! Herod, the devil, all the enemies of God’s plan and God’s people. Christ has accomplished his purpose, he has reached his goal, he has finished his course. And the result is the salvation of the world–your salvation!

“The fox and the hen”: Like a hen with her chicks, Jesus now tenderly calls out to us, to gather us unto himself. And so we gladly come to him and take shelter in the shadow of his wings.

Published in: on March 16, 2019 at 8:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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