The Fox and the Hen—Taking a Stand Sermon
I wonder if you’ve ever had a moment where you took a real stand on something—even though you knew that it would come at a cost. Maybe it was for a principle, or for someone else, or for your own right to be treated decently. There are moments when we have a real opportunity to make a difference by taking a stand. Today I want to look at Luke 13:31-35 which shows Jesus taking a stand so that the lessons can bolster us whenever we are called to stand up for something or someone.
A warning from an unexpected source
Jesus was in Galilee bouncing around from village to village doing what Jesus does—healing, teaching, telling parables about the greatness of God’s kingdom that was beginning to emerge. He reemphasized his themes of forgiveness and told people who thought they were beyond God’s care that they were right in the center of it. He was doing what he was sent to do.
One day, some Pharisees approach Jesus with a dire warning. This is curious because throughout the gospels Jesus and the Pharisees went at each other in religious arguments. Yet, despite their disagreements, like Jesus, they were aiming at a higher form of righteousness from people. They had different visions of what that entailed. But when they learned of Herod’s plans, they circled the wagons enough to warn Jesus that king Herod had put a hit out on him.
Jesus get out of here, Herod is gunning for you.
It was no idle threat and Jesus knew it. When Jesus was born, Herod’s father, another Herod, tried to kill baby Jesus when he issued an order to kill the baby boys around Bethlehem. This Herod took after his tyrant father and recently (on a whim) beheaded Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. And we know the story that Herod was involved in Jesus’ crucifixion and makes good on the threat.
Why did Herod want to kill Jesus?
But why? Why would Herod want to assassinate a gentle, story-telling preacher who talked of non-violence, and forgiveness and healed sick people? What threat could Jesus have possibly posed to Herod, who was backed by the full weight and authority of the mighty Roman Empire? What did he have to gain by putting a hit out on Jesus? What was it?
Rulers hate disruption
Maybe it was because he knew that Jesus was a disrupter. Although our pictures show Jesus on bended knee with children running all around, there was a radical edge to what he was doing. And the one thing Herod could not tolerate was disruption. We know from sources outside the Bible that Herod and the Emperor had a deal. Herod’s job was to keep things calm and orderly. As long as he did that, he had the full backing the greatest military force that had ever been assembled, the Roman army. In exchange for keeping the peace, and putting rabble rousers down, he grew filthy rich. He built lavish palaces and cities all over the place. And all at the expense of common, everyday people. But he just could not tolerate anyone stirring things up. All leaders despise disruptions caused by someone else.
Jesus playing Jenga
From Herod’s vantage point, it was as if Jesus was playing a game of Jenga with society. His society was built on several important blocks and if you start messing with any one of them, you risk the whole thing tumbling down.
Jesus disrupted the blocks of ethnicity and tribalism
Everywhere you look, Jesus disrupted societal norms. He crossed the lines of ethnic and national/tribal divisions. He blessed a Samaritan woman at a well, he described another Samaritan as good. He healed the child of a Roman soldier; he healed the child of a Syrophoenician woman. We’ve seen how mad people can get over stuff like this. We’ve seen it in the civil rights era. He was doing the equivalent of mixing the races. Breaking down hatred between groups. That alone would have been enough to raise Herod’s ire.
Disrupting gender roles
But that was just the beginning. Jesus was messing with gender roles. He let women have the first word, he included them in the inner circles of his teachings—that had been boys-only clubs. You’ve seen how mad some people get when someone says that women should be treated the same as men. That would have gotten under Herod’s skin.
Disrupting religious traditions
Jesus disrupted the religious traditions. Just a few examples will suffice. He said he didn’t care what the Bible said, if someone is sick on the Sabbath and he can do something for them, he is going to do it no matter the day of the week. If someone needed forgiveness of sin, he was going to absolve them even though he wasn’t one of the properly credentialed priests authorized to do it. He didn’t even make his disciples wash their hands according to the prescribed rituals.
And you know how fussy religious people can get if you start changing things. Last month, there is a story about a Catholic priest in Phoenix who changed one word in the baptismal liturgy. Instead of saying I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he said, We baptize you… He just changed the I to We and the church hierarchy went nuts and invalidated thousands of baptisms he performed over his career. My point isn’t to lob bombs at the Catholic church. It is to illustrate the larger point about how resistant to change religious people can be and Jesus was making a lot of changes and the religious elite would not tolerate it and as Jesus kept drawing huge crowds the religious establishment got up in Herod’s face saying, “You’ve got to put an end to this!” In that culture, messing with the traditions was like knocking over the whole dang Jenga tower.
Cultural elite’s red-faced fury
Jesus challenged so much of society. Instead of looking down his nose at the uneducated, the poor, the people who had made messes of their own lives, he raised them up and called them the blessed, the beloved of God. The cultural elites in Jerusalem went nuts. What are you Jesus, soft on crime? Ah, Jesus, you are just enabling them, encouraging them to take handouts. Give them bread and they won’t ever do anything for themselves. Herod, we can’t have people like that running around. Look at the crowds he’s attracting. Stop him!
They had reason to be alarmed. Jesus proclaimed the inbreaking of a new kingdom, a different kind of kingdom than they had ever known. It was a kingdom characterized by an ethic of equality between people. He advocated a lifestyle where you don’t need to hit back every time you are offended or insulted. You don’t have to turn into a ballistic “Karen” (as people now say) at every perceived slight. He talked about being generous, to the point of being sacrificial for others looking out for their best interest, their health and well-being not just your own.
In some respects, the elites and religious establishment were a lot like the Russian oligarchs. They could put enormous pressure on the leader, Herod, to act against Jesus. And he would have been happy to oblige. No new kingdom! Be happy with the one you get, where I reign supreme.
Go tell that fox…
So, Jesus receives the warning. But he doesn’t back down. “You go tell that fox that I’m going to
keep on doing what I came here to do—healing, teaching, turning what is messed up about this society on its head.” Jesus knew that Herod would eventually kill him, but he courageously stood his ground for a higher cause. We’ve seen this kind of courage on full display in Ukraine. Ordinary people facing overwhelming opposition and the threat of death taking their stand—no matter the cost.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem lament
In the passage, Jesus indicates that he will go to Jerusalem, the seat of Herod’s power. He laments that the elites in Jerusalem always resist the changes God wants and they put to death the disrupters, the prophets, those who speak God’s word of a new way of being in the world. The lament is poignant. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem. How I wish I could be like a hen who spreads her wings out to protect you from yourselves.”
Retired United Methodist bishop, Will Willimon, says Jesus’ lament reminds him of when the southern church he grew up in voted against participating in a Billy Graham revival because the event was not going to be segregated. Black people and white people would be shoulder to shoulder, no special seats for the white folks. After the vote to decline participation, he saw his pastor with his face in his hands, weeping, alone in a dark hall. Jesus like the pastor, knew the people could be better, they were called to be better, but they just wouldn’t listen, they just wouldn’t allow disruption to their order.
How many times do we lament for our country when it misses the mark? Washington, Washington. How many times does Jesus weep for us? Timothy, Timothy. Dorothy, Dorothy.
In case you missed it Jesus uses fox and hen imagery. Herod is the fox and Jesus paints himself as a hen—a feminine image. The hen doesn’t have much in the way of defense. She doesn’t have the spurs on the back of the legs like a rooster, or the rooster’s loud crowing. All she can do is sit on the eggs, fluff up and spread out her wings as wide as possible, in hopes that the fox will take her and leave the eggs alone. Later in the story, we see Jesus spreading his arms on the cross.
Standing for the right things
We like Jesus, are called to take our stand, and do what is right no matter the cost. But we must always check to make sure we are about the kinds of things Jesus was about. Across the world, people are standing up red-faced, waving banners, screaming and yelling, and causing disruptions. Everyone wants to think of themselves as the hero of their own stories. They think they are doing what is right, but so much of it runs counter to the principles of Jesus. It’s okay to take a stand, but make sure you are standing in the light, not the darkness.
That means we keep being what Jesus was about. And we ask ourselves important questions. Does it promote healing? Is it peaceful, does it disrupt tribalism, sexism, and religious intolerance? Does it break down artificial barriers that keep people separated and at each others throats? Is it about equality, and looking out for the least and the lost, the powerless? Is it inclusive of all people? Does it force its way on other people? Are you acting respectfully toward those who disagree? Is it nonviolent?
Jesus knew what would happen when he went to Jerusalem, but he took his stand anyway. Because he knew that for the world to really change, it would require not just his willingness to take a stand, but a whole movement of people committed to his principles. His resurrection is a vindication of this movement, a sign that it is the right way, the only way that a better world is born. And he is with us.