The Foxes in this World

(c) Stck.xchng user dyet.

I studied English in college, specifically composition and rhetoric, but I had a good dose of literature thrown in there too.  I love imagery in writing, and the way it helps explain and broaden what’s being said.  Jesus throws out a doozy this week when he calls Herod a fox then refers to himself as a hen.  It’s quite an image and that really led me this past week when I wrote this sermon.

Lent 2C—Luke 13:31-35

            A family of foxes used to live in our subdivision in Colorado.  They took up residence in the backyard of a foreclosed house, a mom—technically a vixen, although that word has been taken over to mean something else entirely these days—and her 3 or 4 kits.  Sometimes they would play in the street together as I drove in to work in the morning.  Other times I’d see her coming back from a nearby field with breakfast for her family.  One cold day, after the kits had moved out on their own, she spent the entire day in our backyard enjoying the warmth of the sun.  Not too long after this, she came up to our deck, looking into our house through the patio door, no further than 4 feet from where I stood in the family room.  She remained transfixed there for a long time looking at me while I gazed at her.  “Foxy” we called her.  Late the next spring, almost a year since I had first seen her, animal control officers were at that house.  Seems someone had called her in.

Foxes are sly and clever, or so we’ve been told.  And we were reminded in the film “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” about the nature of foxes.  In one telling seen, Mrs. Fox (named Felicity) has just learned her husband has been sneaking off at night to raid the local farms for food.  She’s visibly upset.   “Twelve fox years ago, you made a promise to me, while we we’re caged inside that fox trap. That if we survived, you would never steal another chicken, turkey, goose, duck, or a squab whatever they are, and I believed you. [starts to cry] Why? Why did you lie to me?!  Mr. Fox: Because I’m a wild animal.” [1]

We know what foxes are like.  While I had been transfixed by having a fox in the neighborhood, someone else had the sense to call animal control.  Foxes are wild animals.

“At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow and on the third day I finish my work.”’”  Jesus knows exactly what Herod — this is Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great (he of our Christmas Story)—is capable of. He beheaded John the Baptist to save face.  He is not to be trifled with.  And the Pharisees appear to be in cahoots with him.  Jesus says to them not so subtly, “You tell that fox for me,” recognizing the path they are beating to Herod’s palace.

The message Jesus wants sent to that fox named Herod surprises me.  He wants Herod to know that he’s going to keep doing the work God has given him to do.  Casting out demons and curing people.  Jesus will continue to bring wholeness to all who want it as long as he is alive.  Today and tomorrow and the third day, they are all connected with Jesus’ ministry, to who he is.  And Jesus, it seems, is no wild animal.

After he finishes the message for foxy, he details with more clarity just who he is.  “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”  A hen?  Jesus is talking about a fox, and he responds by referring to himself as a hen?  You think an eagle would have been better.  In Deuteronomy God is described like that, “As an eagle stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young, as it spreads its wings, takes them up, and bears them aloft on its pinions, [so] the Lord alone guided him.” (Deut 32:11-12)  Or maybe a lion, “They shall follow after the Lord, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west.” (Hosea 11:10).  But a chicken?  That’s all Jesus has got?

Priest and author Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “[A] hen is what Jesus chooses, which — if you think about it—is pretty typical of him. He is always turning things upside down, so that children and peasants wind up on top while kings and scholars land on the bottom. He is always wrecking our expectations of how things should turn out by giving prizes to losers and paying the last first. So of course he chooses a chicken, which is about as far from a fox as you can get. That way the options become very clear: you can live by licking your chops or you can die protecting the chicks.

“Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first.

“Which he does, as it turns out. He slides up on her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep. When her cry wakens them, they scatter. She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her — wings spread, breast exposed — without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart, but it does not change a thing. If you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.”[2]

Whenever I read “the third day” in the New Testament, I immediately think about the resurrection.  Most times, the writer intends to make that connection.  But this time, Luke is talking all about Jesus’ death.  “I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.”  The day Jesus completes the task given to him is the day he forms the words, “It is finished,” with his last breath.  The cross is not to be seen as inconsistent with the work Jesus does in this world, but the culmination of it.  Even though he’ll be splayed on that cross, it’s not a win for the foxes of this world, but proof of the love Jesus has for us like a mother hen.

The problem is, of course, that we like foxes.  We like their sly ways, and the things they say that make us think they are on our side.  We think they can be reformed, that they’ll stay out of our chicken coop, but we’re wrong.  They’re wild animals.  So while we’re listening to the crafty talk, they’re working on a plan to get a meal.

I wish it weren’t so.  I wish that we weren’t so enthralled with the foxes of this world, the promises they make of how easy life could be if we just trust them.  But I’ve seen how destructive it can be, like when a person falls for someone else who is not their spouse thinking that this person will bring them joy that they can’t find at home.  Or the ones who turn to the bottle to find easy answers to complicated problems or to drown out the sorrow.  The promises of a life full of ease and joy without any personal cost.  Those are crafty lies given to us by the foxes out there—our culture, the evil one, those that would pull us far from the love of God.

But Luke wants to remind us that foxes are only looking after their own desires, and that deep and abiding love comes at a cost.  Which makes Jesus’ lament all the more powerful.  He wants to keep us safe from the world of foxes, from the pain they bring.  Because they’re just licking their chops looking for their next meal.

Which is what happened with Jesus.  But unbeknownst to that fox and the others around him, that was all part of Jesus’ work to bring healing to us all.  Yes, he was devoured, but that was still part of his work, an act of love.  For us.  He gave himself to the foxes of this world so we could be given the chance for life.  Because, whether they know it or not, as one commentator put it, “the foxes are not in control as much as they think they are,” because “there is a true and living God.”[3]  And that other third day is coming.  Amen.


[1] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Fantastic_Mr._Fox_(film) Accessed Feb.20, 2013.

[2] Barbara Brown Taylor, “As a Hen Gathers her Brood,” Christian Century.  Accessed online http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=638 on Feb 20, 2013.

[3] Rodney Clapp. “Luke 13:31-13: Pastoral Perspective,” from Feasting on the Word, Year C Vol 2.David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds.  Pg. 72.