Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Fox and the Hen -- A Sermon

You know, the Pharisees get a bad rap, always yelling at Jesus and complaining about him. But look how nice they are today. They go to him as he’s head to Jerusalem and say, “Stay away! Herod’s out to get you!”

Awfully nice behavior for people who hate Jesus, don’t you think? And they have made it abundantly clear that they hate him throughout Luke’s gospel. On the other hand, Herod is a baddy, so their warning is logical.

But is it sincere? More likely, this is an attempt on the Pharisee’s part to drive Jesus away NOT with arguments, which is their usual method, but with fear. “Run away!” they say. “You’ll get hurt!”

Jesus’ response? “Tell that fox I have work to do first.”

Jesus knows what awaits him in Jerusalem. Prophets die in Jerusalem. Of all the gospels, Luke makes it clearest that Jesus marches inexorably on to Jerusalem and death, because that is how he will accomplish his task.

Moreover, by calling Herod a fox, he has named their supposed concern for what it really is: fear mongering. He will not fall prey to their fear.

Then Jesus breaks into what I can only describe as a lament. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing, but you were not willing.”

The Pharisees probably understood: Jesus has already made their attempt at fear into a FOX. Now he is calling himself the protective hen and the children of Jerusalem the hapless chicks.
Before we go on, I just want to make sure we all know how well foxes and hens get along. We all know what foxes can do, especially to panicked chicks who run loose unprotected? Good.

So now we have the Fox which is Herod but which is even more powerfully that big F-Word, Fear. The Fox equals Fear.

The Hen is Jesus, and by extension, God. The chicks are the Jerusalemites, and by extension the Israelites, and by further extension, us.

In Jesus’ lament, he is not afraid, as the Pharisees had hoped. He is sad. Sad because he knows that the fear which could NOT entrap him WILL catch many of his children.
It is fear of Herod, fear of shame, fear of the Romans, and maybe especially fear of God which will cause them to turn their backs on Jesus despite their initial excitement about him. He’s foreshadowing that day which we call Palm Sunday when he will enter Jerusalem to shouts of joy, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” only to have them shout for his death a few days later. He knows they will act out of fear more than anything else.
Fear is the Fox that kills. And the hen cannot protect her children from fear if they do not come to her protective wings.

Actually, that’s a pretty simple message, and one that rings true for us today. We live in an age where fear is more easily disseminated than ever before. We have television, radio, newspapers (for the moment), magazines and most powerfully of all, the internet.

Everywhere you turn, there are stories of robbery, murder, kidnapping, and so on – way out of proportion with reality. Whether they are true or not is irrelevant. How many of you have received forwarded e-mails warning about some dire virus that will instantly destroy your computer? Most of them are hoaxes or urban legends with just a bit of truth – and most of them are not there to provide useful information but to make you afraid.

This fear has two major effects. It paralyzes and it panics. Like little chicks, we simply freeze when we get frightened of life. Like with the internet, some people will simply never touch a computer, they’re so afraid. Or they go to the other extreme and buy every anti-virus program known to man. This is most harmful when that fear is of God himself. How many of us were told by earnest sounding Christians that God is to be feared, and sinning will get us condemned?

That’s the fox speaking. And our response? We freeze. We’re overwhelmed. We stay at home so we don’t have to hear it. We do nothing or maybe become obsessed with our own comfort.
Or we panic. Like chicks who run every which way except toward the hen’s wings, we scatter into endless activities that momentarily divert our attention but provide no help. Maybe we run from belief to belief or become fastidious about having the right sacraments, the right actions – always trying to achieve safety from an angry God. All the while, Jesus is calling out, “Come to me and I will help you live without fear.”

There is a third option. Fear can cause us to sink into great evil, to turn into foxes so that we have the illusion of power. Most of us stick to the first two., but it’s better to live without fear altogether, as Christ desires for us.

But here’s the catch. Living without fear does not mean living without pain or sadness or death. Those are part of life, things Jesus expresses so poignantly in this one little passage. The hen, in fact, often dies in her effort to protect her chicks from the fox. And we all know what happens to Jesus when he reaches Jerusalem.

But pain, sadness, death – they are not to be feared so much as to be approached with a deeper knowledge. They do not have the power to kill us. Jesus has seen to that. Only fear will kill us eternally because it will drive us away from God’s loving embrace.

In a world where fear is so readily available, so attractively presented, Jesus still reaches out to us and says “Come to me.” The question is, are we willing?