This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on February 21, 2016.
In the previous passage, we find Jesus making his way to Jerusalem, teaching about the kingdom of God and curing many illnesses as he passes through villages and towns. While some choose to follow him, delighting in his works and praising God, not all welcome him warmly. Cold and calculating responses to Jesus’ presence intensify as he arrives in Jerusalem. In fact, verse 31 opens with a very serious warning. A group of Pharisees come to Jesus and urge him to leave the city because Herod is seeking to kill him. This is no idle threat. Herod is a powerful political figure who has already shown his penchant for violence in the imprisonment and beheading of John (Luke 3:19-20; 9:9). Luke confirms that Herod has heard the perplexing reports about Jesus’ miracles and those of his followers, and he has been seeking an opportunity to see Jesus for himself (Luke 9:7-9). According to this group of Pharisees, Herod’s curiosity has taken a dark turn. Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem and his very life are now at stake. This kind of ministerial success does not come without significant opposition and even the possibility of death.
Luke’s account of the events gives no information about Herod’s motives or those of the Pharisees who warn Jesus. Instead the author focuses on the nature of Jesus’ response to the aggressor. Rather than heed the warning and make preparations to flee as most would be tempted to do, Jesus faces the threat head on. He speaks confidently, sending Herod the message that he will continue battling evil and bringing healing until he reaches his intended goal. While Herod may act like a fox, he is not a true obstacle to Jesus’ ministry. According to rabbinic resources, a fox may be described as a pretender or a weakling. Jesus could be suggesting here that Herod does not have what it takes to follow through on his plans. We get the message that no earthly power or personage will thwart the purposes of God that Jesus was anointed to accomplish (Luke 4:17-19).
Jesus’ commitment to vanquish evil and bring restoration against all odds teaches us something about the character of God. We can trust in the One who continues to have compassion on those who long for freedom and healing. We can be confident that he will fulfill his good purposes for the world and for individuals seeking his help. Jesus’ example also speaks to the present reality of threats at home and abroad; the “foxes” we face in political, social, and economic arenas that affect our sense of security and safety. We may be tempted to respond with fear, fleeing as the Pharisees recommended, and avoiding any potential risks to our loved ones and ourselves, trusting our own protective measures over the ultimate purposes of God. Along the way, we may lose sight of the model Jesus provided to his followers: a willingness to face obstacles and risk personal security in order to share the good news. What are we willing to risk for the sake of the gospel today?
The passage goes on to describe Jesus’ lamentations over the beloved city of Jerusalem that has a history of murdering the messengers of God. Jesus describes his longing to parent the children of Jerusalem. He draws upon the metaphor of a hen who seeks to gather her chicks for protection and provision. This is a fascinating image for Jesus’ relationship with God’s people. Hens tend to be fiercely protective of their chicks, sometimes even those chicks belonging to a neighboring hen. Hens naturally assume the responsibility of teaching the chicks to walk and then to eat and drink. Some hens are especially fierce. They will growl, shriek, puff out their feathers, and peck at anyone or anything that might intrude. They try to be as intimidating as possible. Hens have reason to be concerned, since the chicks can easily fall prey to wild animals, harsh weather conditions, and many other dangers. In spite of a hen’s efforts, chicks will not always obey. She may have a hard time getting them to follow her or to remain in close proximity.
In a similar fashion, Jesus laments that the people of Israel reject his protection—God’s protection. Like a mother hen, Jesus wishes to teach and heal the children of Israel, but they are not willing. As a result, they are exposed to potential “foxes” that will hasten their destruction. Jesus suggests that their house is forsaken. This may refer to the temple or perhaps Israel herself. Either way, there is a sense of significant loss. God’s people have rejected him and those he has sent, both the prophets and his own son. It grieves Jesus to acknowledge it. What was once the central place for worship and pilgrimage to honor the one, true God is now filled with people who reject this same God and his messengers. The story ends with Jesus’ comments about returning to Jerusalem, foreshadowing his triumphal reentry that will precede his death and resurrection.
The description of the mother hen offers a fascinating metaphor for God and his care for us. Like Israel, we are invited to seek the protection and nourishment of the One who invites us to learn and grow and who seeks to heal us and set us free from evil. We can trust in God’s protection in spite of the threats that surround us and learn from Christ’s approach to dealing with obstacles.
Dr. Angela Reed
Assistant Professor of Practical Theology; Director of Spiritual Formation
George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Waco, TX
Tags: fox, Herod, Pharisees, hen, chick