The Fox and the Hen
Well, I'm sometimes asked, ‘How do you go about preparing your sermons each week?’ And what I do is, I take the lectionary readings for Sunday, and I pray with them every morning during the week. And there is always a word or a phrase or an image from one of the readings that stands out for me, that speaks to my heart. And that image for me this week was the image that Jesus gives of himself in today's Gospel reading – of the mother hen, the mother hen protecting her chicks underneath her wings.
I thought that was such a beautiful image. And as I contemplated it this week, it actually brought me to tears a couple of times during my morning meditation. I think it's such a powerful image for us to contemplate during the season of Lent. Now we here at Douglas UCC, we're pretty used to thinking of God as mother. Every Sunday here, when we say the Lord's Prayer, we say, “Our mother/father who are in heaven,’ but I'm guessing most of us have never really contemplated Jesus as mother.
On the back cover of your bulletin, we hear about the medieval Christian mystic Julian of Norwich. She wrote about Jesus being a mother figure. Of course, that brings up a lot about gender and identity. But that is the topic for another sermon. The sermon that I'm going to give today, is entitled, “The Fox and the Hen.”
Now, that may sound like an innocuous little children's story and nursery rhyme. But as we just heard in today's Gospel reading, this story is not for children. The Pharisees are warning Jesus, “King Herod is trying to kill you” You may be surprised that the Pharisees are trying to help Jesus, because you see, throughout the Gospels, the Pharisees were always trying to trick Jesus. They're always trying to get him in trouble.
Some theologians have speculated that the Pharisees here are actually not being helpful. Some have speculated that the Pharisees were actually working with King Herod, that the religious authorities were working with the political authorities to try to intimidate Jesus and to keep him out of Jerusalem.
But as Jesus defiantly says, in today's Gospel, “Jerusalem is my destiny.” I'm not going anywhere. And then Jesus does something else right there in the public square, which was really brave. He refers to King Herod, the head of state, as a fox.
Now, I wouldn't mind today, if one of you went out to Downtown Center Street and referred to me as a fox, because because today that's a compliment, right?
But in Jesus's day, calling somebody a fox was actually one of the most disrespectful things that you could say about a person, because a fox was known as a crafty and cunning, sly, slick predator, one that preys upon the weak and the vulnerable. So Jesus, right there in the public square is calling the head of state, a crafty, cunning, sly, slick predator.
So yes, my friends, we can see, Jesus did get involved with politics. And sometimes we hear the church shouldn't get involved in politics. But Jesus did. And he was brave enough to speak out against the powers that be when they preyed upon the vulnerable. Now, we also see here that Jesus, there in the public square, was not afraid. And as I thought about that, this week, I was thinking about the people in Russia, who in the public square, have been calling out their King Herod, Vladimir Putin.
And we see what has happened to them, that for being so brave and speaking out against him, they have been arrested and silenced. And the same thing, of course would happen to Jesus. When he got into Jerusalem. He was arrested and silenced. So who was this King Herod? Well, I want to be clear. This is not the Herod that we heard about at Christmas time. If you remember at Christmas, we hear about Herod, who sent the Magi, the wise men to find the baby Jesus, so that Herod could have the baby killed. That was Herod the Great. The Herod in today's story, King Herod, this is 33 years later, this King Herod was Herod the Great’s son. This King Herod, inherited his wealth and his power and position. He didn't do anything to earn it. And this King Herod is the one who was known for his great ego. He had these palaces built, dripping in gold, in his name. And he was the tyrant who had Jesus's cousin, John the Baptist beheaded. Because John the Baptist spoke out against him.
And if you remember, Herod had John the Baptist’s head served on a silver platter. So again, this story of the fox and the hen is not a children's story. But it's a very timely one. Because I mean, the world in which we're living today is not unlike the Jerusalem in which Jesus lived. It was fraught with conflict. And it was a world in which those Fox-like powers, and those fox-like power structures, prey upon the weak and the vulnerable.
Now Jesus called these people – the weak and the vulnerable, the least of these. And Jesus came to say, “I'm starting a new kingdom. And in this kingdom, the least of these, they're going to be first. The last are going to be first and the first, you foxes in power, you're going to be last in My Kingdom.
We hear in Scripture, how the mighty, the rich, and the powerful are going to be pulled down from their thrones. And that the poor and lowly are going to be lifted up high. That's the kingdom Jesus came to establish. So you can see why the powers that be wanted to silence him. And then Jesus says something that's kind of crazy.
He said, in this kingdom, he's going to lead not like a fox, he's going to lead like a mother hen. Now, what leader would describe themselves as a mother hen, as a chicken? Okay? I mean, if he wanted to use that analogy, he could have said, you know, I'm going to be a mighty eagle, or I'm going to be a strutting rooster, or something like that. But he uses a very comforting image, a nurturing image. Again, we're so used to kind of that masculine power dynamic. And Jesus is saying, ‘No, I'm more like a mother, a mother hen. And, and I'm here to protect my chicks under my wings.’
Such a really beautiful image. And again, this week, got me thinking about President Zelensky, and the people of Ukraine, staying behind to protect the people. And Jesus as the mother hen, is, I think, a really powerful image for us to think about.
know, some of us growing up, we heard about Jesus in those kind of masculine terms of Lord, Master and King, the Almighty. Jesus is saying, ‘Well, I'm not any of those things.’ In fact, if you if you read the gospels, you see every time they tried to call Jesus a king, he he always deflected that. The image he's giving of himself is, “No, I'm more like your mother, your nurturing protective mother.” How beautiful.
Now I'd like to read to you what the ancient Greek philosopher Plutarch said about the mother hen. He said, “What of the hen whom we observe each day at home? With what care she governs and guards her chicks. She lets down her wings for the chicks to come under. She arches her back, for them to climb upon. There is no part of her body with which she does not wish to cherish her chicks. If she can, she does so with joy and alacrity, with which she seems to exhibit by the sound of her own voice.
So that's our Jesus. That's a beautiful image of Jesus, caring for us with such joy and love. As we heard in our Words of Integration and Guidance this morning, which Eric read for us, the mother hen is actually really smart. And when she senses danger is approaching, she places herself between the chicks and the danger. And then she is willing to give up her own life in order to protect her chicks. And my friends, that's the image that brought me to tears during meditation this week. I was picturing the hen’s wings being pinned back against a cross. Jesus was willing to die on a cross to protect the least of these. He was willing to give up his life, because that's what Prophets do. They're unafraid to speak the truth, even if it's going to put their own lives at risk. And they do so to protect the weak and the vulnerable, the voiceless, against the foxes, the King Herod's of the world.
So my question for you on this second Sunday of Lent is, in this story, where are you? Are you on the side of the foxes or the hens? Meaning do you support these powerful Fox-like figures? Or are you more the type that is on the side of the hen, willing to protect those who are being harmed underneath your wings? Do you have the bravery to speak out against those power systems?
But then I also think about the fox and the hen being inside of us, being inside of all of us. Do you? Who leads in your kingdom? Is it the fox or the hen? Is it your ego? Or is it your spirit? Do you care more about the worldly things? We heard about that in the letter to the Philippians, that Eric read. There are those for whom their god is their belly, and they care more about worldly things. Do you focus more on worldly things in your inner kingdom? Or do you focus more on the mother hen, that nurturing, protective loving spirit that is always with us and within us?
That's my invitation to you, to reflect upon this week during your prayer and meditation time for this second week in Lent. May we, the people of Douglas UCC, continue to be followers of the way of Jesus. And as followers of his way, it means we have to go and do as he did. As tough as that might sound, we have to go out into the public square. And we have to call out those politicians, those world leaders and those political systems that are harming people, especially the least of these in our midst. We have to have the courage to speak out against them. But then we also have to have the courage to walk with Jesus into Jerusalem. We have to have the courage to journey to the cross.
And I know we don't want to do that. I mean, who would want to do that? But if we are to truly call ourselves Christians, followers of the way of Jesus, then we must go and do as he did, walking to the cross, entering into Jerusalem, but remembering always that we do not walk alone. The presence and power of God is with us and within us. So may you find time this week to rest under the protective shelter of her wings.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
By Juanita Clark
This morning's Gospel reading gives us a glimpse into the inner life of Jesus at a time when Herod is literally out to kill him. Jesus traveled to the city of Jerusalem to continue his ministry. I can only imagine how terrifying it must have been living back in the time of Jesus, to be poor and homeless, walking the streets of a city of like Jerusalem. Jesus tells us it was: "a city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it"! Yet Jesus, instead of running for his life, defiantly tells the Pharisees that he is going nowhere. If we were to translate into modern day language what Jesus is really saying, my sense is it would be something like: "Get out of my way, and stop wasting my time! I've got important work to do - and neither you, nor anyone else, is going to throw me off track!" Clearly, the threats of Herod (who is depicted in today's Gospel reading as “the fox”) has no control over Jesus, who describes himself a “mother hen” wishing to gather her children under her wings. So what insight can we gain about Jesus depicting himself as a hen and Herod as a fox? Well, a fox uses cunning to get around obstacles, instead of confronting them head on. A hen may not be as cunning as the worldly fox, but is smart in ways that matter. Did you know a hen will actually alarm her chicks if she senses danger is present? She will position herself between the danger and her chick. She will even die so that her chicks might live, hiding them under her outstretched wings. In the world, the hen may be no match for the fox, but the hen's personal qualities certainly parallel those of Jesus. Regardless of what he encountered in his path, Jesus kept his focus on his mission, even when he knew great danger and death were inevitable. Each year during the season of Lent, we are called to experience the way of the Cross. Therefore, my fellow travelers, let's plant our feet firmly on the Lenten path, walking with God as our companion; walking through resistance, discomfort and pain, and taking the time to rest under the shadow of God’s wings.
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