Hen in the Fox House
A Meditation on Luke 13: 31 – 35
Rev. Cathy C. Hoop Grace Presbyterian Church March 17, 2019
Did you hear about the party Jesus’ disciples threw the other night? A costume party. Come as your favorite Hebrew Scripture hero. Frankly, the costumes were a bit disappointing. Styles just have not changed that much. A tunic is a tunic. So when Martha walked in as “Ruth,” no one really know who she was trying to be. The grain in her hand could have been a clue, but people were guessing “Sarah?” and “Miriam?” Mary came as “Queen Esther,” so that was a little easier to guess thanks to the homemade tiara.
Peter was “Moses,” again very difficult to distinguish who he was because he didn’t feel like lugging his improvised stone tablets around with him all night long. “I had to put them down – I couldn’t eat anything,” he complained. John came in carrying a fish in a bucket. He was supposed to be Jonah, but the proportions were all off. Then Jesus arrived. He had been very secretive about his costume. He wouldn’t let anyone help. Rumors had swirled. “Elijah?” But that was shot down because it would have been totally ineffective without a chariot to take him to heaven. A shepherd? Too obvious. Then in walked Jesus, dressed like… a chicken. He had sewn chicken feathers all over his tunic. He was emphatic that he was a chicken and not a rooster. He had cut off his tunic right at the knees and everyone laughed at his bird legs. But seriously, no one understood how a chicken could be Jesus’ hero. And his reference was from the Apocrypha, and really, how many have read that??
A “mother hen God” does not sound like the God we need in the midst of our world’s mess. Or is it? A “mother hen God” isn’t going to swoop in and right the world. Hens aren’t much good at swooping. Over and over again we are surprised by God’s choices. We are surprised that faced with a fox, Jesus would chose the image of the fox’s favorite meal. But that is exactly what Jesus does.
“Tell that fox, Herod…” Jesus says. “Tell that fox.” In the Hebrew Scriptures, foxes are both deceptively beautiful and associated with destruction. In Song of Solomon they trample the grapes, ruining the vineyard. In Lamentations, foxes have moved in to the remains of a fallen Jerusalem. And in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 13:1-6), the prophet warns against foolish prophets who speak their own words instead of God’s Word. These “foxes among the ruins” are cunning, spreading their own ideas, their own untruths. They mislead the people who fall for their lies.
Herod Antipas is the Herod who had Jesus’ cousin, John the baptizer, executed. He is the son of Herod the Great, who ruled when Jesus was born. He is, apparently, as insecure and vicious as his father. And Jesus knows this. But Jesus is not afraid of the man who killed his cousin. “Tell that fox,” Jesus says, with a bit of a laugh, “that I will die when it is my time to die, in the place where I am to die. Death cannot hold me.” The foxes may believe that they are in control, but they are mistaken. Those who fall for their lies, are in much greater danger than the harmless chicks.
Even so, we don’t really boast about our “Mother Hen God,” do we? We prefer more powerful images. Even the gospel writers have been given stronger symbols than a chicken. Matthew – angel. Mark – winged lion, Luke- winged bull, John – eagle. (They all have wings! But would a lion or bull have greater success flying than a chicken??) Symbols given to them by humans, who are drawn to strength. Yet another reminder that we don’t see things the way God sees them. The mother hen, who longs to gather her chicks under her wings is the image of the non-violent God. Not a predator, but a protector. More humble than a human. A flightless bird who will sacrifice her life for the sake of her children.
Jesus didn’t have to choose this image. There are any number of powerful images in the Hebrew Scriptures. An eagle who guards her young, a laboring woman. How about a “mamma bear”? Our culture has embraced that image of parenting. In Hosea 13, God describes God’s self this way:
So I will become like a lion to them;
like a leopard I will lurk beside the road.
8 I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs,
and I will tear open the covering of their hearts.
I will devour them like a lion,
as a wild animal would eat them.
Now there’s a God who can protect us from our culture’s Herod-like foxes, right? A lion, a leopard, a bear!! Well, before you say, “yes,” there is something you need to know. God is not talking about destroying Israel’s enemies. Listen to the next line:
I will destroy you, Israel; for you didn’t realize that I could help you. Where is your king now, so that he can save you?
The problem with embracing a violent, vengeful God, is that God has every reason to be violent and vengeful towards us. God has every reason, yet God says “no.” We may put threatening words in God’s mouth, but they are not God’s. God rejects violence over and over again. We may have to suffer the consequences of our turning away from God’s wide spread wings, but God will never inflict violence upon us.
Which is why Jesus chooses the image of a fluffy mother hen. And I have to say, “Amen” to a God who isn’t a super hero in spandex.
Debi Thomas, one of my favorite theologians, in her reflections on this passage, sees three invitations: an invitation to vulnerability, an invitation to lament, and an invitation to return to God.[i]
The vulnerability hits us in the face. We don’t get to choose who we want God to be. God has chosen. God has chosen to come to us in the form of human weakness: an infant of mysterious parentage, who would become a refugee dependent on the kindness of strangers, who would grow to be a low income craftsman, who would become a penniless prophet. A man who chooses to offer love in response to hate, who offers forgiveness even when no apology is offered. A man who truly sees all people as equal, even if he sometimes needs a little help to get there. A God of vulnerability.
The opposite of vulnerability is not weakness. The opposite of vulnerability is disconnect. It is the closed door. In this dangerous world, do we not need greater connection rather than isolation? How might you open yourself to vulnerability? Whose story do you need to hear? Who might need to hear yours? Who is in need of the very gifts you have to offer? Those gifts you have been too afraid to share.
The first invitation – the invitation to vulnerability.
The second invitation is the invitation to lament.
Jesus, as he looks towards Jerusalem and his own impending death, mourns for the children who will turn away from him. He mourns for those who will choose power over sacrifice. He grieves for those who will choose prestige over relationship. His heart aches for those who will choose law over compassion. Thomas, writing of Jesus’ sorrow, says that his:
is a lamentation for all that could have been in this broken, resistant, clueless world. It is a lamentation for the real limits we live with as human beings. The lasting wounds. Sometimes, like Jesus the mother hen, we can’t do what we most desire to do. We can’t give what we deeply long to give. We can’t save the loved ones we ache to save.
For whom does your heart grieve this season? For someone so close to you? Or for our world in all its brokenness. For the brutality of a world where faithful people are murdered while they pray? For the arrogance of a people who use their white privilege to continue a cycle of exclusion? For teenagers in our neighboring city who have been taught to embrace racism? How might your grieving heart call you to respond? How might your grieving heart call you into deeper vulnerability?
Adding to these invitations to vulnerability and lamentation, Thomas asks us to consider the invitation to return to God. Jesus, the mother hen, stands with outstretched wings, waiting for her children to accept her embrace, waiting for her chicks to return to her for shelter, nurture and protection. For some of us, for many of us I would suppose, this is not actually a “return,” because we never fully understood how to recognize the shelter of God’s wings. For many of us, turning to this type of shelter is a new experience. We are still learning to claim a God of vulnerability. This image of a “Mother Hen God” is so new to us. We are still learning to turn toward a God who does not promise success as the world defines success. We are still learning to trust in a God who will sacrifice God’s own self to save our lives.
The mother hen spreads out her wings to offer comfort and protection. The mother hen spreads her wings and says “this is the wideness of God’s mercy.” Maybe it’s not much in the world’s eyes. Shall we try it? Shall we try meeting God under the expanse of God’s wings? It will be crowded. There be chicks you wish were not there. But they came with God’s invitation. You may find yourself wishing for a “Mama Bear God” instead of a “Mother Hen God,” but a Mother Hen God is who we get.
She is waiting for us. Let us not leave her to lament. Let us join her in offering God’s compassionate face to the world.
Thanks be to God who stretches wide her wings and welcomes us in!
Amen and Amen.
[i] Debi Thomas, Journey with Jesus: The Way of the Hen. March 10, 2019. https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay