Lent 2c – Sunday 24th February 2012
Luke 13: 31-35
There was horror in the news 10 days ago, when a story was reported about how a fox stole into a house in South London and attacked a 4 week old baby. The fox pulled the baby out of its cot and in the ensuing struggle inflicted very serious injuries. Authorities were quick to reassure people that fox attacks on humans were very rare, nevertheless the family and local community were left deeply shocked.
When Jesus labelled Herod “that fox”, he obviously wasn’t just referring to the cunning qualities of the animal. No doubt he was referring to the ruthless or even the vicious acts that foxes are capable of. So, when Jesus comes up against the fox, how does he see God’s affirmative action? What does he become?
I remember as a child watching a programme in which one of the cartoon heroes had the ability to turn himself into any given animal. I think it was The Arabian Nights. At one moment he would be a mouse so he could escape from confined quarters, at another a mighty elephant to crush the opposition. All he needed to do was say, “Size of an ostrich”, clap his hands and the deed was done. Many a happy childhood hour was spent watching this programme.
So it amazes me that Jesus didn’t do something similar. Why, of all the animals in the animal kingdom, did Jesus choose to put a hen up against a fox? Barbara Brown Taylor explores this question in her article As a Hen Gathers Her Brood.
Given the number of animals available, it is curious that Jesus chooses a hen. Where is the biblical precedent for that? What about the mighty eagle of Exodus, or Hosea’s stealthy leopard? What about the proud lion of Judah, mowing down his enemies with a roar? Compared to any of those, a mother hen does not inspire much confidence. No wonder some of the chicks decided to go with the fox.
Barbara Brown Taylor begins her article by describing the small chapel situated on the slopes of the Mount of Olives called Domunis Flevit. This is supposed to be the place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. The current chapel was constructed in the 1950’s, built in the shape of a teardrop, it has a magnificent view over the Temple Mount of Jerusalem. On the altar is a mosaic that is said to date from the 7th century, a mosaic of a hen and her chicks, with the words from Luke 13 around its edge. In the mosaic the hen has its wings spread wide to protect its chicks. Naturally, spreading wings wide puffs the chest out making the hen appear so vulnerable.
And that is the way of Jesus. Turning every single one of our ideas and conceptions about him upside down. Which will he choose? Lion or hen? First or last? Vulnerable or victorious? Throne or cross? He surprises me every day of my life.
As Barbara Brown Taylor says in conclusion:
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.
And that’s the amazing God who has claimed me. The amazing God who laid down his life for me. The amazing God who told Herod: “Tell that fox that I’ve no time for him right now. Today and tomorrow I’m busy clearing out the demons and healing the sick; the third day I’m wrapping things up.” Not distracted from his tasks, diverted from his aims, but serving, serving, serving. Giving, giving, giving.
What a wonderful example and inspiration to us all. Next time I’m out in the park recreating an episode from The Arabian Nights, I’m going to shout out at the top of my voice: “Size of a hen!” There’s no greater superhero.