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Sunday message 21 February 2016 (Lent 2) – Jesus, hens, chicks and foxes

Readings: Luke 9:37-51; Luke 13:31-35


How do you respond to warnings or threats?

We don’t know much about the Pharisees who come to warn Jesus that Herod is planning to kill him. We do know Herod Antipas. John the Baptist encountered him in a rather grim way. Jesus was rattled by his cousin’s death I am sure. He was not impervious to grief and sorrow. His weeping at Lazarus’ death reminds us of that starkly in that shortest verse of the Bible in John 11:35.

But he is not put off by the threat. And he goes into prophetic mode. The imagery is graphic and colourful. And bold.

Foxes and hens.

People would have expected him to talk about eagles – following Old Testament verses like Deuteronomy 32:11

But this was a specifically political moment. And Jesus was an astute politician.

To use an eagle as a metaphor or simile would have conjured up associations with the Roman authorities and their eagle.

So he uses a chicken. A brooding mother.

In the first verses of the Bible, few translations capture this brooding image which is attributed to the Spirit of God.

The NIV puts it like this: Gen 1:1  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Gen 1:2  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

The Message captures the Hebrew best: Gen 1:1  First this: God created the Heavens and Earth–all you see, all you don’t see. Gen 1:2  Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.

Don’t be fooled by the casual style of The Message. The Presbyterian professor Eugene Peterson who gave us this version is a top Hebrew scholar.

The image of the Spirit here is of expectancy prior to birth or creation. Why should the image of the Son be any different?

Jesus’ hen is the mother who is trying to gather the chicks together in a storm – but they are stubbornly staying in danger rather than coming under her wing.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killer of prophets, abuser of the messengers of God! How often I’ve longed to gather your children, gather your children like a hen, Her brood safe under her wings– but you refused and turned away!


That Fox

The fact that he calls Herod a fox is interesting. It had the same connotations as it does today. Sly, stinky, sneaky, sleazy, slippery fox. Well those were my words in my children’s stories I used to tell – except that the hero was “Ronny the rooster” who overcame his fear of the dark and ninja-kicked the marauding fox out of the hen house.

Listen again to Luke 13: Luk 13:31  At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

Jesus’ response is blunt: Luk 13:32  He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’

What do you make of his response? His goal was probably his resurrection, or at least the completion of his task as Messiah.

Calling someone a “fox” in antiquity would not necessarily imply that the person is sly; instead, it could portray the person as worthless, slanderous, treacherous or (often) cunning in an unprincipled manner.

Jesus is direct and deadly serious. He clearly knows what his mission is, and is not about to be derailed by a member of the Herod family.

He is not pastoral in his response. There is no polite thank you to the Pharisees for their warning. He probably knows that the messengers are up to no good. Perhaps their motive was to get him out of their area as it interfered with their popularity.

Jesus’ mission to the demon possessed and sick was all about the ordinary people. They were signs of the Kingdom he proclaimed, and the Kingdom teaching would have been the thing that got Herod anxious and explains his plot to kill Jesus. His father had tried when Jesus was an infant – so it ran in the family – that paranoia.

He knew that Jerusalem meant potential death as we see in the next verse: Luke 13:33  In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

Maybe he wouldn’t die in Galilee, but he would in Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). He had set his face towards that city. In the NIV we read that he “resolutely” set out for Jerusalem. It was a deliberate choice – he resolved to do it.

And so the lament for Jerusalem follow. It’s not a judgment – but a sadness as they are not willing – and their house will be left desolate.

To go back to the barnyard image, Jesus us the hen! Tom Wright talks about fire in this story. It’s an interesting angle. He writes:

Fire is as terrifying to trapped animals as to people, if not more so. When a farmyard catches fire, the animals try to escape; but, if they cannot, some species have developed ways of protecting their young. The picture here is of a hen, gathering her chicks under her wings to protect them. There are stories of exactly this: after a farmyard fire, those cleaning up have found a dead hen, scorched and blackened – with live chicks sheltering under her wings. She has quite literally given her life to save them. It is a vivid and violent image of what Jesus declared he longed to do for Jerusalem and, by implication, for all Israel. But, at the moment, all he could see was chicks scurrying off in the opposite direction, taking no notice of the smoke and flames indicating the approach of danger, nor of the urgent warnings of the one who alone could give them safety.

  1. T. Wright (2004-01-01). Luke for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 171-172). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.


Christ has given his life for us. He is the hen who has risked his life in the face of the marauding foxes, or fires. He set his face towards Jerusalem and was undaunted by the cross.

What do we do in return? The questions for us today are challenging.

  • Are we derailed from our true calling? Are we not sometimes more daunted than undaunted? For Christians in other parts of the world – being faithful often means risking their lives.
  • For us – what is the cost? Do our lives lead to the cross?
  • Can we make sense of our lives as part of the establishment of God’s Kingdom in the world? Or are we frightened from our mission by the probable threats from those who don’t share our kingdom values? Or just embarrassed?

Perhaps for Lent we need to give up fear, and take on courage! Set sail in our own “resolutions”.

At least we must not give up. We need to surrender to God and keep on keeping on to the end!