The Fox and the Hen: Who’s running scared?

Richard Rohr claims that “If you or the group to which you belong cannot laugh at yourself, then you are in trouble” (p.197, “On the Threshold of Transformation”). No better time to laugh a little than during Lent and especially on Annual General Meeting Day in the church, don’t you think?

So here’s one that will hopefully introduce us suitably to the animal imagery in the Gospel text today. It’s a chicken joke, but it’s not crossing the road!

Q: Why is it that chickens can’t talk? A: Because God doesn’t like fowl language!

The power of the imagery is indeed not in what is said, but what the mother hen in the Gospel text today (Luke 13:31-35) will do – even in the face of fear and adversity. Actions, in the life of faith, always speak louder than words.

The image of Jesus as a mother hen gathering her chicks reminds me of a common experience I see on the water described very well in the words of Canadian writer, humorist and preacher, Ralph Milton; he writes (in ‘Rumors: Sermon Helps for Preachers with a Sense of Humor’):

“I remember the image in Luke 13:34 every spring as I walk with my wife Bev along our creek, and delight in the clutches of fuzzy ducklings feeding along the edge of the water under the steady eye of the mama duck.

Sometimes at dusk we’d see mama duck tucking her babies under her wings where they will be as warm and safe as it is possible for wild ducks to be.

It is heartbreaking sometimes when a single duckling becomes separated from the clutch and goes whistling frantically for mama who is nowhere in sight. And when it spies Bev and me on the pathway, it goes skimming along the water in a desperate attempt to escape.

We always want to re-unite it with its mother. But mostly that’s impossible because we don’t know where mother duck is either. When we’ve been successful, it is by scaring the little bird to run away from us in the direction of the mother.”

Indeed, sometimes fear will motivate us – like the duckling – to run straight into the arms of a loving God.

But not Jesus. Jesus does not run in fear from Herod – the fox. Personified as a predatory fox, Herod is after Jesus. The Pharisees warn Jesus, tell him to “get away”. When you think about it, of all the artwork and creative depictions of Jesus over the centuries, have you ever seen Jesus “running away”? I certainly haven’t.

In the words of blogger Nancy Rockwell: “In Scripture and in art there are images of Jesus doing so many things – praying, walking, knocking on doors, gathering crowds, climbing hills, calling disciples, writing in the sand with his finger, sharing bread, preaching, weeping – but never running.” (in ‘Bite in the Apple’ 2013)

Because that is not what a mother hen does. Even under duress. Even when threatened by a fox. Rockwell continues: “The homely hen, who has lived in the backyards of humans for thousands of years, is selfless in her devotion to her little ones, even more defenseless than she. She has no defenses against the arts and wiles of foxes except her courage and commitment. She will rush to their sharp teeth and long claws, their looming shadow, their fierce bloodlust, throwing herself upon the bodies of her chicks, extending her wings over them, letting herself be devoured in the hope that they may be spared. She does not run from her fears.”

This is the God we worship today, on the day we review the ‘business’ of the church. We worship a God who is fearless, on account of a great, sacrificial love. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). God’s love in Jesus, Christ’s protective grace and fierce loyalty, these are unmatched in all of creation. Incredible, especially when Jesus rebukes Jerusalem for its misguided ways – and then still (and again!) offers his unconditional love.

Above all, let us remember who is the God of this church. Not a fox, out to get us, out to scare us. But a God who wraps loving arms to hold us up, and be our strength, no matter what.

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