Jesus had a plan for his ministry and mission. After months in the countryside, he headed for Jerusalem. His time was running out, but he was determined to keep his plan. As rumors and half-truths about his teaching reached the authorities, he was already in disfavor. When the rage of the authorities matured, he would be killed as a common criminal. Jesus knew his teaching about the kingdom of God was misinterpreted by the civil and religious authorities. Having lunch with sinners and tax collectors struck at the root of the social order.
His friends among the Pharisees warned him that Herod was on the lookout. If Jesus was telling stories about the kingdom of God, and then sitting with the wrong people for lunch in Jerusalem, Herod saw the danger. There could be only one king, one kingdom, and Herod wanted to eliminate the competition. Jesus’ reply to the warning gives us the first of two powerful images in the story. “Tell that fox I intend to do what I have come to do, including healing the sick, until I am finished.”
If we have looked at Jesus as soft-spoken and mild-mannered with every lock of soft brown hair just so, then his brand of determination is hard to fit into that picture. Much religious art shows him with soft hands, gentle face, perfect manners to the point of docility, easy temperament, and never angry. Partly as a result, some think the Christian faith is something for soft-spoken, mild mannered and sweet faced people. If that were true, I would never make the grade. He calls Herod a fox because Jesus knows power and danger. He knows cunning and deception. He understands the circumstances when little people are made helpless and take whatever is handed out.
Have you ever needed that understanding? Herod, a fox, will use any means necessary to silence Jesus, to get him out of the way. The Pharisees reveal that Herod is looking for Jesus. Their message comes as no surprise to Jesus. Will he turn back, turn away from his talk about the Kingdom? Will he stop going to that open air lunch room in Jerusalem where he was willing to sit with us and our kind? Jesus says the kingdom and its new social order is more important than anything else, not only to himself, but to us also. And if Jesus deserts his mission now, where will that leave us?
Won’t Herod be after us? We are puzzled and anxious about what will happen. If Jesus goes ahead, and if we go with him, will Herod kill us? Is that what following Jesus is all about? We don’t have to turn back the calendar pages to be with Jesus in the Galilean sun. All we have to do is see ourselves in the moment where we always stand. The call of Jesus always sounds in our ears. He is determined to go the way of the cross. We must decide between Herod and that way. This is our moment before God. We can throw in with the people in charge, the shakers and movers, the cunning, clever, beautiful people who go about in kingly robes.
Or we can ask, “Which way is Jerusalem?” We can look ahead, from our vantage point in history, and see that Herod had his way. Jesus went on to Jerusalem where crimes against the state were punished on a hill outside the city, outside the bounds of conventional behavior.
Can we trust this man whose death made no sense, who had no respect for people in charge, and whose mission ended in his death, and burial in a stranger’s tomb? Jesus was also the first person to see that no matter what happened, God will not fail. He went to the cross, even saying as he died, “Why have you forsaken me?” But God did not forsake him, instead raising him to resurrection life. Jesus is the one whose example of putting total trust in God right down to his last gasp stands out as the unexcelled pinnacle of faith.
If we give Jesus the total humanity that his birth from Mary indicates, then we can believe that Jesus could not see exactly what was ahead. He knew where he would be in faith, that is, that he would be in God’s care, in God’s arms, that God would somehow be in charge. But to say that Jesus had seen a preview of the trial, torture, agony, execution, and resurrection, and then put on his bravest face to carry on — is to deny the limitations of his humanity. He knew only that God would somehow be victorious. He knew that God would not fail, no matter what happened to him. He knew that God is the ultimate winner, and therefore Jesus, too, would win.
In Vachel Lindsey’s poem,” General William Booth enters heaven,” there is a striking picture of the transformation by which losers become winners. Booth himself leads the way, and behind him comes the most unexpected people. Lindsey wrote, “The walking lepers followed rank on rank, Drabs from the alleyways and drug fiends pale, Minds still passion ridden, soul powers frail,
“Yet in an instant all that bleak review Marched on spotless, clad in raiment new. The lame were straightened, withered limbs uncurled, And blind eyes opened on a sweet new world. Earlier, the poet tells us, “Booth died blind, and still by faith he trod, Eyes still dazzled by the ways of God.”
There are many in this old world who agonize to be part of God’s success, even though the glory of heaven may not be evident for each one. Do you need that certainty? I know I do and I suspect others do also. Not all that is wrong in this old world will be set right. Not all the Herods out to kill Jesus will be brought to justice and finally punished.
Not all the suffering of the little, helpless, and frightened people may be relieved in this life, but God will have the last word.
Now we come to the second powerful image in the story. As a hen gathers her new-hatched brood under her wings, Jesus tells us that God is on the side of the lost, the weak, the sick, the poor, the refugee, the oppressed, and the immigrant.
Like a parent who goes on hurting for wayward children, he’s on the side of the irreligious, the immoral, the ungodly, tugging them by his love, searching for them, looking for their return.
After all, who is Jesus going to Jerusalem for? Certainly not for the Herods and his kind, then or now, who are determined to rule without interference from God.
Because God cares about those who cannot take care of themselves, Jesus went on to Jerusalem to suffer the worst that Herod and his crowd could imagine — for us. It is more than merely interesting, that in the same story where Jesus compares Herod to a fox, he should also compare God to a mother hen. Jesus has entered the human condition – that is, to suffer, to be mistreated, to have a hard time, to be frightened. Jesus uses the figure of a mother hen to show how God has entered helplessly and without defenses into the human situation.
What happens when a fox attacks the hen? Somebody suffers. Somebody is broken. Somebody bleeds. Somebody dies. Is this the way God runs the world? Just to let the Herods and the other foxes scatter the baby chicks and devour the mother hen?
But then, things are mixed up, and we have to look in the strangest places to touch the mystery of God. If we think of God as defenseless, vulnerable, suffering, dying, then maybe we can understand the meaning of the story when God was with the Israelites in Egypt, making bricks without straw to soften the clay and make it workable.
Life was hard. God was with them. Or we should try to recognize God as a prisoner of war with the Israelite prisoners in Babylon during the exile? We should see God as fleeing his homeland, going to Egypt, when another Herod was killing all the baby boys.
Then perhaps we will ask with considerable amazement: did God do all that? Is that the way God really works and acts?”
We may even come to the story of how God got on the cross of a religious teacher charged with blasphemy and sedition against the state. The teacher from Nazareth was Jesus. That’s how clearly God has joined himself with the human endeavor, with us. He’s going up to Jerusalem for us.
His lament that we would not be gathered under God’s care is for us. The fox comes. The hen is totally vulnerable, and the death that God died in Jesus Christ was for us.
Now, because of our gratitude, there is no discipleship too demanding for us. There is no suffering too great. There is no service too much.
God has already led the way.
Through Jesus Christ, he has joined with us in our total humanity. It may appear to us in this life that we often lose.
But Jesus Christ has linked himself so closely with us, that together with him in God, we shall forever win.