The fox and the hen

“A bruised reed he will not break” photo by Martin Malina April 2022
sermon audio for “The fox and the hen” by Martin Malina

This year we hear Luke telling the Passion of Christ. Since Luke is the only Gospel of the four in the New Testament who mentions Herod in the Passion story[1], I want to start here: The confrontation between Herod and Jesus before his crucifixion. Herod and then Pilate will determine Jesus’ fate, after all. This is the climax of the earthly conflict, so to speak.

Recall just as Lent was starting over forty days ago, we heard from Luke also when Jesus called Herod a fox: “Go and tell that fox for me …” Jesus instructs the Pharisees to address Herod.[2]

Herod—Jesus’ ultimate earthly enemy, at the climax of the drama of Jesus’ life—Herod is the fox. Herod is dangerous. Herod holds all the cards. And he comes out on top, so it seems. And Pilate and Herod become friends that day.

It’s incredible that God chooses to submit to this danger, be swept up in it, and die. How can God be like this—vulernable to the wiles of the power brokers of the day, subject to the abuse and torture of human evil? Many have rejected the Christian God on these grounds alone. Because to follow this God is risky if it doesn’t promise some protection from what is dangerous in the world. Protection from the foxes.

We would rather Jesus be the fox, the one with all the cards to play, the one aggressive, defensive and wily.  But, no, Jesus is the hen. In contrast to Herod, from that Lukan text we heard last month, Jesus described himself as a mother hen: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” Jesus laments over Jerusalem.

Being a follower of Christ doesn’t take the danger out of life. Being Christian does not mean becoming magically immune to suffering. Being Christian does not mean being protected and secured against the foxes of this world.

But it does mean something more important: Being gathered under wing, nurtured and held in loving embrace. The fox may still have his way. The fox may still be a predator upon the mother hen and her chicks.

But in acts of violence and aggression the fox will never know love the way the mother hen will give it. In this image it is clear: Being with Jesus in times of danger is not about removing the danger. Being with Jesus in times of danger is about giving and receiving love in relationship.

On Good Friday, the poetry of the ‘servant’ poems from the prophet Isaiah are often read. But one of the first of these poems in the second half of Isaiah offers another vivid and meaningful image about who God is: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed, until he has established justice in the earth …”[3]

God, in the crucified Christ, is accomplishing justice. How so? In Jesus’ dialogue with Pilate[4], Jesus makes it clear that God’s ways are not violent. Let’s be clear: The poetry of Isaiah implies that God does indeed have the power, the capacity, to bruise a broken reed and snuf a dimly burning wick. But God doesn’t do it. A bruised reed he will not break; a dimly burning wick he will not snuff out.

God enacts justice by withholding the incredible power God has to wield. God chooses, in God’s freedom, not to use the full capacity of God’s might. Instead, God chooses mercy, gentleness, forbearance, patience and grace. God shows love by self-limiting himself.

At the brutal end of Jesus’ earthly life, I reflect on his life described in the Gospels and I go back to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry: he spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth. And he said that his mission would be “to let the oppressed go free.”[5] That was his mission: the ultimate freedom of people who were imprisoned, oppressed and stripped of privilege. He went to the public places, the city streets and gates. He healed the sick, brought sight to the blind, raised the dead. Jesus spent time with those who were despised. He loved those who were marginalized in a culture dominated by violence, aggression and retribution.[6]

Many of those around Jesus wanted a Messiah to liberate them from the Romans and restore a Jewish kingdom. Many, indeed, wanted Jesus to be the fox. No, he said to Pilate, that’s not what his kingdom is like, at all![7]

And when God’s justice is restored in the earth and Jesus returns in glory, where will his disciples find him? How will they know him? The disciples did ask these questions of Jesus before he died: “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And in Jesus’ usual parable-style story-telling, Jesus answered, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”[8]

How do we love Jesus? How do we respond on holy, Good Friday, when we recall Jesus’ horrible death? What would Jesus have us do? 

Even as Jesus’ earthly path got him killed, his true legacy is the practice of enduring love, of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. In God’s ways of love and mercy, we may give up our privilege and power to support those in need. By doing this, in our life on earth, we love Jesus. We respond on the day he died by recommitting ourselves to his mission, and remaining true to his legacy.

That is why the church today doesn’t merely go through ritual and liturgical motions, though helpful they may be. We didn’t just wave palm branches last Sunday to praise him and remember his journey to the cross. But we also collected clothing, basic needs for the poverty-vulnerable, the underprivileged, the less fortunate. Because we are Christians. And we follow Christ, and Christ’s ways, even and especially in difficult times.

And then God will raise us up with all the faithful. God will raise us up as a garden flourishing in the desert.[9] Let the words of Isaiah fill your imagination and your heart as you go this day …

An image from Isaiah, describing that day when justice is restored in the earth, when indeed the fox and hen will not be predator and prey. Rather, God’s vision is one in which “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them …”[10]

Let Christ Jesus be our guide, over these coming days, and beyond to the realization of new life, a new beginning. Amen.


[1] Luke 23:1-49

[2] Luke 13:31-32, 34

[3] Isaiah 42:3-4, NRSV

[4] See John’s rendition of the Passion narrative; John 18:33-36 and 19:8-11

[5] Luke 4:18 NRSV

[6] Luke 6:27-36

[7] John 18:36

[8] Matthew 25:34-40 NRSV

[9] Isaiah 58:10-12 NRSV – “If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; and you shall rise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”

[10] Isaiah 11:6 NRSV

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