Reading: Luke 13.31-35
Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’
Today’s reading opens in an interesting way: Jesus is being warned of Herod’s murderous intentions by some Pharisees. Up to now, and certainly throughout last week’s readings, we have heard Jesus criticizing the ways in which the sect of the Pharisees controlled the daily lives of faithful Jews. Then, today, we read of some of those Pharisees trying to protect Jesus from Herod, their earthly ruler. Of course, many differing motivations could be explored regarding the actions of those Pharisees, but that would mean avoiding the main challenge in today’s reading.
Some Pharisees knew of Herod’s intentions and they clearly did not support them. Herod was a political convenience to the occupying Roman forces. Herod, like his father before him, only enjoyed power because he was useful to the Romans. Herod, like his father before him, was a violent bully who used brutality to keep the Jewish population under control. This aspect of his character is captured by Jesus when he calls him a ‘fox’. As anyone who has ever kept chickens knows, a fox does not need to be hungry to kill. Unlike most of nature’s predators, the fox kills for sport. The fox kills what is weaker than itself simply because it can. Such behaviour would have scared and appalled decent members of the Pharisee class.
We have to presume that the warning of the Pharisees was well intentioned, but Jesus was not to be deterred. Jesus knew that his earthly mission had to be brought to its conclusion in Jerusalem. Even the violent Herod, that fox, could not change that.
Yesterday, Jesus warned us of the persecution we may have to face because of our faith in him. Today, Jesus is declaring his determination to lead from the front. Yesterday, Jesus urged us to erect a protective barrier of love around ourselves. Today, Jesus is reiterating that message, in the context of the farmyard.
All who profess the faith of Jesus Christ live under the threat of the fox, that predator which kills on a whim. But … Jesus promises the protection the mother hen provides for her chicks. When there is danger the hen gathers her chicks under the shelter of her wings, thus offering herself before her children. Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem can be seen as our being gathered under his wing. Jesus will die a violent death to save us. Let us praise and thank God for this action of divine love. Let us show our gratitude to God by going out and loving others in the name of Christ.