Outfoxed by a Hen
Sunday, March 13, 2022
Pastor Deb Kielsmeier
If you ever get the chance to go to the Holy Lands, I hope you will visit the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane. There on the western slope Mount of Olives is a small chapel marking the place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. It is shaped like a teardrop and has a large arched window that looks out across the Kidron Valley to the city of Jerusalem. Under the window is an altar with a circular mosaic of a haloed hen and seven yellow chicks gathered under her spread wings.
Words in Latin encircle the image. In English they read, “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!”
Those last few words of Jesus are set in a pool of blood red underneath the chicks’ feet: you were not willing.
A chicken is an interesting animal for Jesus to pick to describe himself. Personally, I think the majestic eagle of Exodus is more awe inspiring. Or, maybe the mother bear, stealth leopard, or roaring lion from the prophet Hosea. But a clucking flapping chicken? Chickens can’t sing nor fly to save their lives. They are excitable, beady-eyed, and nosey. Compare a hen to the strength and cunning of a fox? Honestly, the chicken image doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.
And yet, with her wings wide open, the hen offers love and protection. “How often have I longed to gather your children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,” Jesus says, “but you were not willing!”
It is a heart-breaking lament. One that you understand if you have ever treasured someone who then rejected you and spurned your love. Or if you were ever forced to watch helplessly as they self-destructed before your eyes.
Our hearts break. But all we can do is open our arms –we can’t force someone to walk into them.
This posture of wings outstretched and one’s heart exposed – could not be more vulnerable. A hen doesn’t sport powerful muscles nor bared fangs. But what she does have is a powerful determination to protect her chicks with her own body. And any predator that wants them will have to kill her first.
A huge wildfire broke out several years ago in the Northwest. After the firefighters had finally wrestled it under control, they tromped through the smoldering landscape, making sure all the hot spots were extinguished. An odd-looking charred lump caught one firefighter’s eye. When he looked more closely, he realized that it was the charred remains of a large bird. He gently kicked the carcass, when suddenly, four little peeping chicks darted out from under their mother’s body, completely unharmed.
That bird was a mother hen who had covered her chicks with her body, protecting them from the fire. She could have flown away from the danger, but instead, she gathered and sheltered her young – giving her life to save theirs.
And that, is exactly what Jesus was planning to do.
Some Pharisees came to warn Jesus that Herod was out to kill him. Jesus knew full well how dangerous Herod was. After all, he was the ruler that had John the Baptist – Jesus’ cousin – beheaded. But Jesus is unfazed. “Listen,” he says, “Go tell that fox that I will keep on casting out demons and healing the sick today and tomorrow; and the third day I will accomplish my purpose. Yes, today, tomorrow, and the next day I must proceed on my way. For it is impossible for a prophet of God to be killed except in Jerusalem!”
Jesus resolutely sets his face toward Jerusalem – the city that rejects God’s messengers and kills its prophets. And he is fully aware of the fate that awaits him there. But he is undeterred. There is work to do. And a death threat from that fox Herod isn’t going to stop him now.
Jesus never pretends that the fox isn’t dangerous. And God never promises us a that life in this world will be free of strife.
Evil is real.
We live in a world where oppression, destruction, and terror often seem to have the upper hand. These past few weeks we have witnessed an unprovoked war tearing through Ukraine. We lament the senseless bombing of maternity hospitals, killing laboring women and newborn infants. Our hearts ache as we watch grandparents and innocent children running for their lives. And we mourn as mass graves receive the bodies of innocent civilians.
Evil is very real. And terror often seems to have the upper hand.
And yet. And yet…
Evil does not have the last word.
Jesus will die.
Jesus will die with his arms outstretched and heart exposed.
But lest you think the fox wins this battle, think again.
Evil does not have the last word.
Rising from the grave – Jesus outfoxes evil by conquering death. For you and for me. We are safe under his wings. Even death cannot touch us.
Love wins. And Jesus still holds out his arms – right in midst of ground zero, with bullets and blood flying. And at the center of our own suffering and terror – providing his life as a place of refuge.
The fox is prowling, but we have a fierce mother hen. Death cannot touch us. Therefore, let us be about God’s work, declaring with the psalmist.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold[a] of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?