Hide me under the shadow of your wings!
A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley
by Andrew McKearney on 10 March 2019.
Foxes and chickens go back a long way! Jesus and his hearers knew about them every bit as much as we do! But why, at this point in his ministry, does Jesus talk about them – foxes and chickens?
As we saw last week, Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is a key theme in Luke’s gospel. And Jerusalem, the journey’s destination, has a long history of unrest. Jesus describes it as a city that:
‘kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.’
Not only are the religious authorities there to be feared but so too the political leaders:
‘Get away from here’ we heard some Pharisees say to
Jesus, ‘for Herod wants to kill you.’
It’s intriguing that it’s some Pharisees who seem to be trying to protect Jesus!
In reply we heard Jesus say:
‘Go and tell that fox…….’
Why would Jesus call Herod a fox? Foxes were renowned for two things: they enjoyed killing chickens, and in Jewish literature they were described as animals of low cunning! They’ve not changed much in the last 2000 years!
But still, why call Herod a fox?
There was a whole family of Herods in charge during Jesus’ ministry. Herod the Great – he was around at the time of Jesus’ birth and killed all the under 2s in and around Bethlehem. Herod Antipas was one of his sons – he was around at this period of Jesus’ ministry and he was the one who ordered John the Baptist to be killed on the whim of his wife Herodias and his step-daughter Salome.
The family of Herods stayed in power by cruelty and political cunning. A fox captures brilliantly what the Herods were like!
So if Herod’s a fox and now wants to kill Jesus, what does that make Jesus? A chicken!
‘How often have I desired to gather your children together
as a hen gathers her brood under her wings’ Jesus says,
referring to the city of Jerusalem up ahead.
But in spite of being warned about this wily fox, Jesus is not going to be deflected from his calling to go to Jerusalem. And in doing so he runs the risk of being killed, like a chicken, by a fox.
Jesus could have responded to these threats from Herod differently. He could have turned and run, or stood his ground and fought. But he did neither!
And to explain to his disciples what he was doing he used the image not just of a chicken but of a mother hen.
A mother hen’s instinct is to protect her young and to stand in the path of danger so that her chicks can flee to safety. Sometimes a mother hen will drop one of her wings onto the ground to attract an attacker’s attention by pretending to have a broken wing and so draw the danger away by risking her own life.
It’s a fascinating image for Christ that’s never picked up in the rest of the New Testament. Yet there’s so much in theimage of a mother hen that speaks movingly of Christ. But it’s a female image, which while attractive to us, may explain why it was never developed at the time.
Some of us will know well the late evening service of Compline or Night Prayer. At one point in the service the person leading says:
‘Keep me as the apple of your eye.’
The response that the congregation then makes uses this image that we’ve been exploring.
In reply we say:
‘Hide me under the shadow of your wings.’