Saturday, 16 March 2019

Lent 2: Hens and Foxes: Tim Mountain

Luke 13.31-35

Hens and foxes don’t mix very well. I have a friend who keeps hens at the bottom of his garden. He knows what it’s like to experience the carnage, the distressing blood-and-feathers-evidence, of a fox getting into the pen.

That fox’ is how Jesus refers to Herod; not so much wily and clever as we tend to interpret the image today, but to the Jewish mind, worthless and contemptuous. A good-for-nothing leader who got his way by bullying and coercion, threats of force and violence, by wielding power unjustly. He wasn’t interested in winning over people’s minds and hearts; compulsion and enforcement were the means to secure their allegiance to king and country.

God’s way is different. Not imposition but invitation. Yearning.  ‘… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.’ The image can’t be pressed too far (acknowledging the rawness of nature, red in tooth and claw – even hens) but here are chicks clustering around their mother to seek safety and protection, warmth and the company of siblings, instinctively trusting that she will look after them in their defencelessness and weakness.

God, unlike Herod, is not tyrannical or coercive. God appeals and persuades, pursuing mind and heart through love. In Jesus, God renounces the exercise of power and walks a path of voluntary helplessness and vulnerability, especially in the days leading to Calvary.  God’s love is announced on the cross in arms outstretched, inviting all who come to be enfolded in embrace.

The tragedy of course, is that Israel, represented in Jerusalem, had walked away from God’s offer of protection, nurture and to be lovingly held. Later Luke tells us that Jesus wept over the city (19:41); such is the heartbreak he feels because of his fellow Jews ignoring and resisting God’s overtures, and the calamity that awaits them … from foxes like Herod … like the Empire.

In this Lenten season of self-examination perhaps we might review our own style of leadership or the leadership in our churches (or indeed, that which we see in our workplaces and the political sphere). In what ways is it fox-like or hen-like, and how might we try to challenge the one or nurture the other?  And I wonder also if some of us, having strayed a bit too far recently, might be wise to seek out and return to the shelter of God’s wings?

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