2nd Sunday in Lent: The Fox and the Hen (Luke 13:31-35)


Lectionary this week: February 21

One of my favorite childhood books was a classic collection of fairy tales illustrated in Old World style. Unlike the sanitized Disney versions that we see today, these stories included mice who were scalded and men who fell off ladders and broke their necks. Good wholesome stories to read before bed. (No wonder I was afraid the dark.)

Many of these stories included a clever and conniving fox — the character who could not be trusted. The frequent antagonist was a gentle hen that could be counted on to outsmart the fox in the end.

In this week’s lectionary passage, Jesus uses the imagery of a fox and a hen in a surprising way. But the archetypes remain the same, so we know that in the end the fox won’t succeed and the hen will save the day.

The Passage: Luke 13:31-35

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “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 outside of 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.'”

The fox and the hen

In the beginning of the passage it appears the Pharisees are trying to help Jesus. But that doesn’t  really make sense, does it? At what point in any of the other gospel stories do we see the Pharisees trying to help Jesus? They’re the ones who are always trying to test him and trip him up. They look for ways to discredit him, not save him.

Their “warning” is just another pharisaical attempt to shut down Jesus’ ministry. They can save face with the people if they use the fear of Herod and death to encourage Jesus to stop his ministry and leave. But Jesus won’t let the threat of Herod — the “fox” — deter him from his ministry. He presses on, continuing the journey towards Jerusalem.

And when he speaks of Jerusalem, we get a rare glimpse of God as mother. He likens himself to a hen who longs to gather her disobedient chicks. This is God as loving and longing to protect even when it isn’t wanted or appreciated. The hen who sacrificially covers her children with her wings to endure whatever attack may come — from a fox or whatever would destroy them.

And we know how the story ends. Jesus continues his ministry all the way to Jerusalem. Like the gentle hen who sacrificially covers her brood, Jesus’ ultimate death and resurrection sacrificially covered our sin. Anna’s prophecy in Luke 2:36-38 was fulfilled. Jerusalem was redeemed.

As we continue on our Lenten journey, what fears or threats of scheming foxes are preventing you from fulfilling God’s call on your life? We need to learn to be like the gentle, but courageous hen, and beat the foxes at their own games.


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