Feathers not Fangs message for March 17, 2019
Life in Jerusalem was interesting. Jesus was born under Herod the Great, the Roman-appointed king of Israel. He had fangs. Herod “the Great” killed lots of people, including his wife and some of his sons. He was also the one who ordered the killing of all boy children under the age of two.
After his death, his kingdom was divided between his three sons. One son, Archelaus, got Jerusalem and created havoc which made powerful political enemies, and so he was replaced by Pilot. (Luke13 As Jesus spoke, some people told Him the latest news about a group of Galilean pilgrims in Jerusalem—a group not unlike Jesus’ own entourage. Pilate butchered them while they were at worship, their own blood mingling with the blood of their sacrifices. (hmmm, strangely familiar…)
Jesus: 2 Do you think these Galileans were somehow being singled out for their sins, that they were worse than any other Galileans, because they suffered this terrible death? 3 Of course not. But listen, if you do not consider God’s ways and truly change, then friends, you should prepare to face His judgment and eternal death.
4 Speaking of current events, you’ve all heard about the eighteen people killed in that building accident when the tower in Siloam fell. Were they extraordinarily bad people, worse than anyone else in Jerusalem, so that they would deserve such an untimely death? 5 Of course not. But all the buildings of Jerusalem will come crashing down on you if you don’t wake up and change direction now.)
But back to today’s scriptural context.
Another son of Herod the Great was Herod Antipas. This son inherited the region of Galilee. This is the Herod who brought the head of John the Baptist on a platter to his wife for a birthday present. Power. It corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This was the king Jesus grew up under.
This Herod, Antipas, as you can imagine, was extremely wealthy. His huge staff included Chuza, who was his manager, you might say, his accountant. And Chuza was married to Joanna. In Luke’s gospel, we read about Joanna. She was a part of a group of powerful women who travelled with this new rabbi….and helped pay for his food and other expenses! She, who had a powerful husband, was evidently bored with all of that stuff, plus in Luke 8:2-3, we read that she’d been cured of evil spirits and infirmities. She spent her time traveling with Jesus, just like Susanna and Mary Magdalene, two other women associated with Jesus.
Rob Bell, in his book, What is the Bible, makes the point that Jesus was partially funded by the elite women around him, including Joanna, so that really, Herod unknowingly was indirectly funding the very resistance movement he’s trying to stamp out!
Our scripture today starts with some Pharisees hearing about Herod’s desires and warning Jesus. But Jesus will have none of it. He knows that he is announcing another kind of kingdom. (He also has to know that Herod is ruthless and the most powerful man around.)
Now, about Jesus’ response to the death threat of Herod:
Rob Bell writes: “In ancient Jewish culture, if you were to talk about how great and significant a man was, you would describe him as a lion. And, if a man was a fake, a liar, a phony, an imposter—we would say a poser—you’d call him a fox.”
We see, with Jesus’ response to being warned about Herod, what he thinks of Herod and the Herodians: they are foxes. Jesus says, “You tell that fox…I’m going to continue driving out demons and healing people today, tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.”
Wow. And in his Herod slam, Jesus also predicts his own death, self-identifying as one of the prophets who is killed in Jerusalem. He had every right to hate some of the Jews of Jerusalem. Instead, he weeps, crying for those with hard hearts. His heart breaks for the holy city which had been the seat of God’s presence since ancient times. This city held the Temple in which he had participated in midrash with the rabbis as a boy. The city that would soon claim his life.
This Jesus. What a guy. He says it. Pure and simple. He loves his people—the ones who will later turn on him and stone him hours after waving palms and singing his praise, and …he loves them as—he loves us– like a mother hen. He knows he will not choose a war horse, but a donkey, he chooses nonviolence and chooses a mother hen as a metaphor for his love. “How I’ve wanted to GATHER you, like a mother hen,” is his words remembered and written by Luke.
Now I want to riff a bit about hens. Hens are NOT always docile, scurrying and clucking. They can be quite powerful.
In the 1990’s I accompanied Hank several times to the DR as a medical instrument sterilizer. I remember using the outdoor latrine with fear and trepidation at night. Story of hen and her chicks in our shower deep in the mountains of El Valle, Dominican Republic.
Then one night I was aghast. As I went to wash my face, I spied this hen with a mouse in her beak….for her chicks, a little protein. I imagined how fast she must have been to snare this dinner…and I learned the powerful love of a mother hen for her brood. A mother hen will TRY hard to protect her chicks under her wings!
How often do we still reject the promised protection and love of a mother hen God, as we set ourselves up to try to live in a world on our own, where we’ll never and can never be enough. It is not too late, in spite of our hopes turning to cynicism or our resolve to do good sometimes dissolving under the pressures of the world. When we confess our fears/failures, we are handed protective wings.
When we forget that are one of the Mother God-hen’s brood, when we see ourselves as self-sufficient and in so doing, put not only ourselves but potentially others in harm’s way. It’s not too late. We can still repent and change our ways of thinking, our words, our actions.
When I think that I am not in need of forgiveness, I am not like those Jerusalem Pharisees and rabbis, then I tend to not see others as tender or vulnerable, I make sweeping generalizations and I put others in boxes.
When we as a church here at Summit choose not to rest in grace, when we think too little of ourselves, then we are not in keeping with God’s intent, it is still not too late. We are gathered and forgiven when we confess our sins.
Jesus’ lament for Jerusalem is rooted in her turning her back on his love—on the ones that walked away from the kingdom. This first rejection is, I believe, at the root of every other failure or sin which can and does mark our lives. “Herod is after your life.” FEAR in capital letters.
What are we afraid of? Are we afraid of closing, with some of our people becoming discouraged, not coming regularly? Do we play the blame game or do we prostrate ourselves before our Lord, begging for restoration, for forgiveness? Do we go to Summitians we don’t see regularly and ask about them and their lives? Or do we assume they are fine and just don’t want to come? Do we cultivate relationships conducive to deep kingdom work? You can have great seeds in the ground, but if the sun does not warm them, they will not grow. Do we go and apologize in person if we know there is something we’ve done or said which prevents people from coming back to Summit? Are we examining our community? What exactly are our fears and are we frozen or are we willing to discern together the Spirit of God for us in these times? What gives us energy, what do we hear as our calling?
Jesus sets aside this threat of fear. Instead he focuses on the ones that he’s come to save. He says in verse 34b, “But you didn’t want that.” “Herod is coming for your life!” Do I set aside such fear? Do we want Jesus’ kingdom: A nonviolent kingdom with servant power? Jesus doesn’t spell out exactly why he calls Herod a fox, but in his healing and restoration of all who are willing, Jesus does displace the power of Herod. Life and death are no longer in Herod’s hands or any earthly emperors (then…or now…) Are we displacing the power of Herod- FEAR?
(I look at the Christian church these days, well, just the Mennonite Church, and I see willful chicks running all over the place. I wonder if there are tears in heaven at our smallness and stubbornness, but then I remember.) My God is a mother hen. My God prays for chicks to be gathered. And for us to be her hands and feet. And I ask myself, “How can I , how can we here at Summit gather for the Kingdom?” Goshen College student Elizabeth Reimer writes this week, and I quote, “Part of pacifism is our ability to cry for everyone, even those who damage us. We love our enemies. Those tears are not easy, but they are a necessary part of being Christian.”
Reading this text from our powerful and privileged perches, with our wealth and political voices, may we not forget how we’ve been tempted by the imperial lie that comfort, convenience and safety belong to those who are worthy. This was the cunning lie of Herod and is still the cunning lie of foxes of our time.
“Tell that fox…” Jesus laughs off the Empire, not in bravery, but in his confidence of God’s promises. He goes on healing and restoring the willing, but especially those crushed by the powerful. Jesus lived among those so careful to protect what they have. He did not cloister himself and his disciples. I wonder….do we live among those who carefully protect what they have? Or are we those who carefully protect what we have?
Jesus mocks Herod. “Tell that fox…”
May we, like our Leader, continue to cast out demons and perform healings today and tomorrow before we reach our final destination.
O God, forgive our hypocrisy and convict our sin. Forgive us our sins AS WE forgive those who sin against us; help us gather instead of scatter, to gather by choosing donkeys to ride instead of war horses, and to champion the cause of the poor among us, here in our Jerusalems, as you did. Give us feathers, not fangs. Amen.
- What healings do we need to perform here at Summit through the power of God?
- What FEAR do we need to mock?
- When we look at the future, our Jerusalem, are we finding donkeys to ride or buying war horses?