The Fox and the Hen
+ May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be ever pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. (please be seated)
My Grandmother Germaine was an Old Hen.
My Grandmother was Old: She died two years ago this month having celebrated her 100th birthday the previous September. She was born in 1910. At age 8, her parents contracted the Spanish Influenza of 1918 and both died within 30 days of each other. That left my grandmother and her 5 siblings young orphans.
She lived in an orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy. She would tell the story of one kind sister who would sit by her each night and let my grandmother hold on to her rosary beads as she cried herself to sleep-obviously missing both her parents. Eventually, she and her siblings were adopted- each by separate families and ended up spread out throughout New Hampshire and Quebec.
My Grandmother was a Hen: Not a gossipy hen, but the kind of hen who gathers her brood under her wings. My grandmother spent her life gathering her brood together- Everyone had a place at her table- the educated- the not so educated; the newly married and the divorced; her son the alcoholic and her son the family man. Her grandchild the priest and her grandchild the unwed mother. We were all equals.
I remember her 90th birthday- we had a large birthday celebration at her home (fearing she wouldn’t make it to 100 years). Gathered around her table, she took out the birthday card I had sent her.
“Attention everyone, I would like to read the card that Brian sent me.”
I sat back very proud, knowing that perhaps I had picked out just the right words that touched her heart- Sappy Hallmark Cards can do that- like this one….
To a special Grandma,
You’ve shown by the way you love your family and the way you live your life that real happiness comes from thinking of others and giving of yourself. You’re a very special woman and wonderful grandmother….
Then she looked up, “And here’s the part that meant the most to me”
And someday, I hope to be a Grandmother, just like you.
Oops- I should have read the card!!
Christ the Mother Hen
I share the story of my Grandmother because she has formed not only my image of God but more importantly my image and understanding of Christ.
In Luke’s Gospel, we have the image of Jesus the Mother Hen who gathers her brood under her wings. That’s a powerful image. The Mother Christ. As my grandmother gathered her brood around her dinner table, I better understand Christ the mother hen who gathers each of us around this altar table. In reflecting on the love of my grandmother, I better understand today’s scripture.
For a few minutes, let’s depart from our traditional understanding of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit- and focus on Jesus the Mother Hen.
We are in good company: St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, among many others, spoke freely of Jesus as our mother when he said: But you, Jesus, good Lord, are you not also a mother? Are you not that mother who, like a hen, collects her chicks under her wings? Truly master, you are a mother. For what others have conceived and given birth to, they have received from you…It is then you, above all, Lord God, who are mother.
Let’s look closer at this Gospel Reading and see what the Mother Hen has to say.
- Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”
Many of us are used to thinking of Pharisees as hypocrites and enemies of Jesus. We think of them as religious leaders obsessed with man-made rules whereas Jesus is more concerned with God’s love; the Pharisees scorn sinners whereas Jesus seeks them out.
Christians have made the name Pharisee equivalent to hypocritical legalism. This is an unfortunate mischaracterization. While Pharisees did have a tendency to become legalistic, they were in fact committed to Hebrew Scriptures and sought ways to live by the biblical commandments.
Not all Pharisees were hostile to Jesus. In this passage it is some Pharisees who warn Jesus to flee from Galilee because Herod wants to kill him. Danger is real: This is the Herod that served up John the Baptist’s head on a platter.
While Jesus and the Pharisees did not see things eye to eye, we find that Pharisees are often in the company of Jesus. In Luke’s Gospel, not only do they warn him about Herod, Jesus is invited to the home of a Pharisee for dinner.
This Palm Sunday we will meet another Pharisee: Joseph of Arimathea- he’s the one who asks Pilate for Jesus’ body and lays him to rest in the tomb.
- Jesus 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.
The Fox enters the story- King Herod. Calling one’s political leader a “fox” is probably not the best way to ensure safety and security, but Jesus wasn’t about to acknowledge that Herod was the final authority in his life.
Then Jesus laments:
- 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!
Jesus the Mother Hen. Herod the Fox
Do you see where this is going? We have the story of the Fox and the Hen.
Iconic Story- Favorite subject in Aesop’s fables.
We all know that in a contest the fox will win over the hen. The hen will be overcome by the violence and greater strength of the fox.
We’d probably prefer that Jesus describe himself as a farmer with a shotgun who will blast the fox to smithereens, rather than a mother hen who passively protects her baby chicks by spreading her protective wings over them.
But Jesus is not a “shot gun” messiah. He’d already decided not to meet violence with violence; force with force. Jesus visualizes himself meeting the force of Herod with the sacrificing love of the mother hen, who in effect says to the fox, “to get my chicks, you’ll have to kill me first.”
- 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.'”
This is almost exactly the chant that the people will give, waving palm branches as Jesus enters Jerusalem in the coming days.
Jesus has called Jerusalem the city that kills prophets, and yet he is going there anyway. He knows that Herod and Pilate and many other foxes await. And even as the foxes plot his death, Jesus journeys toward Jerusalem.
How does this story of the Fox and the Hen end?
The fox meets the hen in Jerusalem and devourers her. The Mother hen hangs on the cross with wings outstretched and gives up her life.
- So, like Aesop’s Fable, the fox wins.
- Here’s the good news. With God, there is an alternate ending.
That’s the story of Easter Sunday. The fox cannot take away the love the mother hen has for her chicks. And that love will live on and rise again.
- My grandmother Germaine gave me a glimpse of that unconquered love. I felt it and experienced it in a tangible way. Perhaps your grandmother did the same for you. Their love helps us better understand the love of Christ in today’s Gospel. As much as Germaine loved her family, how much more does Mother Christ love each of us?
When I look out this morning, I can see there are many mother hens here at St Paul’s- we need you!
In a time when the foxes of the world seek to divide and separate, there has never been a greater need for the spirit of the gathering mother hen, creating unity, promoting peace, offering consolation, understanding, and love, sacrificing when necessary for the good of others.