From Fox-Hearted to Christ-Hearted (Sermon)

“From Fox-Hearted to Christ-Hearted”

Luke 13:31-35

Allen Huff

Jonesborough Presbyterian Church

3/13/22

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

32 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. 33 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.’

34 “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! 35 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.’”  (NRSV)

         Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great. And they were both kind of fox-hearted men, cold predators who feasted on their herds by binging on political executions. Remember, Herod Antipas had John the Baptist’s head served on a platter—literally.

         The image of a fox also reaches deep into the collective memory of the Jewish people. In the book of Judges, Samson uses a huge skulk of foxes to exact a violent but rather creative revenge against the Philistines.

         In the story, Samson marries a Philistine woman, but not for love. He uses her to infiltrate the enemy. During the week of his wedding, Samson deliberately creates a ruckus that allows him to separate from his bride before they can consummate their marriage.

         Eventually, Samson returns and demands his wife back. In a revealing display of “biblical marriage and family values,” his father-in-law says, and I quote, “I was sure that you had rejected her; so I gave her to your companion. Is not her younger sister prettier than she? Why not take her instead?”

         Having manipulated the desired offense, Samson says, “‘This time, when I do mischief to the Philistines, I will be without blame.’

         “So Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took some torches; and he tied the foxes tail to tail, and put a torch between each pair of tails. When he had set fire to the torches, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines, and burned up the shocks and the standing grain, as well as the vineyards and olive groves.”

         Now, when the Philistines learn who is responsible for the attack, and why, they round up Samson’s ex-wife and her father and burn them alive. (See Judges 14-15) The Word of the Lord? Thanks be to God?

         For such a memorable biblical story, it contains an awful lot of fox-heartedness and very little redemption.

         At issue in today’s gospel reading is the fact that the Pharisees, whom Luke consistently depicts as shallow, self-serving, and power-hungry, are acting kind of like foxes themselves—or at least like a bunch of border collies who have started smoking behind the gym with the rottweilers and chihuahuas. So, when they tell Jesus that he needs to leave immediately because Herod has a torch tied to his tail, and is coming to burn him out, I hear them exploit the situation to get rid of Jesus. Hey Jesus, they say. Herod’s after you! You should go away!

         And Jesus responds saying, Bless all-a-y’all’s hearts, but you can go and tell that fox that he can’t keep me from doing what God called me to do.

         After that, Jesus turns toward the holy city and rips open his heart in passionate lament.

         “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” Then he grieves the blindness and deafness of the people with whom he is so helplessly in love.

Next, mixing metaphors, he says, in effect, The fox is in the chicken coop! And how I wish I could gather you beneath my wings like a mother hen, but the fox has charmed you. You have become his food, and some of you are even turning into foxes yourselves!

The coop is yours now, says Jesus. And I can’t wait until you recognize me as the one whom God has sent to you.

         The juxtaposition of fox versus hen is stark, isn’t it? The stories of people like Samson, Joshua, and Elijah remind us that even faith communities often tolerate, excuse, and, indeed, crave ruthless and predatory behavior in their heroes. But to embody such faithlessness, is to declare that, ultimately, we trust avenging violence more than we trust God’s reconciling grace and restorative justice.

That’s what the religious leaders tell themselves at Passover. Jesus has to die, and if we can’t kill him during the celebration, Pilate can. All we have to do is plant a seed of fear in his little canine heart. Tell him that Jesus is a dangerous heretic who doesn’t revere and serve the emperor.

Isn’t that the way of things? Everyone trying to cast everyone else as the fox—the threat who must be stopped. And when consumed with anxiety, when blinded by God-grieving, prophet-killing predation, we miss the signs of promise and hope that are right in front of us. 

Earlier in Luke, John the Baptist, who is in Herod’s jail, sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” And Jesus tells them to pay attention to all they’ve seen and heard. The blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, the dead, the poor—all of them are experiencing new life and new hope. (Luke 7:19-23) And if that’s happening, something good is afoot, something transforming, something holy. And God is calling all Creation to participate in it.

After saying this, Jesus, utters another lament. He grieves the duplicity of the critics who said that, because of his austere and sober ways, John must have a demon. For he “has come eating no bread and drinking no wine.”

But, says Jesus, when I keep company with people simply to love them, you condemn me for being a glutton and a drunkard.

Then Jesus says this: “Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” (Luke 7:33-35)

Matthew’s Jesus says it this way: “You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16 & 20)

Jesus reminds us that the life we live reveals what is truly important to us. The ways we interact with and care for others and the Creation reveal our hearts in ways that silver crosses around our necks and rubber WWJD bracelets cannot.

I think most of us are lamenting a world in which torch-tailed foxes seem to have their way unhindered. Every day we feel the weight of predatory rhetoric and violence, the degradation of the environment, and a suffocating scarcity of Christ-hearted justice, kindness, and humility.

When Jesus says “Nevertheless” to all of that, he makes us a neverthelesspeople. Easter will shout a reverberating Nevertheless into the fox-heartedness of the world. Easter reaffirms the great affirmation of Christmas—the affirmation that the Creation is God’s first incarnation and most concrete promise that “God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” (1John 3:16b)

Easter will affirm these things. Right now, though, it’s Lent. And Lent is our opportunity to acknowledge that even we, who claim to follow Jesus, not only recognize suffering in the world, we often aggravate it by participating in Herod’s predatory fear and greed.

Nevertheless, we know who we truly are. We know that God has created and called humankind to participate in God’s ways of Christ-hearted love.

Listen, we’re not foxes on the prowl. So, let’s file down our fangs and clip our claws. In all that we say and do, may it be obvious that we are the vindicating children of wisdom. We are incarnate signs of the household of God.

And wherever we go, let us all go there in the name of “the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

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