Ten baby chicks arrived at our house along with a flock of childhood memories. I grew up where banties roamed the barnyard, and spring included clucky mothers with newly hatched chicks.
As I put our chicks in their new space, I remember a hen who faced an unsolvable dilemma. Her nest was high on a mountain of hay bales. No matter how hard this mother called, the chicks couldn’t get down. Enter another mother with an apron. This brave mother gathered the chicks in her apron as the mother banty pecked her legs. Down the steps the parade went, arriving safely on the barn floor. The apron opened and the chicks ran to their mother. It took two mothers that day, one with a gentle apron and one with protective wings.
Jesus likened himself to a mother hen — or was it a mother wearing a safe apron? Jesus tells us of longing to gather in the scattered chicks of Jerusalem. He longs to keep them safe and protect them from danger and a certain fox (Luke 13:31-35).
Foxes have a reputation for being cunning and ruthless. Fox Herod, as Jesus labels him, fits the image. He is a shrewd operator. He divorces his wife, a Nabatean king’s daughter, to marry beautiful Herodias, his half brother’s ex-wife. John the Baptist criticizes this fox’s messy private life. John’s head ends up on a platter as a dance prize. Foxes’ grandiosity shouldn’t surprise us.
With John the Baptist out of the way, Herod is ready to face his other threat, Jesus. Just before we hear Jesus longing to be a mother hen, some Pharisees tell Jesus that Herod plans on killing him. Did Herod send them in hopes of scaring Jesus? Were they leaking inside information in hopes of saving Jesus? Knowing what foxes are up to is hard.
Foxes can fool us into thinking they are doing good, into thinking they are keeping us safe. Are they saving us from rioting, from the wrath of Rome, from terrorists?
After a death threat, it seems Jesus would long to be something threatening, perhaps a wolf. Instead, Jesus imagines being a chicken, gathering Jerusalem’s scattered chicks under his wings, in his safe apron. They refuse to be gathered.
Why would you say no to the safety of Jesus? Let’s not be too critical. The odds do seem to be with Herod. Crafty predators too often look like winners. Do we bet on the Herods or Jesus? Do we bet on military might or vulnerable love? Oil corporations or the water protectors? Congolese armed groups or Michael J. Sharp? Sometimes we bet with the mother hen, and violence seems to win. Hens can lose their lives.
Cunning foxes fill us with fear and then shrewdly offer their security. We will be safe if we rid the country of those people. We will be safe if we bomb our enemies.
Cunning foxes persuade us that having a good income or being admired brings satisfaction. Other foxes convince us that having the heads of our critics on a platter (figuratively) brings gratification. The real danger comes in trusting a fox.
In a world of foxes, the church finds hope huddled together under Jesus’ wings. Or is it in his apron? Huddled together, we help each other understand the world’s tricksters. Huddled together, we bandage the wounds of legs pecked by misguided attacks. Huddled together, we weep for those the fox has devoured. Huddled together, we face seemingly unsolvable dilemmas while trusting that there is a way forward. Huddled together, we remind each other to love recklessly like a mother hen.
Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.