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Herod wanted to kill Jesus. Jesus intended to continue doing the works of God. And another Prophet was soon to perish in Jerusalem.
Jesus went through the cities and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. Some Pharisees came, saying to him, "Get out and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You." He said to them, "Go, tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.' Nevertheless I must journey today, tomorrow, and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem.
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!
"See! Our house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'"
Luke 13:22, 31-35 NKJV, condensed
The Fox and the Hen
Jesus spoke in riddles and cried real tears. The riddles may have been part of a defense strategy. A delaying tactic that would spread confusion. What did he say? More importantly, what did he mean by what he said? It's aggravating to have to figure out the puzzle in order to find and attack him. It's hard to respond effectively to what you don't understand.
The Pharisees disagreed with Jesus constantly, but weren't about to stand by idly in silence and allow an outsider to attack one of their own. So they warned Jesus to run because Herod was out for blood. This was the same Herod who had killed John the Baptist, so the threat was authentic. Surprisingly, although very vulnerable, Jesus was not afraid and shot a dispatch right back to the governor. The Pharisees would not have understood the reply any better than Herod.
The disciples couldn't even decode the message. Only in hindsight is it deciphered. Jesus was marching to a different beat and setting his own agenda. No one would take his life from him. When the time was right, he would give up his life in Israel's holy city, Jerusalem. For now, he intended to complete the work his Father gave him to do, and on the "third day" it would be complete. When Jesus spoke of the third day it meant a victorious ending, a resurrection.
Besides, Herod was governor of Galilee. For Jesus, Galilee was in the past. He was out of Herod's jurisdiction now and on his way to Jerusalem. Jerusalem--where the tears of God are real. There are many wonderful ways to describe the great city, but Jesus made this association--they kill the prophets!
The image which Jesus used to describe his thinking at the moment was the mother hen with her chicks. How she longed to gather the people of Jerusalem under her sheltering wings. But they would have none of it. Rejection is a cruel, stinging blow. But what can you do? Love can only be offered; it can't be forced. It relies on the willing response of the other. You can open your arms, but you can't make anyone walk into them.
The story of God's faithful love is an ancient one which the prophets told again and again. It's a love affair that never failed, but was new and fresh every morning. Yet a love that was ignored, taken for granted, stepped on, brushed aside, snubbed, disregarded, disbelieved, picked up on a whim and put down on a whim. This text reveals some strong and sorrowful emotions.
Jerusalem, why couldn't you see! World, why can't we see! The mother hen has a vantage point for viewing the dangers awaiting her scattering brood. The chicks saw only the excitement of independence. The fox looked innocent enough. They believed a lie and denied the truth. How she longed to draw her children close, but they slandered that love and preferred to forage far and wide.
A mother hen with no chicks is desolate; the henhouse devoid of joy. Jesus warned that her offspring will not catch sight of her again until the day their blind eyes recognize her watchful love and yield to the safety and salvation of her wings. He lamented for what Jerusalem might have been, a jubilant home for God's people and a place where God's glory could shine brightly.
Herod was not the fox that brought Jesus down, but everyone knows in a contest between a fox and a hen, the chicken will lose. So why would Jesus choose a defenseless hen to describe his position in relation to Jerusalem? Not a strutting rooster, but a hen with a wayward brood! The muscle of the image ripples with its maternal instinct to protect and save her young. In human terms, we call it love. Self-giving love at that. The fox can have the chicks, but only if it kills the hen first. She will shield her babies with her own body. But the chicks do not cooperate. They run away from her and court the fox instead!
This is an ancient story, repeated in every generation. What day is it on your timeline? The same old today, tomorrow, and the day following? Or today, tomorrow, and the third day, with a new and different ending, not desolate but happy? When we say, "Blessed be the Lord", the blessing falls back on us. The choice is ours to make--or break the loving heart of our Father in heaven.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: If you were to select an animal to depict your mood right now, what would it be?
At this point in our studies we are not yet into holy week so we know Jesus didn't mean "today, tomorrow and the day following" in a literal sense. This is just one example of Jesus meaning something other than exactly what he said. Do you wish Jesus would have spoken clearly and said what he meant? Or do you enjoy and benefit from trying to figure out what he meant? Is it fair to say Jesus sometimes played games with his words?
Share what you know about chickens and foxes and how those images relate to this period of Jesus' life. Why didn't Jesus run and try to save his life? Finish the sentence: The road to Jerusalem was paved with _________.
The faithfulness of God stands in stark contrast to our unfaithfulness. How do you explain the constancy of God? Why do "the peeps keep trying to escape"? How does Jesus try to draw us close to him? Share an experience when you tried to wander away from his side?
When Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, he expressed the heartbreak of his Father in heaven. Describe what it feels like to have your love rejected. Or to love someone you are not able to protect? Do you believe God suffers the same way when we "leave home"? Paint a word picture of desolation as it relates to this text.
It's not uncommon in the Bible to read about God relating to groups or communities of people more than to individuals. In this case, the city of Jerusalem rather than specific citizens. Does this mean that individuals are judged and held responsible for what the whole community does? If that would be true, then what are the implications for you and the groups you are part of, such as hometown, church and denomination, workplace, civic clubs, nation?
This image of finding shelter under God's wings is a favorite in the songs of David. See Psalms 17:7-8; 57:1; 61:3-4; 63:7-8. King David freely acknowledged his dependence upon God; why are we reluctant to do the same? Discuss the negatives and positives of dependence, independence and interdependence as it relates to our physical and spiritual lives.