"What Does the Fox Say"

LUKE 13:31-35

APR 13, 2014



           The song "What Does the Fox Say?" sparked an internet sensation.  It was the top trending video of 2013 on YouTube, and had over 389 million views as of the first of this month.  For three consecutive weeks the song even peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100.  All that flabbergasted the song's producers.  The song was originally produced as a teaser for the new season of a Norwegian television talk show hosted by the Norwegian comedy duo composed two brothers called Ylvis.  Not Elvis ... E...L...V...I...S but Ylvis Y...L...V...I...S.  It was posted on the internet as an parody, making fun of electronic dance tunes, but it took off, making the Norwegian Comedy duo famous.  I became aware of the song on the Ellen show.  She loved the YouTube video, and flew the comedy duo over from Norway and interviewed them on her show.  If you haven't seen it, check it out on YouTube.  Just type in the sermon title and it will come up.  If you do not know how to access YouTube, have a grandchild bring it up for you on their smart phone or tablet.  It's a cute and nonsensical song.

            This morning, we are not going to find out what the fox says.  Instead, we are going to listen to what Jesus has to say to a fox.  Turn with me to Luke 13:31, and follow along with me as I read,


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


            Note the surprising information.  Note that not every Pharisee was hostile to Jesus.  Here we have some Pharisees (we don't know how many exactly, just some) actually warning Jesus that he was in danger and advising him to seek safety. 

            From the Gospels, we get sort of a one-sided picture of the Pharisees.  The Jews, at the time, knew better.  The Jews at the time knew that there were good Pharisees and bad Pharisees.  In fact, the Jews of the day divided the Pharisees into seven different groups.  Some of the these groups, by the way, could be descriptive of modern day Christians.  First were the shoulder Pharisees.  These wore their deeds on their shoulders, performing deeds to be seen by others.  Second were the wait-a-little Pharisees.  They could always find a good excuse for putting off a good deed until tomorrow.  Third were the bruised Pharisees.  In that day, no Jewish rabbi could be seen talking to a woman in public, even if the woman happened to be his wife, his mother, or his sister.  Certain Pharisees, however, went a step further.  They would not even look at a woman on the street.  Instead, they would shut their eyes to avoid seeing a woman, and as a result they bumped into walls and other people and bruised themselves, and they exhibited their bruises as a sign of piety.  Fourth, were the humped-backed Pharisees.  They walked bent over as they walked, in a perpetual bow in a show of humility.  Fifth, were the ever-reckoning Pharisees.  They were ever reckoning their good deeds and with their bad deeds, striking a balance sheet of profit and loss with God.  Sixth, were the fearing Pharisees who lived in constant fear of the wrath of God, with their religious beliefs not helping but rather haunting them.  Finally, there were the God-loving Pharisees.  They followed in the footsteps of Abraham, living in faith and in charity toward others.[1] 

            So, if these seven categories of Pharisees were equally divided, which is highly unlikely, there may have been six bad Pharisees for every good Pharisee, but this passage shows us that even amongst the Pharisees there were those who admired and respected Jesus.  Let's continue reading, 


            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.  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."


            Note another point of interest.  It takes a brave person to call a reigning king, in this case Herod Antipas, a fox.  In the Old Testament the fox was seen as the most destructive of animals and in Greek literature the fox was know as the most clever, the sliest of all animals.  Given the usage of the day then, Jesus was calling Herod an extremely sly and destructive man.  It takes a brave man to call a reigning king a fox.

            I'm reminded of Hugh Latimer.  Hugh Latimer was a bishop in the Church of England during the reformation, and he wasn't afraid to speak his mind.  His opposition to a policy of King Henry VIII got him imprisoned in the Tower of London for a time.  He got out of there when Henry VIII's son assumed the throne, but when, Mary, Bloody Mary, assumed the throne she associated England once again with the Roman Catholic Church, and she had Latimer arrested and burned at the stake as a heretic.

            To give you an idea as to his courage one Sunday at Westminster Abbey Latimer was in the pulpit and King Henry VIII was present in the congregation.  He began his sermon with the words, "Latimer, Latimer, Latimer!  Be careful what you say for the King of England is here!"  He paused for a few seconds and he continued with the words, "Latimer, Latimer, Latimer!  Be careful what you say.  The King of Kings is here." 

            Jesus took his orders from the King of Kings and he would not shorten his work by one day to protect himself from that fox, King Herod. 

            Let's finish up.            


            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!  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.'


            In the movie, Ulee's Gold, Peter Fonda plays a tired man who is a beekeeper by day.  He runs the old family business of collecting and selling the honey that pays the bills.  It is exhausting work for a man now in his late sixties.  Ulee does most of it by himself because he cannot afford to hire someone to help him.  He maintains and moves the hives, gathers the trays, separates the honey from the wax, spins the final product into jars, and ships it off to market.  He worries about the ebb and flow of money offered by his distributor and doesn't sleep well at night.  You can almost watch the spirit drain out of Ulee as the movie progresses.  

            But what really causes Ulee to worry is his daughter and his daughter's children.  His daughter is in and out of drug treatment facilities and long ago left her three children with Ulee and his wife.  Now that his wife is dead, it's only Ulee.  His daughter phones about twice a year, and I recall one scene where the oldest girl, around sixteen, is about to leave on a date with her older boyfriend.  Ulee has worried about her relationship with her older boyfriend for weeks, not knowing exactly what to do, remembering his own daughter's rebellion at about the same age.  A car honks in the background.  Ulee is slumped down in a chair, exhausted from a fourteen-hour day.  Before she steps through the screen door, Ulee says, "Remember, curfew is 12 o'clock."  His granddaughter stops, turns, and says with a face that is half sneer, half smile, "I'd like to see you make me get home by twelve."  The screen door slams behind her and Ulee knows she is right.  He is powerless to make her do much of anything anymore. 

            One of our popular images of Jesus is that he is a man who can do anything.  Walk on water.  Raise the dead.  Turn a couple of fish and a few loaves into a feast for thousands.   "That's our Jesus, he can do anything."  Today's passage flies in the face of that.  Jesus can do many impressive things.  I'll not argue that, but one thing he cannot do, or more accurately will not do, is make us love him.  He cannot, he will not, legislate love nor control human will.  He's about to enter Jerusalem.  It's not too far away now, and he says, "How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing." 

            Note the "O" word.  He has "often" tried to gather this particular flock many times.  Often.  It's a strange thing to say out loud.  Often he has tried and often he has failed, often he has struck out.  He'll walk out of a tomb in a few days, but apparently he can't walk into our hearts without permission.  "How often have I desired to gather you and you were not willing."  Unrequited love is tough enough one time around, but what about multiple times?  What can we say about that?  Jesus was about this "often." I daresay he still is.

            Another word, in addition to "often," that stands out to me here is the word, "hen."  Out of all the animals that Jesus could have chosen, a veritable Noah's ark of biblical metaphors, he chooses a chicken.  He could have chosen the powerful eagle of the book of Exodus (19:4). "I bore you on eagles' wings." There is a cagey leopard prowling through the pages of Hosea (13:7). Elsewhere the Messiah is likened to a lion.  But a chicken?  Really now, what kind of confidence does a chicken instill?  When we send our children out the screen door to face the perils of this world, wouldn't you prefer a lion like Aslan rather than Jesus as a mother hen?[2] 

            What kind of chance is this hen going to have against a fox like Herod?   Herod has already chopped off the head of John the Baptist.  A chicken's head won't matter much.  Put it on the chopping block and be done with all this squawking about justice and peace and poor people.  How annoying. 

            In every century foxes have had a certain allure over God's children.  They may not be quite as bizarre and murderous as Herod, but foxes have slyly wooed away the hearts of God's people.  And this is the thing: Jesus, by choice, is powerless to stop it.  He can walk on water and raise the dead, but he cannot, he will not, make us love him.  He desires such love, but he won't force it.  He won't keep us from slamming the screen door in his face. 

            So what is Jesus' plan?  What's he going to do now?  Strangely, his plan is to keep offering the love of a mother hen.  He will offer his life to Herod on our behalf.  He will follow us into the darkness we have chosen for ourselves.  He will place himself between that darkness and us.  And if we look closely at this man hanging on the cross, his arms eternally outstretched, the span of his reach on that wood will begin to resemble the loving wings of a mother hen, gathering up her chicks in a love that doesn't make sense but breaks our hearts if we look long enough. 

            Jesus was a powerful teacher, and a worker of miracles, and a prophet who shook this world to its foundations.  But you know what?  He is not all-powerful. That may sound shocking and even heretical, but he was not.  He decided to limit his power in one area when it comes to you and to me.  There is one little thing that Jesus needs of us, one thing that he desires but will not control.  He desires our will.  He desires our proud, defiant control over our destiny.  To relinquish that to him is both the hardest and the sweetest thing we'll ever do.  Amen.


[1] William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Luke, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1956, p. 191.

[2] I am indebted to Barbara Brown Taylor for pointing out the curious choice of this metaphor in "As a Hen Gathers Her Brood" The Christian Century (February 25, 1986), p. 201.