My parents love animals. They raised ducks, hens, roosters, cats, dogs, goats, and one donkey. It was hard for them to keep the ducks, hens, and roosters safe. They tried their best to keep the coop secure. But foxes found a way to attack the hens at the throat. My parents fed up with the foxes and decided not to continue raising poultry. In Middle Eastern culture, the fox is perceived as cunning, devious, and intelligent. No wonder, foxes made my parents stop raising poultry.
That Fox! Jesus called Herod. Some Pharisees told Jesus he had better hide, Herod was after him. Herod who wants to kill Jesus is called Herod Antipas. He is the same Herod who killed John the Baptist. Herod thought that John the Baptist came back from the dead. Luke tells us in chapter 9 that "Herod said, “John, I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he tried to see him [Jesus]. In chapter 13, Luke tells us that Herod wants to kill Jesus.
In response to Herod threat, Jesus gives two metaphors of animals—a fox and a hen. Our Lord calls Herod “that fox.” This statement is harsh and implies that he is a cunning and devious person. Jesus was attacking Herod verbally. Jesus determines to continue his ministry despite Herod threat. He states that he will work “today and tomorrow, and on the third day, I [he] finish my [his] work” (v. 32). Jesus was referring to his death and resurrection in Jerusalem. Because Jesus’ ministry is part of God's plan, Herod cannot kill him. Jesus also emphasizes the impossibility for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.
We can conclude that the purpose of Jesus calling Herod “that fox” is to tell him that he is like a fox who lacks great status and thus cannot carry out his threat. Jesus enjoys greater status than Herod who represents the imperial power of Rome.
After Jesus called Herod “that fox”, he turned his face to Jerusalem and mourns the city. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! (v.34).” Jesus, like a mother, laments Jerusalem and its inhabitants. He does not mourn himself, but he laments over the tragedy of a lost opportunity in accepting him as the Messiah. Jesus’ lamentation indicates that he is fulfilling his destiny as a prophet. He will be killed in Jerusalem. In killing Jesus, Jerusalem, the holy city of God, turns against God’s mission.
Jesus continues speaking for God, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (v. 34).” Jesus relates himself to a mother hen who wants to protect her chicks under her wings, but her chicks reject their mother’s protection. Jesus draws upon the feminine image of a hen to reveal his motherly love. This metaphor implies that Jesus as a mother is willing to give his own life to save his children.
While Jesus refers to Herod as a fox, he refers to himself as a hen, which is about as far from a fox as you can get. Preacher Barbara Brown Taylor has captured the way Jesus felt when he mourned Jerusalem:
If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world—wings spread, breast exposed.
After 2000 years, Jesus prophetic message still speaks to the church today. The church needs to choose between the fox and the hen. The church needs to decide whether to continue Christ mission or to fear the rules of this world. In other words, are we going to follow Christ to the cross? A fox will always threaten the church that accepts to be a hen. The church history proves that the church of Jesus has encountered many foxes. But Jesus assures us that mother hen is not afraid of the fox; to the contrary, she is willing to fight for her children. This is the ultimate love of Jesus Christ. When we refuse to come under his protection, he will never give us up. Jesus Christ accepted his death on the cross even though Jerusalem rejected him. This story is important for us as we are walking on our Lenten journey. Jesus is determined to love you. No matter what you will face in your life, you are under Jesus’ maternal wings.