The Fowlest of Foxes

Over my sixth grade Spring Break, when other parents were taking their kids to Disneyworld, my parents (both pastors) took us on a 10-day tour of the Holy Land. They dragged us around from town to town in Jordan and Palestine, seeing the sights. I remember eating lots of falafel with ketchup because it was the closest thing to chicken fingers I could find.

For the last leg of the trip we had a long drive at night. It was dark as we went through a couple checkpoints and then our guide squawked over the tour bus that we were approaching Jerusalem. Then she cued up a song on a cassette tape for our approach. I had never heard it but all the retirees on the bus had, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the Holy City.” 

“Last night I lay asleeping
There came a dream so fair
I stood in old Jerusalem
Beside the temple there
I heard the children singing
And ever as they sang
Methought the voice of Angels
From Heaven in answer rang
‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem!
Lift up your gates and sing,
Hosanna in the highest.
Hosanna to the King!’”

The Holy City by Michael Maybrick

It’s a song from the late 1800s with enough sentimental barbershop harmony to make a 6th grader gag. It’s also a lot different from the version Jesus sings in today’s reading, “Jerusalem Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones the ones God sends.” 

Today the Lord and his disciples aren’t riding a tour bus, but they are caravaning toward Jerusalem. Along the way the Pharisees show up to warn Jesus that King Herod wants him dead. It’s no surprise. Herod had just had John the Baptist killed four chapters earlier. 

John was the latest in a long line of godly prophets killed by corrupt kings. For example, the prophet Isaiah was sawn in half by King Manasseh. The prophet Amos was tortured to death by King Ahaziah. Jeremiah was stoned to death. Micah was pushed off a cliff, and Zechariah was killed in the courtyard of the temple! 

Throughout Israel’s history, prophets get killed; but they kind of have it coming. When God sends prophets, they aren’t sent to bestow beatitudes on well behaved rulers. They are sent to declare judgment, “the Day of the Lord,” of gloom and thick darkness, of weeping and gnashing of teeth. They come to announce God’s wrath against corrupt kings and wayward people, and who wants to hear that? 

In this section of Luke’s gospel, Jesus sounds just like one of those Old Testament prophets. Don’t believe me? Read the whole chapter. You’re just getting the last five verses of it. He shows up in Luke announcing judgment against Israel, including Herod, that fox that’s been put in charge of God’s own hen house. 

But in Jesus we hear not only the prophetic wrath of God, but also the motherly grief of God, lamenting “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!” 

For some reason I remember driving up the side of a cliff as the lights of Jerusalem got brighter up ahead. The road was bumpy which amplified the drama of the second verse.

And then methought my dream was chang’d
The streets no longer rang
Hushed were the glad Hosannas
The little children sang
The sun grew dark with mystery
The morn was cold and chill
As the shadow of a cross arose
Upon a lonely hill.

Jesus says himself that it’s those who shout “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” who will reject him and call for his crucifixion. Why is it that we reject the prophets and Jesus himself?

Why aren’t we willing to let him gather us under his wings? Is it because we actually prefer Herod over God? That we have no king but Caesar? Is it that we prefer to be our own Herods, rather than live as God’s subjects? Or do we reject the Word of wrath because we don’t believe in hope? 

There is a pattern to biblical prophesies. The prophets come in judgment, righteous judgment, but they know as well as any middleman not to present a problem without a solution. And so, if we listen all the way to the end of their prophecy, often we will hear that the prophetic word of wrath can turn on a dime into a word of hope. 

  • Isaiah writes: “I have poured out upon Israel the heat of my anger and the fury of war. But now, hear the word of the Lord: do not fear, for I have redeemed you.
  • Jeremiah says: “You leaders of my people are like shepherds that kill and scatter the sheep. But someday I will appoint an honest king from the family of David.
  • Micah says “Night will come over you, a night without visions, with darkness. But then you, O Bethlehem, from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” 
  • Zechariah says “Great wrath has come from the Lord, but now, rejoice greatly. Shout aloud, O Jerusalem! Your king is coming triumphant and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey. 

When the prophets speak a word of warning it is of a coming fate which, by grace, is a fate not yet sealed. By the word of the prophets, our fate is being opened wide to hope, like the wings of a mother hen, promising to do for us what we cannot, will not do for ourselves.

The temple came into view, a city on a hill illuminated by halogen lamps. Sight and sound combined for effect as the third verse started to soften my sixth grade heart.

And once again the scene was changed
New earth there seemed to be
I saw the Holy City
Beside the tideless sea
The light of God was on its streets
The gates were open wide
And of all who would might enter
No one was denied

Hear the good news: the word of the prophets, the word of the Lord, though we reject it, has been made flesh for us in Christ. In him we have received the word of God; a God who longs, like a mother hen, to gather you and me underwing once and for all. 

As we approach Jerusalem these 40 days, the question hangs in the air, will this Mother Hen get her way? Will God indeed gather us underwing? You’ll want to stick around to the end as we watch and pray. There we will witness the Lord gather us with his arms, opened wide on the cross. There, I promise, he will embrace the entire brood, forgiving even the fowlest of foxes, even you, even me, from Jerusalem to the ends of the world. 

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.


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