“Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." 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.”
It takes a very brave person to call a reigning monarch a fox!
Legend has it that Hugh Latimer, one of the Oxford martyrs and Bishop of Worchester, went into the pulpit at Westminster Abbey one Sunday, and looking down saw that King Henry VIII was in the congregation. Latimer was about to preach a tough sermon, that he suspected might not please the king. Taking a deep breath and making a leap of faith, Latimer began to preach. “Latimer! Latimer! Latimer! Be careful what you say, the king of England is here!” Then he continued, “Latimer! Latimer! Latimer! Be careful what you say. The King of Kings is here!” He then continued with his tough sermon.
It takes a tough person to stand up to the powers and principalities of this world, to defend your values and beliefs, giving allegiance to a greater moral good. In the case of Jesus, his values were those of God’s Reign and his allegiance was to God his Father, not to Herod. For Hugh Latimer, his values were those of the Gospel and his allegiance to Jesus, and not to Henry VIII.
And to cite a current analogy: Volodymyr Zelensky’s values are those of righteousness, justice, and peace, and his allegiance is to the Ukrainian people, their culture, and their nation, not to Vladimir Putin.
If you think Jesus’ calling Herod a fox and then referring to himself as a hen who desires to gather her imperiled brood under her wings to protect them sounds a bit like an Aesop’s Fable, you’d be right! There is such a fable titled “The Hen and the Fox.” I wonder where Aesop got this idea from! This fable is the one where the sly, conniving fox tried hard to get a roosting hen out of a tree by telling the hen that their two families had made peace and they were now friends. But the hen knew better than to come down to her doom. The hen outwits the fox by pretending to see some hounds coming their way. And the fox runs off. The moral of this fable is the trickster is easily tricked.
The scripture gives no indication that King Herod Antipas wanted to kill Jesus, but it does say that certain Pharisees and other members of the religious establishment did. So, the Pharisees telling Jesus that Herod wants to kill him is a ruse. They are using Herod as a foil to try and upset Jesus, to frighten him so he ceases and desists from his ministry. Even maybe, make go away, as they do tell him to get away from here.
This tells us that the real foxes are the conniving Pharisees. And like in Aesop’s Hen and the Fox, Jesus tricks the tricksters. He is not alarmed by their false report of Herod’s supposed murderous intent. Rather he calmly replies that he’s busy doing God’s work, so why don’t you go away and stop bothering me. He sees through the Pharisees subterfuge and undermines their willy intent. Jesus outfoxes them.
The Greek word that the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible translates as wants, as in “Herod wants to kill you,” is thelo which is more accurately translated as desires, making the text then read, Herod desires to kill you. Thelo is used two more times in this passage. “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 [did not desire it!]
Here Jerusalem represents the people Jesus came to proclaim God’s Reign to, who in this particular scripture passage are represented by the Pharisees, leaders of the religious establishment.
In his lament over Jerusalem, Jesus is proclaiming that he desires one thing, and the people he has come to minister to – to offer God’s salvation - desire something else altogether.
What Jesus desires are the ways of God’s Reign: peace, justice, humility, compassion, equality, radical inclusion of all people.
What the Pharisees desire are the exact opposite: turmoil and violence, pride, power, arrogance, lack of concern for the other, subjugation, exclusion.
The civil and religious leaders of Jesus’ day didn’t desire Jesus and his values because they saw them as a threat to their power. To them Jesus was dangerous. Which is why they wanted him dead.
In the same way the values that Volodymyr Zelensky holds are a threat to Putin and his desire for power, subjugation, turmoil, and empire. While Zelensky is not a follower of the King of Kings, he does hold on to the values of the God of Israel, and his morals are formed in that crucible, just as Jesus’ were.
To Putin, Zelensky is dangerous because the Ukrainian’s values and those of the people he leads are a threat. As more and more people in Russia cast their eyes on Zelensky’s values, they might be desired by the Russian people who live under a brutal regime, and that would be a disaster for Putin and his grip on Russia. Therefore, Putin the fox, desires Zelensky the hen dead.
So far, the Hen has tricked the trickster. May it continue to be so.
It is my fervent belief that the values of God’s Reign will ultimately prevail in all things. Which means I believe that those who hold the values of that Reign will also ultimately prevail. Maybe not initially, but ultimately. Jesus endured the worst from the powers that opposed him, who denied his values. But those values ultimately prevailed in his Resurrection.
Regretfully, the worst is not over for the Ukrainian people. But because of the values they are fighting for, they too will prevail. They will find new resurrected life. They will outfox the fox.
May our prayers, our willingness to endure some financial discomfort and hardship to support their struggle, our commitment to help those who have been imperiled by this war, and our determination to proclaim the values of God’s Reign be our witness to our solidarity with the Ukrainians and their values, and to proclaim the good news of the King of Kings.
The Reverend Peter Faass
The Reverend Peter Faass was born in Delft, Netherlands. He is a graduate of the General Theological Seminary in New York City and has been at Christ Church since 2006.