"Go Tell That Fox"
This was a chapter I wrote for the book, "Love Among Us" edited by Thomas J. Oord and Darren Grinder.
For 998 episodes over 32 years, Mr. Rodgers would appear every afternoon on P.B.S. If you have seen the show, you know that Mr. Rodgers had one message that he would repeat in a soft and kindly voice: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. I’m so glad you’re you. I like you just the way you are. Won’t you be my neighbor?” Some people imagine Jesus being a lot like Mr. Rodgers -- a kind of esoteric and ethereal dreamer; a guy with some nice sentiments about life and who makes you feel warm on the inside but not really in touch with the cold reality that we have to live in.
One of the problems with viewing Jesus like Mr. Rodgers is that it is very difficult to imagine someone getting really angry at Mr. Rodgers. I can’t imagine someone in their right mind saying, “somebody needs to take out that Fred Rodgers. He is threat to everything we believe in.” No. In fact, in 2002, the year before he died, Fred Rodgers was the Grand Marshall of the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, California. As he passed the crowds, people waved and cheered to this man who made them feel “special just they way they are.”
Unlike Mr. Rodgers, Jesus was a very dangerous and controversial man. Unlike Mr. Rodgers, Jesus was so dangerous that he spent most of his life withdrawing from region to region to stay one step ahead of those who wanted to kill him. Luke records one of these occasions:
At that time some Pharisees said to him, “Get away from here if you want to live! Herod Antipas wants to kill you!” Jesus replied, “Go tell that fox that I will keep on casting out demons and healing people today and tomorrow; and the third day I will accomplish my purpose.” (Luke 13:31-32; NLT)
Jesus had a long and complicated relationship with the regional ruler Herod Antipas. In this text Jesus chooses his words quite carefully. In our day when we hear someone described as
a fox, we think of someone who is sly or cunning. But in the ancient world, the fox was often contrasted with the lion. When a lion made a kill on a prey, it would eat until it was full and leave the remainder for other animals. The fox was notorious for being the scavenger who ate whatever the lion left. The fox, it appeared the ancients, would stand over the kill and eat the prey as if it had been the one who bravely hunted it down. Foxes were frauds, posers, pretenders, and lion-wannabees.
Everybody who was in earshot of these words of Jesus would immediately recognize the defiance that Jesus had toward Herod Antipas. Caesar in Rome is the political ruler of the known world. Herod Antipas is a simply a puppet, a poser, a Caesar wannabe, a fox.
But more than that, Herod Antipas is betting on the wrong pony. Herod Antipas’ kingdom is a kingdom of smoke and mirrors that will not last. Jesus’ kingdom, on the other hand, cannot be stopped with things like threats, intimidations, imprisonment, torture, and death. “I will keep on bringing my Kingdom to where you live: casting out demons, healing people, and bringing wholeness,” Jesus defiantly says.
It seems that all of us have a Herod Antipas in our lives – a threat or a fear or a worry or a temptation that keeps us from being dangerous Kingdom of God people. Maybe good questions to reflect on are, “who or what plays the role of Herod Antipas in my life? Who or what fears keep me from bringing God’s kingdom from heaven to earth?” Naming those things in our lives allows us to point them out for what they really are: foxes, posers, frauds, and wannabees. One day all these false things will collapse.
What follows this confrontation is one of the richest passages in the New Testament. Jesus laments:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” (Luke 13:34; NLT)
When Jesus spoke of Herod Antipas, he described him as a fox. That makes sense. But Jesus picks an animal to represent himself that is a little unusual – a hen. You don’t have to live in Jesus’ day to understand the symbolism Jesus is using here. When a fox breaks in to a hen house to find someone to devour, it is not much of a contest. Hens are not known for their fighting ability. Hens do not have claws or fangs. The only way a mother hen can protect her children from a fox is to gather her chicks around her and use her body as a shield. The only way the mother hen can protect her children is to give her life for them. The only weapon she has is her final breath. “Take me so that my children can live.”
And so the story of the Kingdom of God is the story of a fox and a hen. Jesus’ revolution is not simply sappy, sentimental, Mr. Rodgers platitudes. It is more than just “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” The Kingdom of God is the story of “going to tell that fox” – of confronting all the posers, frauds, and idols that drive our fears. But more than anything else, the Kingdom of God is the story of sacrificial love. It is the story of a God who was willing to die for you and me to live.