Well, now this is different. Did we read right? Are these Pharisees who are warning Jesus about a threat from Herod? Sure, Luke tells us more about the positive interactions Jesus has with Pharisees, but still, they’re Pharisees.
As in “Sadducees and.” As in those people who get snooty about who Jesus hangs out with, and about what he says about himself and about the law. But here they are, warning Jesus that Herod’s been asking about him, and he should get out of town before this Herod can finish the job his grandfather started in Bethlehem.
It’s not a made-up threat. Luke shows us that when Herod hears about Jesus, he gets philosophical. “He sounds like John the Baptist. I had him beheaded, but now there’s this guy. Somebody bring him in so we can talk.”
I can think of a couple reasons why they would do this. Maybe they’ve set a trap. They’ll tell Jesus the best route out of town and, oops! Someone told Herod about it and those darn soldiers had it guarded. Our bad, Jesus, we’ll try to do better next time.
Maybe they want to make Jesus look bad in front of his followers. Sure, they could say. He talks a good game about his power not being from this world and he can do some neat stuff, and he has all those great things to say about following God to the very end. But when push comes to shove and the soldiers are knocking on the door, he heads for the hills just like anyone else would. Some prophet.
Or, I suppose, they could be sincere. Not necessarily because they like Jesus, but because they’re tired of this non-Jewish king going around offing nice Jewish boys. That’s a habit they, as nice Jewish boys, don’t want him to pick up. In any event, they seem to have misjudged Jesus. Whew! Things are back to normal around here.
Jesus suggests they carry a message back to Herod, whom he calls “that fox.” Tell Herod, he says, that I’ll be casting out demons and healing for the next couple of days, and I’ll finish where and when God decides I should finish, no matter what Herod says.
That finish will happen in Jerusalem, where many prophets in Jewish history ended their careers and their lives. They spoke out against the injustice of the king and his nobles, against all the people who took advantage of others and then hid behind all the “proper” religious ceremonies.
How often, Jesus says, God would have gathered the people of Jerusalem up like a hen covers her chicks for protection. But they would never come to God for protection. They trusted their armies or their treaties with other nations or their political games.
Jesus creates an interesting juxtaposition – a word I learned in seminary that I’m supposed to use when comparing things that are the opposite of each other. He calls Herod a fox, and compares God (and himself) to a protective hen.
We don’t get the full impact of the difference, because we don’t have the same image of a fox that the ancient Judeans did. Like us, they saw the fox as clever and cunning. But we see that slyness used by the fox to escape pursuit. The fox outwits opponents who are more numerous or much stronger.
The Judeans, though, saw the fox’s cleverness used to get around any barriers put up to stop him from raiding their homes, crops and small livestock. The fox was sly, all right, but he was also ravenously destructive.
Jesus points out to the Pharisees who warn him that if Herod wants him, hiding now won’t do much good. He will depend on God, rather than on earthly power or escape plans or whatever. He will let God gather him up like that hen does, no matter what enemies he may face.
Jerusalem always wanted to cut a deal with the fox, somehow believing that this treaty, or this army, or this tribute would satisfy the enemy they faced and make him go away. In the end, that got the nation conquered, exiled and nearly destroyed.
Today, we might be tempted by the same kinds of things. This court case, or this law, or this government guideline will guarantee our rights and so our church won’t go under. This Christian movie will convince Hollywood to stop marketing trash as entertainment, and we won’t have to worry when we go to the theater.
But I can’t depend on the fox of our culture or our government to do anything other than what he always does – go along until it suits his purposes not to, and then turn on me. I can only depend on God’s protection, which it seems has a better track record anyway.
A persecuted, marginalized church took over the most powerful empire in its world in about 350 years, even though its people had no special rights. They clung to God for their protection, and they overcame.