Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
‘The Fox and the Hen’
Today’s Gospel sees Jesus warned by Pharisees (in this case motivated by friendship) to flee from Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee and notorious bully. To which Jesus replies: “Go tell that fox, ‘Today and tomorrow, I’ll be casting out devils and healing people, and on the third day I’ll reach my goal …”, before adding: “I’ll … continue on my journey …” Let us reflect on the vigilant and courageous work of Jesus our Mother Hen. God be with you …
A few preliminary remarks with reference to Abram/Abraham. I hadn’t noticed before that Abram’s call story takes place immediately after the story of the Tower of Babel. In the Babel story, the people say: “Let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top can reach to heaven. Let us make a name for ourselves, to keep us from being scattered over the face of the whole earth.” We know how that story ends. YHWH puts a stop to the building project by means of a proliferation of human languages. The people are indeed scattered over the whole earth.
It’s striking, then, that the call to Abram reads: “Leave your country, your people, and the home of your parents, and go to a place I will show you. I will make of you a great people. I will bless you and make your name so great that it will be used in blessings … And all the people on the face of the earth will be blessed through you.”
Abraham becomes a great people and a channel of blessing by doing something other than building himself a city; something other than making a name for himself lest he be scattered. He consents to being sent afield and afar. He agrees to YHWH’s making the promise, the covenant – he agrees to YHWH building the road/tower/temple. New Testament writers underline Abraham’s trust, Abraham’s faith, and link believers in Jesus the Christ to the Abrahamic promise: We are the children of Abraham; we are (to be) a blessing to all.
Like Abraham, like Jesus, it is implied, we too are sojourners and misfits. We are channels of blessing, somehow, crucially (pun intended), by way of restless discipleship, a movement away from monoculture, colonialism and convention, a moving on from nationalism, denominationalism. A Christ-
If all this sounds a little abstract, we are reminded of our identity as “pilgrim people” (the phrase is taken from Vatican II documents as well as the Basis of Union) in a Uniting Church in and not of Australia. Like Abraham, like Jesus, it is implied, we too are sojourners and misfits. We are channels of blessing, somehow, crucially, by way of restless discipleship, a movement away from monoculture, colonialism and convention, a moving on from nationalism, denominationalism.
Herod’s reputation as the foremost biblical bully has lasted for two thousand years. As a bully, he is iconic. The icon fuses several Herods, father and sons, all of whom lived in Jesus’ lifetime.
The Encyclopedia Brittanica describes Herod as rising to power on the shoulders of the Roman Empire, in an alliance forged by Herod’s father in 63BCE when Pompey invaded Palestine. The article details his vast building projects, whole cities like Caesarea, which were mostly pagan, aqueducts, bridges, roads, palaces, and the Jerusalem Temple, which he hugely expanded. Rome had not found the Israelites willing to adapt to the Empire or to adopt its ways. Herod, through a combination of brute force and public works construction, brought Israel to heel.
Herod was not so much a despot as a manipulator, which is a bully’s prime talent. His trade was quelling resistance and achieving a working order. Money, work and opulence were among his weapons. His works were huge, elaborate, costly.
Jesus’ works are human, disarmingly simple, freely given and liberating. Knowing this about himself, Jesus says that he is the hen, Herod the fox. He wishes he could gather Jerusalem as a hen gathers her brood beneath her wings.
The homely hen, who has lived in the backyards of humans for thousands of years, is selfless in her devotion to her little ones, even more defenseless than she. She has no defense against the arts and wiles of foxes except her courage and commitment …
Jesus names himself Hen when that Fox, Herod, is coming. Herod saw himself as a builder, an enhancer of cities and the Temple. Jesus saw all of these as structures in which people were penned and devoured.
One commentator writes: A conversation I have often had is this: someone will wonder aloud, if I had done something else with my life, would I have been happier, more accomplished? Now I am out of time and without great deeds. There are quiet tears in this question, the scars of deep disappointments and the pall of pettiness that spoils too many days, fox bites that have dimmed dreams (Nancy Rockwell).
Jesus spreads his/her wings over us that we, too, might find in our work the courage to face ugly dangers, to let life bite deeply into our flesh, and to shelter those in our care. Work is for us what it was for Jesus, a compass in the midst of the devouring days in which we walk, pray, open doors, share bread, speak, weep, call out to one another, write/draw something in the sands of time.
There were three hens at the door of the church hall yesterday afternoon. And their presence served to highlight the joy – and the courage – of the creative workers inside. We are rightly attending to the building of sound administrative structures for our parish – not to mention the good repair of parish buildings themselves. Still, the freely shared and liberating laughter of artists yesterday – for the first time that I can recall all seated at the one table, vivid water colours luminous – bore witness to another work, another building: the work of faith and love’s up-
It may be stretching things a little, but the “three French hens” of the song “Twelve Days of Christmas” denote the three theological virtues: faith, hope and love.
Last night I received an email from Sister Anne Jordan of Cana Communities. In response to an article we published in the SSH this month, Anne said, five women have offered to become volunteers at the newly established Nagle House in the city. Thanks be to God for this sign of hope.
Let’s complete the homily together. What gifts of courage, joy and care do you receive in the context of daily work? How might you give thanks for those? … Amen.