Luke 13:31-35 New International Version (NIV)
31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”
32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
I saw a video this week of a man openly weeping. His female companion was videoing his display of emotions, laughing at him the entire time. And then, she posted the video online because she thought it was pretty funny.
You are probably wondering why the man was weeping, and what kind of sick person would find this humorous. The man in the video was wearing a Cleveland Browns shirt. He was crying because the Browns had just traded for one of the best receivers in the league: Odell Beckham, Jr.
This highlights an interesting aspect of sports, especially among us men. Sports can bring out our alpha male, masculine side. We see heated, verbal exchanges, and sometimes athletes can come to fisticuffs in the middle of a game. But sports can also reduce us to tears. We weep when our team wins the national championship, we weep when our team loses the national championship. We weep when someone with great potential sees their career come to a tragic end because of injury.
When is it okay for men to show emotion? Sporting events, funerals, and at the birth of our children? Sure, those are acceptable times. More than that and you will probably be labeled a sissy.
Today we are going to talk a bit about masculinity. Jesus is, in many ways, one tough dude. But Jesus also shows us a different kind of masculinity, a masculinity that loves our enemies and does good to those who persecute us. Jesus shows us a masculinity that is willing to lay down your life for another. Let’s walk through this scripture to see what Jesus can teach us about masculinity and femininity today.
I find verse 31 interesting. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, but someone steps in to give him a heads up. Notice who it is that warns Jesus to flee because Herod wants to kill him. It is the Pharisees. There are two ways that I can read this. One, it could be that I’ve been looking at these people wrong all along. They really do care about Jesus and they don’t want to see him hurt. Jesus is another one of God’s chosen people, and though they don’t always see eye-to-eye, the Pharisees seem to be concerned with Jesus’s wellbeing. It is clear throughout the New Testament that there were Pharisees who seemed to be on Jesus’s side, people like Nichodemus.
Or, the other option, which I think is more likely, is that they just don’t want him around. Jesus is a trouble maker, and they know that they can’t physically threaten him, but they can attempt to scare him away by reminding him that Herod isn’t afraid to take a life or two when someone seems to present a problem for him.
Whatever the Pharisees intention was, they were at least being honest. Herod is a threat, and I’m sure Jesus took him seriously. Remember that it was Herod who had John the Baptist beheaded, even though many people regarded John as a prophet. Herod isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, and he isn’t afraid to make some people angry in the process.
What impresses me about Jesus at this point is that the Pharisees aren’t telling him anything that he doesn’t already know. For the last few chapters he has been making his final approach to Jerusalem, and he seems to know that this will get him killed. He knows that there is both political and religious unrest in the city, and it is very clear in the other gospels that Jesus knows what is going down.
So when the Pharisees give him a heads up about Herod and his desire to put an end to Jesus’s ministry and life, how does Jesus answer? He says in verse 32-33, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!”
Jesus tells the Pharisees that he is going to keep doing what he has been doing. Jesus exhibits some holy stubbornness. He even seems to hint at the resurrection when he says that he will reach his goal on the third day. Jesus knows he’s going to get killed for this, but he is going to do it anyway. He is going to do it, because he knows it is the right thing to do.
That’s tough. That’s the stuff they make super hero movies about. This is like Jesus, the Avenger.
But what’s with the reference to a fox? This is the kind of language we used to describe attractive women when I was growing up. She’s a fox! I wouldn’t use that language now, and I’m pretty sure that’s not how Jesus intended it. This is not a reference to how attractive Herod was.
What else do we know about foxes? They are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants, and other animals. Foxes also have a reputation for preying upon chickens. We never had much for chickens on our farm growing up, but foxes have a reputation for visiting the chicken coup late at night and returning with a fowl taste in their mouth. I’ve seen foxes sneaking up on their prey. They stay close to the ground, slowing moving closer, until they can pounce. Jesus calls Herod a fox, a cunning, creeping, predator looking for his next meal. Keep that imagery in mind, and we will circle back to it momentarily.
There is a big change in Jesus’s tone between verses 33 and 34. He goes from this tough guy who is willing to go toe-to-toe with Herod all while defying the wishes of the religious elite, to being compassionate. He even names the shortcomings of the people, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.” I’d expect him to say something else tough and maybe intimidating here. Get it together, Jerusalem! But how does he follow that? “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
Our tough-guy Jesus just used a chicken reference to describe himself. A chicken. We call people a chicken when they are scared. We cluck like a chicken when someone’s fear keeps them from doing something. But our tough-guy Jesus just describes himself as a chicken. And not just any chicken, a female chicken, a hen.
A hen seems like the farthest thing from the alpha males we always see depicted on television, or in the movies, always willing to fight anyone who gets in their way. But this is Jesus’s chosen metaphor to describe his own feelings.
There has been a lot in our news over the last year about what some have called “toxic masculinity.” Earlier this year, shaving brand Gillette ran a video calling toxic masculinity into question. This ad wasn’t without some controversy, and there are some things I think they could have done better, but I applaud them for their efforts. The ad showed children bullying other children, and men making catcalls and slapping women on their bottoms, all while men stand by and say things like, “Boys will be boys.” What has in recent years been called “locker-room talk,” Gillette called toxic.
This ad encouraged men to do better. If you see bullying, say something, do something. If you see men treating women as sexual objects, say something, do something. Being masculine doesn’t have to mean hurting other people.
I readily admit that while I don’t bully people and I try not to objectify women, I’ve too often sat by and allowed people to treat others as something less than fully human. I’ve been in plenty of locker rooms in my life. And it isn’t just high school. Just in the last year or so I heard two men talking in the locker room about a fitness instructor at the local Y. I’ve heard much worse, but it really didn’t feel appropriate.
I think this is one reason I would like to see us go back to some of the familial language we used to see in the church when we would call people “brother” or “sister.” I think we would treat one another better if we really did view each other as family. This weaker male isn’t someone to pick on to make yourself feel tough. That’s your brother. That woman leading your spinning class isn’t a piece of meat for you to ogle over. She is your sister. Sure, there is also femininity that can be toxic, but it seems to me that we men are the ones who really need to step up our game.
So who can we look to for a good example? How about Jesus? Jesus is a tough guy, willing to stand up to Herod and the Pharisees, even if it costs him his life. But Jesus is also the one who wants to gather the people together like a mother hen. We never see Jesus bullying people, and we never see him degrading women or reducing them to a sexualized object. There is love, respect, and dignity offered to each person.
What I see in our text for this morning is a very intentional juxtapositioning of two different animal species. We have the cunning fox, who is looking to prey upon innocent creatures for his own gain, and we have the mother hen, willing to sacrifice her own body for her chicks.
The idea of a bird protecting her young under her wing is a common metaphor in the Old Testament, occurring at least five separate times (see Deut. 32:11; Ruth 2:12; Psalms 17:8, 36:7, 91:4; and Isaiah 31:5). Psalm 91:4 is probably my favorite: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”
The bird, a hen in Jesus’s metaphor, takes the brunt of the pain for her chicks. Since I didn’t grow up with chickens, I did a little research to see if this really was something that hens did. I came across many pictures of hens protecting their chicks from the rain, and hens protecting their chicks from predators. And I came across two different stories, one of which I will share with you. I questioned this story a bit, but New Testament Scholar NT Wright includes this story in his commentary on Luke, so I don’t want to dismiss it.
Wright tells the story of a family in England who lived on a farm. Like many farms, they had pigs, a cow, a sheep or two, and some chickens. Unfortunately, the barn caught fire one night, which is a real concern anytime you store large quantities of dry hay or straw inside a wooden structure. They were able to get most of the animals out, but the chickens were lost in the flames.
The next day, the farmer was walking through the remains of the barn when he came upon the burnt carcass of a chicken. Out of frustration the farmer went and kicked the carcass with his boot. When he did so, he turned the carcass over, and out ran a couple of young chicks. Surely, this man was scared, but he also thought of Jesus looking out over Jerusalem. The mother hen had gathered her chicks under her wing and sacrificed herself for the wellbeing of her offspring.
There are a number of ways that we could apply this teaching. We could focus on Jesus’s death on the cross, where he died for us. But I want to circle back to this idea of toxic masculinity and instead offer a Christ-like masculinity.
With Jesus as our model, we need to be willing to make sacrifices for others. When I heard the two men talking in the locker room at the Y, I should have spoken up and let them know that that was not appropriate. It may have affected how those men saw me, but that’s the example we have in Jesus. We put others before our own comfort, before our own popularity.
And recently, a friend of mine has taken to posting negative things about a person on Facebook. I don’t want to say who they are attacking because I don’t want this to get political. But my friend, a youth pastor, posts ad hominem attacks about a congressperson almost daily. They call her stupid, without ever addressing the issues she is arguing for. Often these attacks are in the forms of memes that don’t even quote this congressperson, but attribute sayings to her that she never said.
Isn’t that bullying? And I wonder if he would say the same things about a male congressperson with the same viewpoint? This seems to be toxic masculinity, and I need to say something.
I need to say something, because others are watching. I need to say something, because this guy is a youth pastor. The entire point of the Gillette ad was to change things for the next generation because we can do better. And Gillette probably lost some business by running the ad. Doing the right thing is often costly. But we need a little holy stubbornness in our lives, because doing the right thing is rarely the same as doing the easy thing.
In saying this, I realize that I sound like a typical man, trying to fix things. But I think we men do have to fix things. We are responsible for toxic masculinity, and we need to be a part of the solution. When we see bullying, either in the traditional sense or online, we need to be a part of the solution. And the solution to toxic masculinity isn’t femininity. The solution is Christ-like masculinity. Men can still be men, but we need to be men like Jesus. We need to be men willing to risk our own bodies, our own reputations, for the good of others. We need to do it for others, and we need to do it for those who are watching.