Monday, February 15, 2016

The Fox and the Hen – 21 February 2016 – Second Sunday in Lent

Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. Abram wants assurance that God’s promises are real. Paul says to “stand firm.” Tough images. Just telling us what we ought to do doesn’t necessarily make it possible. Yet these are appropriate images for this second week of Lent when we are beginning to learn again the disciplines of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, for it is in the midst of what does not seem to be bearing fruit, what seems hopeless and Godforsaken, that we find our greatest strength in faith.

God’s holy word holds up for us images of power and comfort – both essential for continuing to cling to hope in a troubled world.

Luke 13:31-35

Some people think Lent is a brooding season. We brood over our sins and our need for God. We use the serious color of purple to call us to reflection and repentance. We may fast to open our eyes and hearts to that which is most important in life.

But there's another kind of brood. It's the offspring of animals that lay eggs. The brood of a hen is her bunch of chicks. . . .

Jesus uses such imagery in our gospel today. But first he talks about a fox: Herod the predator. Herod is out to get Jesus. Jesus is the one being hunted. Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem, the holy city of God. There he will meet his fate and give his life. There he will meet rejection. Yes, Jerusalem symbolizes the rejection of the prophets and the rejection of the ways of God. Yet let us not limit it to Jews or people of that time. All of us turn from God. . . .

So Jesus broods over Jerusalem. He laments over a city that closes its heart to the unfolding of God's promises. And then he gets to the brooding metaphor. . . .

Jesus compares himself to a mother hen. It's one of the few feminine images for God in the New Testament. We're much more apt to talk about Jesus the shepherd, the vine, the light, the bread of life. . . .  

The ancient religions of Egypt, Canaan, and the Greco-Roman world featured mother goddess worship. In reaction to these other religions, the Bible rarely uses mother images for God. Yet the scriptures do use the image of mothering animals to speak of God.
– Craig Mueller

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

God's promise is unfulfilled and, in light of Sarah and Abraham's age, it looks to be impossible of fulfillment. Even faithful Abraham's first reply to God in today's first reading reflects the waning of hope: What does it matter what you give me; I have no child; my heir is a slave born in my house. . . 

But God has a way of never giving up on the recipients of the divine promises. So God takes Abram outside to look at the stars. . . – Paul G. Bieber

The image of hope for Abraham and Sarah is in the stars, a smoking pot, and a flaming torch, all tangible objects, material, pieces of God’s creation. What God has fashioned as this material world speaks to us of God’s promises. Yet…

Philippians 3:17-4:1

I confess that, on occasion, I find Paul's dualism between flesh and spirit quite troubling; hard to swallow, really. In a passage such as this, does Paul not risk a denial of the incarnation? Even if we grant a spirit/flesh distinction, as Paul would have it, must we assign all the negative value to the flesh as he does, and all the positive value to the spirit? . .

In fairness to Paul, he is concerned to combat a kind of proto-Gnostic libertinism: if we are released from the body, then we need not trouble ourselves to restrain our passions. . . While our lives here might be transitory, we might gently remind Paul and remind ourselves, they are not without value. God, at least, certainly saw some value in giving flesh to us, in giving flesh to God's incarnate Word, and in restoring spirit to flesh in the resurrection of Jesus and of the rest of us on the last day. – Jeffrey VanderWilt

What does this Second Sunday in Lent move us to envision? How can creation itself become for us an inspiration to continue in our disciplines and care about our neighbors? What is the power of the hen against the power of the fox? That is our puzzle today and our best hope for preaching the good news.

Paul Bieber is pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church, San Diego, California.  

Craig M. Mueller is pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Chicago, Illinois.

Jeffery VanderWilt, author of Communion with Non-Catholic Christians (Collegville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003), teaches at Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Southern California.

Homily Service 40, no. 4 (2007): 3-12.

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