Mother Hens -vs- Foxes: embody justice

Our passage begins “at that time” or, in the New Revised Standard version, “at that very hour”.  “At that very hour” invites us to keep in mind what comes before our passage. Jesus had been teaching and healing, moving from town to town making his way to Jerusalem, when someone asked, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” Jesus answers without talking about our beliefs. Jesus calls us to action, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” Indeed, one day many will knock on the door and the owner of the house will say, “go away, you evildoers!” Jesus focuses on behavior more than theology: doing good or doing evil. Jesus continues, “you will see Abraham (Sarah), Jacob… and all the prophets,” rejoicing in God’s kingdom and you will see people you never imagined in heaven. “People will come from east and west, north and south, and sit down to eat in God’s kingdom. Look! Those who are last will be first and those who are first will be last.”  

Keep in mind Jesus is pressing towards Jerusalem and teaching us, “you may be surprised who is in heaven” when, “some Pharisees approached Jesus and said, “Go! Get away from here, because Herod wants to kill you.”   I grew up hearing bad things about Pharisees, maybe you did too? Perhaps, feeling pushed out of their congregations, the early church writers focused on religious differences instead of places of unity. Pharisees earnestly embodied their faith, striving for the kingdom of God. They worshiped, studied the scriptures, prayed daily, tried to keep the law, were honest, faithful, ethical in business, modest in lifestyle, and good neighbors Some think Jesus was a Pharisee with a prophetic bent. The Pharisees come to Jesus as concerned allies, knowing what Jesus is up against in Jerusalem.  They worry for Jesus, “Herod wants to kill you.” Maybe they could picture Jesus flipping over the money changers tables in the national temple. The Pharisees and along with many other Jewish groups were deeply troubled by the chief priests’ collusion with King Herod.  They likely agreed with Jesus that the Temple had become “a hideout for robbers” and longed to see it restored to “a house of prayer for all nations”. (Mark 11) These allies of the Pharisees could sense in Jesus’ powerful movement real trouble brewing for Jesus and the kin-dom movement. Just as Jesus’ own disciples begged Jesus to avoid Jerusalem in John 11, the Pharisees beg, “Go! Get away from here, because Herod wants to kill you.”  Sometimes we focus on the wrong people, we mistake allies for enemies and miss the deeper threats to justice.  Let’s not drive off our allies.  And let us not forget justice is costly. Embodying justice may cost us popularity, privilege, power, and even our lives.  

My mother tolerated no cussing. (full stop). My father once fell down a ladder and mom fussed at him for cursing.  She would look over her glasses and say “Paul Robert, I thought you had a more developed vocabulary and did not need to resort to such guttural language”.  Jesus’ response to “Get away from here, Herod wants to kill you!” might have sounded too human for my mother. In those days, “fox” did not mean sly or sexy, but predatory, treacherous, cunning, and deadly. Jesus calls the king a name and thumps his chest at the throne.  Why resort to a slur against the sovereign? It’s not polite. It’s not proper. It doesn’t seem to make for peace.  Angry slurs make it easy for comfortable folks to dismiss Jesus as an angry rabble rouser. I am sure many good folks in Jerusalem were sympathetic with Jesus until Christ flipped over the temple tables. We love to dial down on a misplaced word, a past conviction, a rock thrown, or an arrest at an otherwise peaceful protest.  Such human moments allow us to hold onto our previous perceptions, positions, and privileges. We hear an ugly slur and forget the cries of “I can’t breathe”. We all are easily spun up and quickly repeat, amplify, and retweet without evaluation, empathy, or compassion.  I am sure some worried more over Jesus’ name-calling more than the fact Herod would kill Jesus. Perhaps, God made us so that feelings of suffocating injustice prime us to scream out in righteous anger? John the Baptist thundered at the priests, “You brood of vipers.” (Luke 3) Paul condemned Peter to this face. (Galatians 2) The Psalmist turned their anger at injustice into prayer: “Lord, Your hand will catch all your enemies… catching all who hate you. When you (finally) appear, Lord, you will light them up like an oven on fire.” (Psalm 21) Often we prefer civility over honesty, politeness over truth, but a sinless Jesus’ embodies angry feelings and even utters a truth-telling put-down.  Being fully present with all our heart, soul, and mind is the heart of worship and transformation. How can we meet God and find our better selves if we believe we must always suppress our deepest wounds? God longs to meet us where we are. (James 4:8; John 8)  We must wrestle with our experiences, anger, and wounds. (Genesis 32)

Doesn’t it make you mad when you feel cheated; excluded from justice or opportunity?  When strangers protest with ugly signs or bawdy behavior, maybe they just refuse to breathe the air of injustice any longer? Jesus embodies anger saying rudely, “go, tell that fox” and flipping over tables. If we find ourselves in cultural comfort, justice may begin with compassionate listening that offers the oppressed the benefit of our doubts. If we are shut out, pushed down or locked up, justice may begin with shouting, slurs, or ugly disruptions. In your emailed Field Guide today, Pastor Ingrid McIntyre shares, “Justice is about our relationships with each other…. Embodied justice demands a higher engagement and commitment with ourselves and others. It demands a great deal of awareness and a dedication to becoming the change we want to see in the world. Embody justice by examining your beliefs and habits and then educating yourself. Many of us hold onto beliefs that we’ve learned along the way; they can influence how we engage in the world. Positive action toward inclusion and advocacy begins at home.”  Listen for God. Examine your hearts.  Hear out unfamiliar voices that may make you feel defensive or uncomfortable.  Let us be generous in listening.  

If we listen, we will hear Jesus contrast the kin-dom of God with the way of Roman imperial theology: ‘Look, I’m casting down demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day (Good Friday) I will complete my work. However, it’s necessary for me to travel toward Herod’s palace because  it’s impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.” That is an overly generalized parable.  Jesus is addressing systemic injustice. The church, market, and governmental powers are concentrated in Jerusalem colluding together to maintain a status quo that does harm to people. Jesus offers an alternative worldview: mother hens battling the foxes.  Jesus moves from village to village towards the fox, clutching her chicks: healing, feeding, dining with those cast out of pious congregations, listening, standing with the disinherited, reaching out to outcasts,  welcoming the unwanted, forgiving, embodying the kin-dom of God. 

After speaking heat, Jesus embodies lament, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that. Look, your house is abandoned. I tell you, you won’t see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the Lord’s name’.” Our frustrations with systems, institutions, and people may tempt us to burn it down, break it apart, blast everyone, blame someone else, walk away, or give up. Jesus looks at a city ruled by a cruel despot and guided by colluding clergy and weeps. Jesus’ way is the way of a mother hen. Jesus longs to hold the world’s wayward children like a momma bird clutches her babies under her wing, putting herself between her babies and the foxes. Jesus longs for redemption. Perfected in Love, Jesus longs to heal even the misguided children of God who will kill him.  Jesus’ people never come to steal, break or destroy, but to heal, give life, and restore life to its fullest. (John 10) Love never rejoices in evil or suffering. (1 Corinthians 13) Anger is a powerful tool that can help us stand up and fight back. However, held too long, anger burns up our hearts, and burns down our world.  Love does not slip backward into revenge, payback, or retribution. Love works hard to build justice. The Holy work of doing justice is not always easy, cheap or monochromatic. 

Jesus is threatened, angry, but longs to be that mother hen, holding all her babies, laying her life down for her chicks.  Will we strive for a door so narrow  and path so selfless?  How might we do this complex embodying work, here’s is a quick recap” :

  1. Embrace allies. Do not make enemies of those who see things just a tad differently than we do. Keep in mind that we will all be surprised who will be in heaven- folks from the east, west, north, and south. 
  2. Remember, justice will cost us some privilege, position, and power. The Mother Hen risks her life!
  3. Remember, Jesus flipped over tables, focusing on the real threats, not some uncomfortable slogan shouted by people refusing to breathe the stifling air of injustice.  
  4. When cheated, do not be afraid to embody our own anger and lament.  Offer yourselves and others some grace and empathy. 
  5. Remember whole cities, capitals, and systems kill the prophets.  Acknowledge personal and systemic injustice. In our Field Guide, Pastor Kate writes: “The Gospels are clear: Jesus cares about justice. So, too, should we. We care not just about immediate needs like food, clothing, and housing, but also about why those immediate needs exist in the first place. Why were these people hungry? Why were they thirsty? Why did they have no clothes, and why were they in prison? In other words, we have a Gospel imperative to look upstream at what is polluting the water.”
  6. Articulate an alternate vision of how life can be and should be.  Mother Hens versus the bitter winds and cunning foxes. God’s vision embraces people from east, west, north, and south, and strives to build together a kin-dom that feeds people, provides healthcare, welcomes people, and uplifts human personality.  We sometimes call that kind of living the kin-dom of God. 
  7. And finally, we must keep making our way to Jerusalem, village by village, conversation by conversation, missed opportunity by misstep, victory by victory, striving to find the narrow door that leads to a better life for everyone. Pastor Ingrid reminds us in today’s Field Guide that we “Embody justice by not stopping. Justice takes a long time. Be persistent. Be  noisy…. Movements are, at their core, groups of people recognizing issues and pushing for solutions. It doesn’t have to be a big problem, or even a big solution, for you to create meaningful change. By pushing just a bit further every day, you are part of a movement that will change the status quo.”  

Oh, let us embody justice, becoming Mother Hens’ that stretch our arms and welcome all God’s chaotic, fearful and noisy children to find shelter under our wings as pray and strive together to live out Jesus’ justice prayer: God your kin-dom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.  

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