Like many slang terms, calling someone a “fox” today can either be a compliment or insult. In Jesus’ day, it was never a compliment. The exact insult Jesus meant when he called Herod Antipas a fox (Luke 13:31-35) isn’t known, but since Jewish writings used the fox to represent destruction and the Greeks saw foxes as clever, but without principles, it’s clear Jesus wasn’t impressed. It’s also obvious he wasn’t afraid. Living out his teaching, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28), Jesus did not give Herod the respect Herod and his minions thought he deserved. Jesus was willing to push back at the region’s bully.
We can be inspired by Jesus’ strength and courage and want to follow suit (the way I was ready to take up boxing after Rocky and karate after The Karate Kid), but we dare not grab hold of Jesus’ bravery and willingness to insult the local bully without also taking up Jesus’ broader concern. Jesus’ immediately turns his attention from “that fox” (Herod) to the people of Jerusalem. His anguish for them is obvious. He, like all the prophets before him, longs for them to take up God’s ways, but he recognizes that human brokenness is such that often we kill the very thing seeking to bring us life. Like a mother hen, Jesus cares for God’s children, but too many of them, he knows, will choose the familiar darkness over the coming Light. It’s a tragedy that belongs squarely in Lent, but that should be a cautionary tale for us the year-round.
Few of us are foxes out to destroy Jesus for our own insecure ego’s sake, but there may well be places in each of our lives where we’re choosing familiar darkness over Light. He is inviting us to be gathered under his wings as though we are his brood. It’s a gracious offer. I pray we’ll accept.