The Morale of the Story
Nope this title is not a typo either. Aesop has a fable of the Fox and the Hen with a moral, but I do mean morale. Most military units have a morale officer. His duty is to boost confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline so that unity and mission effectiveness improve. A moral leads to moralism which leads to moralizing which is law. Morale is from the French and a synonym of their phrase espirit de corps. And when in the realm of the Spirit, that is the Holy Spirit, you're talking gift, grace, gospel, a real morale booster.
The first morale booster from the text is nothing stops Jesus from finishing His ministry to save, to redeem, to justify a world of sinners. Not the State, not the Church, not even you. King Herod represents the State and he tries to put the fear of government in the heart of Jesus. "I will kill you if you stay in my territory as I did John the Baptist." The Pharisees represent the Old Testament church. For 2 years now they have been in league with the Herodians in a plot to kill Jesus (Mk. 3:6).
But the fact that neither State nor Church can stop Jesus' mission of salvation is not what piqued your interest. The fact that you can't has. This is contrary to your Baptist, Pentecostal, Church of Christ, Bible Church types who quote Romans 8 where Paul lists the things that can't separate us from God's love in Christ. And then they say, "See he doesn't list you. You can separate yourself from the love of God in Christ Jesus." Well, yes and no. But in the end if my salvation depends on me doing or not doing something, I'm lost.
More later. For now it's enough to say that not demons, not disease, not death will stop Jesus from forgiving, mercying, gracing you. Jesus goes right on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and the 3rd day He will reach His goal. There will be a 3rd day. As Jonah was 3 days in the belly of the sea monster, so Jesus will be in the belly of the monster death, but on the 3rd day that monster will spit Him out as surely as the sea monster did Jonah. The 2 days of darkness where the ultimate disease death appears to have won won't stop Jesus from having a 3rd day.
The second morale boosting fact and this might take awhile for you to see is that God can be resisted when He works through means. When God works with His salvation, justification, forgiveness wrapped in the Person of the Son of Mary, or in Words written on paper or in the mouth of a man, or wrapped in water, or a piece of Bread and a swallow of Wine, He can be resisted. On the Last Day when all see Him apart from the things He wraps Himself in now, then every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Yahweh to the glory of God the Father. But that's not today.
The fact that God can be resisted in the Means of Grace answers the question: if God so loved the world, if Jesus is a wrath removing sacrifice for the world's sins, if God is not willing that any should perish but for all to come repentance, why then aren't all saved? Because God can be resisted when He calls sinners to Himself through His Word either incarnated in His Son, inscripturated in the Bible, or embedded in Bread and Wine.
Jesus plainly says in our text that He willed to gather the Jerusalem that killed the prophets and stoned them He sent to save them. The insert translates "how often I have longed to gather you." The Greek says, "How often I did will to gather you." Translating it this way links with what Jesus says about them, "And not did you will." God willed their salvation; they willed it not. "Not" is the strongest Greek denial. It's absolute. And "willed" is the last word in the sentence making it emphatic. They wanted no part of Jesus carrying their sins, bearing their guilt, freeing them from shame. They willed Jesus pay for not one of their sins.
And you call this a morale booster? Press on in the text. Notice how Jesus says, "Look, your house is left to you desolate." And how's that suppose to make me feel better? The house of God, the temple, that was in their midst, testifying to the ongoing, gracious presence of God is no longer His house. It's their house now. No grace, mercy, and peace are in this house any longer. Here's a glimmer of hope.
What did Jesus say 3 years ago at the beginning of His ministry? "Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in 3 days." This was a parable not about the temple, the house of God, but His body. Their house was left by God. His glory left it and turned it over to the Romans who obliterated it. But the house that mattered where God dwelt eternally, graciously, and tangibly, the flesh and blood of Jesus, would never be destroyed. It would be raised on the 3rd day, and this House has an open door policy to everyone who draws breath.
We're still not out of the woods yet. The tall trees and deep darkness that God can be resisted when He works through Word and Sacrament bother me, but can't you see a glimmer of light? Maybe the 3rd morale booster will help which is you're a chick not a chicken.
In Aesop's fable of the Fox and Hen, the fox tries to lure the hen down from her safe perch. He does so by telling her a lie that there's a new order of things. Foxes and hens are now at peace. Don't you fall prey to the fox's lies and leave your perch. Don't step out of your Baptism where Jesus' blood and righteousness flow over you because you're not sure you trust in it enough or because your rationalistic infected mind haunts you with how can water do such great things.
Don't fly down from your safe perch on the crucified Body and Blood of Jesus which you eat and drink in communion because you're beguiled by the devil's suggestion that there has been enough talk of blood, death, and sins. There is peace in our time. There's a new order of love. Imagine there's no heaven, no hell, no right, no wrong, just a peaceful easy feeling inviting you down from your perch on Christ to stand on the ground where the devil, the world, and your flesh are already standing.
Don't go by the Words of Jesus which call you to Him, which say freedom is in His Words which forgive you, release you, free you. Come on down from there to where the fox is and virtually every other person with a brain is. Right and wrong are only social constructs that differ age to age, society to society. You can free yourself from guilt with the liberating truth that the things that bother you aren't really sins at all.
In Aesop's fable, the hen doesn't come down, but sends the fox running by pointing out that if there is a new order of things surely he will stay around to greet the dogs now running toward him. I could say One stronger than the strong man devil approaches and He'll send the sly devil running, but that's not where this text goes. This text focuses on the perch. Your safe perch on the cross is under the wings of a bird on the ground.
Take your kids home; show them pictures on the internet of how safe and secure birds under their mother's wings are. Tell them the story of the farmer whose property is swept over by a prairie fire. Tell them how he walks out to the barnyard and kicks a dead chicken out of his way in disgust and from under her wings out run her chicks unharmed. Then tell them they're chicks but Jesus is no chicken; He's an eagle.
The word translated here hen' doesn't mean a female chicken but any female bird. In the Old Testament the Lord, is never likened to a chicken but an eagle. I know a hunter who personally witnessed a golden eagle take down a deer. You're not a chick of a chicken; you're a chick of an eagle.
The Lord told the Old Testament Church, in Exodus 19:4, "You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself." The wings of an eagle don't just cover chicks; they carry them. If the Lord could carry an entire nation on His wings, I am quite sure He can carry you.
Look what He promises chicks in Psalm 91:3-4: "Surely He will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and wall." It doesn't say your faithfulness is your shield and wall. It doesn't say your faithfulness to Word and Sacrament or your not resisting God when He works through the Means of Grace are your shield. No it says His faithfulness saves you from snare and pestilence. His faithfully covering you with His wings provides your refuge.
Be like David in Psalm 57:1. He pleads for mercy and on the basis of that mercy which he has for Jesus' sake look where he goes: "Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in You my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of Your wings until the disaster has passed." Shelter from the storm is not found in your determination but God's mercy which endures forever for Jesus' sake. Refuge from whatever disaster may close upon you be it death, devil, or disease is found where the Lord spread's His wings of Word and Sacrament.
See those wings spread open and inviting today. Jesus says you will see them when you say, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." Since the end of the 1st century this has been a part of the Communion liturgy (1 Clement 34: 5-8). So when you sing it in the Sanctus again this morning, you're saying, "There He is! There He is! There's the eagle gathering His chicks to lift them up above to safety and to shelter them under His mercy and faithfulness."
That boosts morale. This is espirit de corps, literally, the spirit of the body. The Church is the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the one who animates, empowers, and boosts Her morale to the extent that David says, "By Thee I can run at a line of soldiers; by my God I can leap over a wall" (Psalm 18: 29). Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second Sunday in Lent (20160221); Luke 13: 31-35