The Prophet Between the Fox and the Hen

turkeys1We often think of a prophet as a person who speaks the word of God such as Elijah and Isaiah do, but Jesus gives us a deeper definition of what a prophet at the climax of his diatribe against the scribes and Pharisees in Mathew: “so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom  you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.” (Mt. 23:35) Here, the prophet is one who says not a word but speaks the Word of God nonetheless in the sense that Abel’s blood cries from the ground.

This diatribe is often cited as a proof that Jesus, at least at times, was violent. It is worth noting, however, that Jesus didn’t shoot an automatic rifle at anybody; he spoke truth to presumptive power with a two-edged sword for a tongue. More importantly, these harsh words are followed by Jesus’ wish that he could gather his “children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” Here we see very clearly the Two Ways of Gathering outlined in my blog post of that title.

In Luke, the lament over Jerusalem is put in a different, but similar, context. Warned by some Pharisees that Herod wants to kill him, Jesus calls him “that fox.” (Lk. 13:32) In preaching on this Lukan text, Prior Aelred here at St. Gregory’s, drew out the comparison of the fox and the hen. In the face of a threatening fox, Aelred suggested that Jesus might have been a better protector by being a tougher animal, such as the Lion of Judah. But no, Jesus assumed the role of a vulnerable hen gathering her chicks. Aelred went on to extoll Vicki Soto and her colleagues at Sandy Hook who covered as many of their small pupils with their bodies as they could to protect them, a contemporary embodiment of Christ the vulnerable, protective hen.

A fox scatters, while a hen gathers. What if Jesus had chosen to be a lion to deal with that fox Herod? It occurs to me that a lion would scatter all foxes who might threaten the chicks. Sort of like a superhero crushing the bad guys so that good guys like us can get on with our lives. Aelred noted that Jesus the Hen is not a popular image in Christian lore as is the Lion of Judah. The problem is, if Jesus the Hen gathers, then not only is Jesus the Hen trying to gather the scribes and Pharisees,  but Herod and his court as well, thus robbing us of more favorite enemies.

The Word Became Vulnerable Flesh

creche1When St. John says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he is sharing a mystery so deep that we don’t know what to say. The mystery only deepens when we recall that the Word was with God “in the beginning” and without the Word, nothing was made. What is more, the Word was God. Which is to say, the Word is God for all time.

So why would the Word enter into the Creation that the Word shaped? Isn’t that a case of ultimate downward mobility? Later in his Gospel, John says that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son who died on the cross. Suddenly, the Word who in the beginning was with God and was God is much more concrete and understandable. Except why would God and the Word love us so much that they would do that? Looking around at ourselves, there seems to be no accounting for taste.

What is so amazing is that God, who we might think is the ultimate in invulnerability, chooses to be vulnerable. God’s vulnerability is attested by the prophets who spoke of God’s distress over human waywardness and infidelity. But even then, “the boots tramped in battle” in Isaiah didn’t trample the Word who was with God and was God. But once the Word was born in the flesh of a human mother and laid in a manger, the Word had become just as vulnerable to trampling boots and automatic rifles as the children at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut and the children slaughtered in Bethlehem by order of King Herod.

Here is where the mystery deepens so profoundly as to escape comprehension. It goes against what we think are our deepest instincts. We do everything to make ourselves less vulnerable from putting on plated armor, to hardening our feelings to buying weapons to defend us for the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” to quote Hamlet. If the Word without whom nothing was made that was made is willing to be so defenseless, than perhaps it isn’t really our deepest instinct to defend ourselves so aggressively after all.

Perhaps if we, like Mary, would treasure these things and ponder them deeply in our hearts, we will find within ourselves a Love created by God that loves so abundantly that it melts all our defenses and we no longer worry about accounting for God’s taste in so loving the world.

The Need for New Hearts: an Advent Meditation

wreckedTrees1The traditional apocalyptic Advent themes of Death/Judgment/Heaven/Hell fuse in the recent mass shootings, especially the one at Sandy Hook School in Connecticut. A traumatic event like this at this time of year gives us occasion to wonder about the end of the world.

In a memorable poem, Robert Frost mused over whether the world will end in fire or ice. His first thought is that from what he has “tasted of desire,” he holds with “those who favor fire.” The violence of shooting deaths and terrorist attacks is filled with gunfire, suggesting that we should favor fire. René Girard has warned us that with the breakdown of the scapegoating mechanism as a way to hold a violent society together, we run the risk of apocalyptic violence spinning out of control. (See Violence and the Kingdom of God and Human See, Human Want.)

But Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar questions how fiery this violence really is. The opening rebuke of the people: “You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things” applies to all of the characters in the play. The ominous oracle of the beast without a heart provides the play’s central image. The heartless violence that drives the plot from civil war to assassination to civil war is all as cold as blocks and stones as well as senseless.

The violence of mass killings and terrorist attacks is frigid.  Frost says he thinks he knows enough of hate to know “that for destruction ice/Is also great/And would suffice.” The powerful understatement is all the more chilling.

There is another way the world could end in ice than cold, heartless violence. Jean-Pierre Dupuy, warns us that our modern economy creates victims through indifference. We literally do not know what we are doing. The final story in my book From Beyond to Here, “Buyer of Hearts,” explores an apocalyptic of ice and indifference. Danny Melton, a boy already bummed out because his father has left the family, suddenly begins to see ghosts floating around the school. He becomes all the more creeped out when he discovers that the people are still alive in the flesh, although “living and partly living,” in the words of T.S. Eliot, is more like Danny discovers that many of his classmates and teachers have sold their hearts for large sums of money. The selling and buying of heart gains more and more momentum as more and more people become hopelessly depressed over what is happening to their families and friends. My story, Dupuy’s warning, and Frost’s poem show us that God gives us humans the responsibility let God create new hearts within us to keep the world from ending “not with a bang, but a whimper.”