Sly As A Fox
The Rev. Jon Roberts
Calvary Episcopal Church
Indian Rocks Beach, FL
31 At that very hour some Pharisees came, and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
William Blake, Proverbs of Hell, in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1790.
“If the Lion was advised by the Fox,
He would be cunning.”
One bright morning as the Fox was following his sharp nose through the wood in search of a bite to eat, he saw a Crow on the limb of a tree overhead. This was by no means the first Crow the Fox had ever seen.
What caught his attention this time and made him stop for a second look, was that the lucky Crow held a bit of cheese in her beak. "No need to search any farther," thought sly Master Fox. "Here is a dainty bite for my breakfast." Up he trotted to the foot of the tree in which the Crow was sitting, and looking up admiringly, he cried, "Good-morning, beautiful creature!" The Crow, her head cocked on one side, watched the Fox suspiciously. But she kept her beak tightly closed on the cheese and did not return his greeting. "What a charming creature she is!" said the Fox. "How her feathers shine! What a beautiful form and what splendid wings! Such a wonderful Bird should have a very lovely voice, since everything else about her is so perfect. Could she sing just one song, I know I should hail her Queen of Birds." Listening to these flattering words, the Crow forgot all her suspicion, and also her breakfast. She wanted very much to be called Queen of Birds. So she opened her beak wide to utter her loudest caw, and down fell the cheese straight into the Fox's open mouth. "Thank you," said Master Fox sweetly, as he walked off. "Though it is cracked, you have a voice sure enough. But where are your wits?" The flatterer lives at the expense of those who will listen to him. This is one of many of Aesop’s fables that convinces us, “If the Lion was advised by the Fox, He would be cunning.”
Have you ever heard the expression, “They are as sly as a fox?” In the ancient Jewish practice of biblical exegesis (reading the scrolls, known as “midrash”) there is considerable emphasis on the meaning and usage of the word, “Fox.” Not only is it referred as a sly and cunning creature, as we heard about in the fable, but more importantly in Judaism, scholars of the Torah would often refer to it in terms of pedigree. The superior man is the Lion and the inferior man is the Fox. The great men are the Lions and the lesser men are the Foxes.
Often one of the Jewish scholars would turn the attention of their disciples to an epithet of a highly regarded and deceased rabbi, saying, “Why do you ask the opinion of foxes, when there are [those far] more distinguished present?” A cunning tactic to make themselves appear to hold the knowledge handed down from the previous generation that was heralded as great. Have you noticed how people referred as “Great” were not? Sometimes those are the lions who are advised by the foxes. This is the strategy of the Pharisees who met Jesus and wanted him desparately to sing out, “I am the Messiah,” so they could take something from him; namely his life. They desperately wanted him to go to Jerusalem because they knew that the Sanhedrin would quickly place charges of blasphemy on Jesus for even uttering those words. Look at how they approached him, at the root of fear. They said to Jesus, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." They make Herod sound like this great king, a lion. But Jesus saw right through them and responded, “Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.”
The English Poet, devout Christian and severely anti-religious writings of William Blake, gave similar rebuke in many of his works when he was fighting the hypocrisy of the English Church. “The fox condemns the trap, not himself.” “The fox watches the roots; the lion, watches the fruits.” “The fox provides for himself, but God provides for the lion.” And finally, he wrote, “If the Lion was advised by the Fox, He would be cunning.” So who is Jesus really talking about? Who is he condemning as the sly fox? Herod, certainly.
Herod, or by his nickname, “Antipas” was not only an inferior king, but also an imposter, according to Jesus. In the Jewish midrash interpretation, Jesus was not saying, “Go and tell that fox,” but instead the meaning would be related to pedigree; “Who’s his daddy?” The real implication by Jesus was, “Go and tell that Son of a fox.” The father of Antipas, Herod the Great, was actually Arabic by birth. He was a practicing Jew, but not by blood. Everybody knew it and pretended to go along with the legacy of him being the “Great.” His son was cunning and sly and had no claim to the natural Lion of Judah who everyone knew as King Solomon, several generations before. He may have been a bird, but his voice crackled like the crow. So much condemnation heaped on the phony lion of Herod that we overlook the cunning behavior of the Pharisaic foxes. Jesus was mainly condemning all who subscribe and follow along with the deception of others. The local Pharisees, warning him to leave and urging him to go to Jerusalem were deceptive and trying to place fear in Jesus and his disciples. He could have claimed to be the Lion, as would be his right as the Messiah, but instead he gave a new character. He said, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.” Does not the fox and the lion eat the hen? The Lion can be the hen. He can be the lamb. Life giver and sustainer. The Lion speaks out when saying his glory will not be revealed until that Palm Sunday when the people of Jerusalem cry out, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” The Lion speaks out when saying his work to heal the sick and cast out demons will not end until the Resurrection from death on the third day.
During this season of Lent, are we following the Christ or are we enticed by the sly master fox? Has a feeling of self-centeredness and deep pride propped you up in a tree, like the crow? Does fear overshadow you when the fox tells you, you better run? Have you called out to Jesus, asking him to deliver you from the hand of your adversaries; against false witnesses that have risen against you and when people speak malice? There are many enemies around you, and whether a roaring lion threatening to kill, steal and destroy, or a cunning, sly fox trying to steal your cheese, do not be dismayed.
There are many foxes but there is only one Lion.
And Jesus will not be advised by the Fox.