Foxes & Birds

Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.
—Luke 9:58

By now we know who The Twelve are—the ones we normally refer to as Jesus’ disciples, most of whom would later be called apostles. But who else was there? Who else would follow Jesus? Who would accompany him on his earthly pilgrimage? There were, in fact, others, even if we don’t know their names. And in this morning’s reading from Luke, we catch a glimpse of the nature of their discipleship—that is, what it was that following Jesus meant.

And what it meant was commitment and sacrifice. Jesus wasn’t interested in those who followed him just because they thought he said good things. Instead today’s gospel makes three things about discipleship perfectly clear:
  1. It meant giving up on comfort and security: The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. 
  2. It meant creating new relationships—even family relationships: Jesus criticism of the man who wanted to bury a parent. 
  3. It meant not living in the past: Nobody who starts the work and then looks back is fit for God’s kingdom. [1]
And though we don’t want to believe it, what it meant then it still means today. For us, “following” has come to mean something entirely new of late. We follow blogs. We follow people on Twitter. We want updates about what they’re saying and doing. We are conveniently notified by a ding on our cell phone whenever they publish and update—whether it’s their deep thoughts in a blog post, or their random musings via a tweet. This kind of following is accomplished without us ever leaving our seat.

Following Jesus required not just more, but it required everything. And of the three things talked about at the end of Luke 9, we can’t even imagine ourselves getting past the first one. And so let’s look for a place to start today.

What if the foxes and the birds Jesus mentioned aren’t just animals but also distractions? This is very easy to do if we think of our hearts, not as a physical organ, but the seat of who we are spiritually. The heart has been called “the seat of principles and the fountain of actions." [2] But no heart is perfect, for all of us are filled with bolt holes where the slyness of the fox can easily find a home. Dishonesty can find its way into the tiniest crack, and once there it can start housekeeping in some pretty amazing ways. The great philosopher Pearl Bailey put it this way: “The first and worst of all frauds is to cheat one’s self. All sin is easy after that.”

But as apt as the crafty fox is as an image for the way we allow our hearts to be taken over in the wrong way, the bird’s nest is even more appropriate. A Nigerian prayer acknowledges that God has “helped my life to grow like a tree.” But it goes on to say that “something has happened. Satan, like a bird, has carried in one twig of his own choosing after another. Before I knew it he had built a dwelling place and was living in it.” The solution? “Tonight, my Father, I am throwing out both the bird and the nest.” [3]

And so as we turn our thoughts to the Lord’s table this morning, let us think about the One who finds no shelter in the world, and never did; but who finds sweet rest in the hearts of the faithful. When but two or three who truly believe in him are gathered together, a home is made in the world for the One who had no place to lay his head. [4]

No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you can be part of this home and you’re welcome at the table of the Lord. Here you are invited to partake of bread for the journey and drink from the fountain of life. Here is your opportunity to clean house—to make room in your heart for something better than what’s settled inside it, for there are foxes and birds that need to be shooed away, buyers and sellers that need to be driven out. [5]

We begin the liturgy of the Supper with a prayer of confession. Think of it as cleaning house: Our deeds are the outer courtyard and our thoughts are the inner courtyard, but our hearts are the temple—the house of God. Let us now prepare them to welcome home the One who not only made them, but who made them to be restless until they rest in their Maker, [6] and until their Maker there finds rest.

I asked at the beginning of this meditation who else would follow Jesus. I am now prepared to help supply an answer: Jesus’ other followers are those who make room for him in their hearts. Though the rest of the world reject him, may our hearts be open to receive unreservedly the One who offers us love without measure and grace without precondition.
—©2016 Sam L. Greening, Jr.
  1. See Luke 9:57-62 for direction quotations.
  2. John Flavel, A Saint Indeed, or The Great Work of a Christian in Keeping the Heart in the Several Conditions of Life (London, 1668), electronic ed. 
  3. Desmond Tutu, An African Prayer Book (New York: Doubleday, 1995), p. 44.
  4. Paraphrased from a sermon preached by Charles Spurgeon in London on January 7, 1872; references to Matt. 18:20 & Luke 9:58 added.
  5. It was Thomas Boston (1676-1732) who said, Look into the house, and you will see it stands much in need of purging. Within that heart of yours, there are buyers and sellers that need to be driven out. Purge the outer court of your life, thy words and actions; and see well to the inner court—your inner self (language updated).
  6. After a prayer of Augustine of Hippo.