Predators and Prey
About 5 or 6 years ago Disney released a movie entitled Zootopia.
Zootopia is a city where are all the animals are basically humanized, so that they talk and think like humans. And in Zootopia all the animals live together. Different parts of the city have different zones to accommodate the different animals. There are zones such as Sahara Square, Tundra Town, Little Rodentia, Rainforest District, and Bunny Burroughs, all divided by climate walls.
In Zootopia the artists used 64 different species of animals and then went on to make thousands with different shapes and sizes and colours etc.
The premise is that the animals all live together. In particular in Zootopia, the predators live with the prey and don’t eat them.
So, the film explores diversity, inclusion, bias, prejudice, evil, fake news, fear, and conspiracy theories; and the bunny heroine Judy Hopps, along with help from a con artist fox, Nick Wilde, undo a conspiracy in which the Deputy Mayor gains power by having predators framed as evil maniacal killers.
The film not only points out that those who look like evil are not necessarily evil, but that there are different ways to be predators. In Zootopia the evil mastermind is a sheep, and has her own predatory behavior.
We all know about predatory behavior. The “Me Too” movement has not only brought to light, predatory behavior of men against women, it has empowered women to speak out and speak their truth, especially against powerful rich men, who were getting away with all kinds of predatory behavior.
We all know about scandals in churches, of the predatory behavior of some clergy, especially in the Roman Catholic Church, but not only in the Roman Catholic Church.
We all know about the predatory behavior of Colonialism and Empire building, of the devastation of aboriginal peoples around the world, and the conflicts and wars when the Colonial Powers collided.
Today we are talking much about Russia, the predator invading Ukraine, the prey, and all of us praying for common sense and decency to win the day, and for the Russian Bear to lie down with the lambs, and the eagles and the lions and the beavers, and all the other national animal symbols.
And so, we come to our gospel lesson. It is a short but powerful story with two short little stories.
The first is that some Pharisees come and tell Jesus to get out, because the predator Herod wants to kill Jesus.
The second is that Jesus is crying over Jerusalem and her people. How he wanted to gather them and protect them like a mother hen gathering chicks under her wings, but…and it’s a big but,
The people were not willing.
And why are they not willing, because they too have predatory behavior and kill the prophets and stone the messengers of God.
And while it is easy to focus on leaders like Putin of Russia, or Bashar al-Assad of Syria as tyrannical despots, foxes who want to plunder the chickens, predators devouring easy prey…
…or to focus on current Robber Barons, fantastically wealthy people, who according the press, many have gotten their gains in ways not always above board. Business people who have exploited, manipulated, exerted control over natural resources, have undue influence and lobbying power with governments, who squash competition by acquiring them, who pay subsistence wages and take the business to poorest countries in the world, to pay poor wages…
Or to focus on terrorist groups, religious right wing fundamentalist groups, supremacist groups, or other violent, prejudiced, or intimidating groups…
…sometimes we have to turn the camera around and focus on ourselves and ask ourselves in what ways are we predators…?
In what ways do we kill the prophets and stone the messengers?
One of Harry’s interpretive methodologies in understanding scripture is not to place yourself always in the role of the good guy, but in the role of the bad guy.
Today while we understand there are predators, we need to see ourselves in that role.
It seems to me that every time we use methods that try to make people do what they don’t want to do, then we are acting the part of predators.
Here are some examples, whining, cajoling, intimidating, threatening, withdrawing affection, silent treatment, name-calling, crying to get sympathy, lying, manipulating, gossiping, spreading rumours, sometimes even spreading truths if it is done to hurt or with an agenda, picking sides, creating sides, getting angry, raising voices, amassing people to your side, criticizing, pointing fingers, snide remarks, making the others the butt of jokes, laughing at people, hanging up, walking out, inappropriate texts, or notes, or emails, or phone calls, misinformation, half-truths, innuendo…
If I had another hour, I could go on and on. Something will pop into your mind of how an enemy, or a loved one, can yank your chain, or push your buttons to try and manipulate you, or put you in a frame of mind where you don’t make calm rational decisions.
And what I am saying is that we all know the techniques of the predator.
And all of us need to repent of killing the messengers and prophets of God that tell us that there is a different way to be.
A way of including, loving, caring and gathering people together under the wings of a mother hen called Jesus.
The thing is when people get together and point fingers and gather into groups and tribes, and cultures and nations and enemies and friends we feed into predatory behavior.
Predators have very much a divide and conquer attitude. Sow seeds of doubt, point fingers, divide, spread half-truths, or lies, stir up people against people. Then they pick the weak off one by one.
And so, the world gathers under different religions, under different countries, under different cultures, under different ideologies, just ripe for predators to set us up against each other,
The fox is winning when we self-identify in hostility to other groups.
For Jesus the mother hen is not just trying to gather the good guys together, but all of us together.
Jesus was trying to gather the Israelites, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Herodians, the Zealots, the contemplatives, the activists, the collaborators, the traitors, the pious and the ordinary people.
Jesus is trying to gather Russians and Ukrainians under his wing.
Jesus is trying to gather us all under his wing and show us how to be. Living in oneness with all.
Jesus laments that we will not gather under his wings. Jesus laments that we often think that the answers to this world’s problems are solved by the predators, but violence, by hurting and winning.
Jesus laments that we ourselves often use predatory behavior and hurt the messengers of peace and unity; and the stone the prophets of truth, justice, peace and non-violence.
And Jesus laments that the only protection in this life he can give us is not weapons but love.
I don’t know about you, but I know what it is like to send a child out into the world knowing that ultimately, I cannot protect them from all evil. All I can do is love them with everything I have.
A mother hen is one of the more interesting and least violent images in the bible for Jesus to choose. There are images of lions and bears and wolves and eagles.
They are all predators but today Jesus picks the image of a mother hen.
What can a mother hen do against a fox, or a wolf, or even a dog?
Barbara Brown Taylor, one of the great preachers, teachers and authors wrote about this text in an article in the Christian Century February 25, 1986, page 201.
Let me quote:
If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world –wings spread, breast exposed — but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand. Given the number of animals available, it is curious that Jesus chooses a hen. Where is the biblical precedent for that? What about the mighty eagle of Exodus, or Hosea’s stealthy leopard? What about the proud lion of Judah, mowing down his enemies with a roar? Compared to any of those, a mother hen does not inspire much confidence. No wonder some of the chicks decided to go with the fox.
But a hen is what Jesus chooses, which — if you think about it — is pretty typical of him. He is always turning things upside down, so that children and peasants wind up on top while kings and scholars land on the bottom. He is always wrecking our expectations of how things should turn out by giving prizes to losers and paying the last first. So, of course, he chooses a chicken, which is about as far from a fox as you can get. That way the options become very clear: you can live by licking your chops or you can die protecting the chicks.
Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first.
Which the fox does, as it turns out. He slides up on her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep. When her cry wakens them, they scatter. She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her — wings spread, breast exposed — without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart, but it does not change a thing. If you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.
Jesus is the mother hen who died for us, while we all scattered and ran away.
Today is a day to lament.
How many of the world’s children are suffering under the claws of predators… economic, military, criminal, political, religious, capitalist, totalitarian, family, patriarchal, colonial or otherwise…?
How many times have we as God’s children missed our opportunities, or had our dreams shattered, or been emotionally crushed by violence, or hate, or rejection or loss?
How many times have we failed Jesus, by not loving as he taught us to love, by hurting instead of turning a cheek, by playing the predator to get ahead, to acquire, or even to defend ourselves.
How many people we have loved, have we seen self-destruct before our very eyes and we seemed powerless to keep them from descending into hell?
How often have we been the fox and not the mother hen?
Are we willing to bare our breast and die, to protect others without fighting, without resistance, except to resist with love as our only weapon?
Towards the end of the Zootopia movie, Judy the bunny cop, and Nick the fox, have figured out what is causing some animals to be wild and turn savage. A neurotoxin from crocus bulbs that has been shot with a dart gun into some of the predators.
Too late, they learn that it is the Deputy mayor, Bellweather, a sheep, who is now the mayor; and that this is all her plot to discredit predators and make sure the prey have all the power.
Bellwether points the serum gun at Nick the fox and shoots him with a dart loaded with the neurotoxin.
Nick starts to become wild and chases Judy the
Bunny all around. All the while Bellwether is laughing evilly and says: Think of the headlines: “Hero Cop, killed by Savage Fox.”
And she goes on: Fear always works! And I'll dart every predator in Zootopia to keep it that way.
Finally, Nick wild and savage, lunges at Judy and bites her neck. Judy lets out a blood-curdling scream.
And does a big final scene of death screaming; Blood, Blood. Blood. And Death.
And flopping over.
All right says Nick; you are milking it.
Judy gets up and Nicks wipes his finger on the blood. Blueberries, he says, delicious.
Judy and Nick put blueberries in the darts shot by the serum gun, so they can play a hustle on Bellwether and get a confession from her, which they have recorded.
So, the fox in Zootopia, can act wild and maniacal, but really is a hero bringing peace and harmony back to Zootopia.
In the animal kingdom foxes are foxes, and do what foxes do. They are predators.
But when it comes to humans, the strange thing is that many of us humans who were predators, who were foxes, don’t have to be vicious any more.
Like Nick in Zootopia we can be kind and we can change to be human and humane.
For in Jesus Christ, foxes can be transformed by the love of a mother hen, who lays down her life for her chicks.