The popularity of chicken has risen steadily in the last 50 years. Americans buy more chicken than any other food at the center of the plate. Chicken consumption per capita has increased nearly every year since the mid 1960’s, while red meat consumption has steadily declined.[1] Americans consume chicken nearly equal to all forms of red meat.

This increased preference for chicken has seemingly worked its way into popular culture with “The Chicken Dance” and the “Funky Chicken.” Chickens are the subject of movies like Chicken Little and Chicken Run, while cartoons have often parodied chickens with Foghorn J. Leghorn of Looney Tunes, Chanticleer of Rock-A-Doodle, and Camilla of the Muppets.

We also reference chickens in our language with well-known idioms like, “fly the coup,” “don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” and “quit your squawking.” The chicken also has various reputations in contemporary American usage. To be called a “chicken” is to be insulted for cowardice. To one behaving in an uncontrolled panic we give the title “running around like a chicken with their head cut off.”

Yet along with those negative images is the comforting image of the mother hen sitting patiently on her eggs and protecting them at the sign of danger. Chickens come to mind today because in the gospel passage we read, Jesus compared himself to a chicken, or more specifically, a hen.

 The Gospel Story

 In this passage from Luke, the Pharisees come to warn Jesus to run for his life because Herod was upset with him and threatening to kill him. Jesus tells the Pharisees to “go and tell that fox I’m too busy helping people to worry about your threats.” Then Jesus takes a deep breath and laments over the people of Jerusalem, saying “how often I’ve longed to gather you like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings when the threat of dangers arises.” This story of Jesus comparing himself to a mother hen wanting to protect his chicks, along with the pervasiveness of chickens in our culture reminds me of some famous stories of chickens. Perhaps you remember these stories from your childhood or have heard them before.

The Story of Chicken Little[2]

 Chicken Little liked to walk in the woods. One day while she was walking an acorn fell from a tree and hit the top of her little head.

“My, oh, my, the sky is falling. I must run and tell the lion about it,” said Chicken Little.  She ran until she met the hen.

“Where are you going?” asked the hen.

“Oh, Henny Penny, the sky is falling and I am going to the lion to tell him about it.”

“How do you know it?” asked Henny Penny.”

“It hit me on the head, so I know it must be so,” said Chicken Little.

“Let me go with you!” said Henny Penny.

So the two ran until they met Ducky Lucky.

“The sky is falling,” said Henny Penny. “We are going to tell the lion about it.”

“How do you know that?” asked Ducky Lucky.

“It hit Chicken Little on the head,” said Henny Penny.

“May I come with you” asked Ducky Lucky.

“Come,” said Henny Penny.

So all three of them ran until they met Foxey Loxey.

“Where are you going?” asked Foxey Loxey.

“The sky is falling and we are going to the lion to tell him about it,” said Ducky Lucky.

“Do you know where he lives?” asked the fox.

“I don’t,” said Chicken Little.

“I don’t,” said Henny Penny.

“I don’t,” said Ducky Lucky.

“I do, said Foxey Loxey. “Come with me and I can show you the way.”

So Foxey Loxey walked them to his den. “Come right in,” he said.

So Chicken Little, Henny Penny, and Ducky Lucky followed Foxey Loxey into his den, never to be seen again.

The story of Chicken Little is a well-known folk tale that goes back hundreds of years and is told in various cultures around the world.  The stories sometimes vary slightly; the moral of the story is to not allow fear or anxiety cause one to act impulsively or hysterically. Like Chicken Little, Henny Penny, and Ducky Lucky, those who do will soon find such behavior leading to their own demise.

The Story of the Little Red Hen[3]

Once upon a time, there was a little red hen who lived on a farm. She was friends with a lazy dog, a sleepy cat, and a noisy yellow duck.

One day the little red hen found some seeds on the ground. The little red hen had an idea. She would plant the seeds. The little red hen asked her friends, “Who will help me plant the seeds?”

“Not I,” barked the lazy dog.

“Not I,” purred the sleepy cat.

“Not I,” quacked the noisy yellow duck.

“Then I will,” said the little red hen. So the little red hen planted the seeds all by herself.

When the seeds had grown, the little red hen asked her friends, “Who will help me cut the wheat?”

“Not I,” barked the lazy dog.

“Not I,” purred the sleepy cat.

“Not I,” quacked the noisy yellow duck.

“Then I will,” said the little red hen. So the little red hen cut the wheat all by herself.

When all the wheat was cut, the little red hen asked her friends, “Who will help me take the wheat to the mill to be ground into flour?”

“Not I,” barked the lazy dog.

“Not I,” purred the sleepy cat.

“Not I,” quacked the noisy yellow duck.

“Then I will,” said the little red hen. So the little red hen brought the wheat to the mill all by herself, ground the wheat into flour, and carried the heavy sack of flour back to the farm.

The tired little red hen asked her friends, “Who will help me bake the bread?”

“Not I,” barked the lazy dog.

“Not I,” purred the sleepy cat.

“Not I,” quacked the noisy yellow duck.

“Then I will,” said the little red hen. So the little red hen baked the bread all by herself.

When the bread was finished, the tired little red hen asked her friends, “Who will help me eat the bread?”

“I will,” barked the lazy dog.

“I will,” purred the sleepy cat.

“I will,” quacked the noisy yellow duck.

“No!” said the little red hen. “I will.” And the little red hen ate the bread all by herself.

The story of the little red hen is another old folk tale with international roots. This story is also a moral tale, promoting industry and hard work while discouraging idleness.  Those who fail to do any of the work will fail to reap of the reward.

The sacrificial hen.[4]

 Late one night, an errant spark caught fire in an old barn. In seconds the entire barn was engulfed. Awakened by the bright flames, the farmer ran outside in an effort to evacuate the barn. Running in amidst the flames the farmer opened up the stalls and freed as many animals as possible. When the heat became too unbearable and the situation too dangerous, the farmer also ran out of the barn, despite some animals still remaining.

The farmer stood out all night, helplessly watching the barn burn up.  By sunrise all that remained was blackened landscape with wisps of smoke still rising from the smoldering remains. With the aid of daylight, the farmer walked over to the smoldering pile that remained to assess the damage. While navigating the ruins, the farmer noticed the charred remains of a chicken. Seeking to preserve the livestock, the farmer had hoped the smaller animals would flee to safety on their own. Unfortunately, this hen had not. The farmer kicked over the dead hen in frustration only to be startled half to death by a flurry of activity. From underneath the charred remains scurried three little chicks.

The bulk of the mother’s body had covered them from the searing flames. Though the heat was enough to consume her, it allowed her chicks to find safety underneath. In the face of the rising flames, she had stayed with her young. She gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Told in various ways, this folktale of the sacrificial hen seems to trace back to an African Proverb. The story brings to mind thoughts of courage and self-sacrifice for the good of others, and especially the sacrifices mothers make for their children. In the face of such adversity, we would all hope to be so courageous.

Which chicken folktale?

In these three folktales we have 3 great morality stories   that illustrate the importance of staying calm, the benefit of hard-work, and the ideal of sacrifice. As we think about Jesus’s own words,  what lessons might we as Christians draw from these stories?

First we have the story of the industrious little hen and her idle friends.  Next we have the story of Chicken Little, which illustrates the dangers of acting impulsively. And finally, we have the story of the mother hen, a story of love and self-sacrifice.  What lessons might we learn from these stories?

The story of the little red hen emphasizes the importance of hard work and the dangers of idleness. While the morals of the little red hen might be acceptable in a capitalistic society, we might wonder if the little red hen’s unwillingness to share is a good example for followers of Jesus? As people who speak of being undeserving recipients of God’s grace, in a place where we celebrate that God first loved us, are the morals of the little red hen appropriate for Christians or a church? When are we tempted to be like the little red hen, unwilling to share of ourselves or our church?  How might we as Christians and as a church, act with a spirit of grace which the little red hen seemed to lack.

Looking at the story of Chicken Little, how can we as people of faith resist succumbing to anxiety like Chicken Little? As a church, how we be in fear that the sky is falling? How often are we tempted to assume the worst, rather than trust the future to God’s hands?  “It’s a tragic irony   for the church to be anxious about its future when we” have entrusted our lives to God [5]. How often do we model the behaviors of Chicken Little, and how can we instead act in faith and trust? And how might we as Christians and as a church act with a sense of faith and trust in the future when Chicken Little had none?

Considering the story of the self-sacrificial hen, As followers of Jesus, how can we imitate her example? As a church, how can we model the willingness to sacrifice what we desire for the good of others? What might it look like then, for us to give grace when it is undeserved, for us to act calmly in the face of fear, and for us to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others?And beyond ourselves, as a church, as a community of faith, how might we also live out these values?

Let us remember the words of Jesus who said,  “how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” As Christians, are we willing? As a church, are we willing?

 

[1] <http://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/about-the-industry/statistics/> (accessed February 18, 2016).

[2] <http://www.worldstory.net/en/stories/chicken_little.html> (accessed February 18, 2016).

[3] <http://www.enchantedlearning.com/stories/fairytale/littleredhen/story/> (accessed February 18, 2016).

[4] <http://www.afriprov.org/african-stories-by-season/14-animal-stories/69-the-sacrifice-of-the-white-hen.html> (accessed February 18, 2016).

[5] M. Craig Barnes, “The Post Anxiety Church,” The Christian Century Vol. 133, No. 3 (February 3, 2016): 33.

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