And he said to them: Go and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I am consummated (Luke 13:32).
One cannot accuse the Son of God of being “nice.” Both He and John the Baptist called a spade a spade, so to speak, as when they both dubbed the pharisees a “brood of vipers.”
The “them,” to whom Jesus speaks in the epigram used above, are the pharisees. Our Lord was preaching and healing at this time in the area of Perea east of Jerusalem and south of Galilee. Perea and Galilee were under the rule of King Herod Antipas. It was three months before Our Lord’s Passion.
At first reading one might think that these pharisees were sincere in warning Christ to beware of Herod, claiming that Herod was out to kill Him. But this was not so. Herod was curious to see Christ and even enjoy (in his superstitious inanity) the favor a miracle perhaps (Luke 9:9) and he had no intention of arresting Him as he did John the Baptist. What, then, were the pharisees up to? Cornelius a Lapide opines that these pharisees were trying to test Our Lord and see if He would flee the area and go to Judea where, they reckoned, the chief priests could more easily apprehend Him. These were the “foxes.”
Not that Herod was not a “fox.” He surely was. The word in Greek for fox, alepou, carries with it the meaning of a “crafty one,” as in “sly as a fox.” The Latin Vulgate uses the word, vulpes, for fox. The use was metaphoric. Some scholars of Koine Greek (Biblical Greek) say it can mean anything from a snake to a worm. Brother Francis, in his commentary on this verse, said that the word Our Lord used colloquially in Aramaic (Brother Francis’ first language was Arabic) meant to connote something more like a “skunk.” I remember so well how Brother would emphasize that.
A moral sense here is not without merit. In cultures that ripen around vineyards, the fox is a notorious pest. The little varmint will break down hedges to feast on the fruit of the vine. (Remember Aesop’s fable of the Fox and the Grapes?) Our Lord compared His Church to a vineyard, He is the Vine and we are the branches: I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing (John 15:5). So, the fox is any enemy of the Church who would seek to spoil the fruit by inseminating heresy or any moral corruption into the soil that nourishes the word of God. “Catch us the little foxes,” it is written in the Song of Songs, “that destroy the vines: for our vineyard hath flourished” (Canticles 2:15).
Furthermore, a Lapide notes that Jesus used the demonstrative adjective taute, “this,” “Tell this fox,” as we have it in the inspired Greek, rather than “that” as we have it in the Douay English, which translates it this way literally from the Latin Vulgate. In the Vulgate, we have dicite vulpi illi, which means “tell that fox.” Our exegete’s point is that Our Lord is calling not only Herod, but these cunning pharisees, foxes. It is as if Jesus is looking directly at the pharisees or their spokesman and saying to the whole group of them as a unit, “tell this fox,” that is you all, etc.
Hear a Lapide: “Titus says that ‘He appears, as some think, to direct the whole force of His words against Herod alone, but He turns them against the wickedness of the Pharisees rather than Herod, for He did not say ‘that fox,’ but ‘this fox.’ In fact, to show that the Pharisees resembled foxes by their pretended fraud, He carefully used a middle term, and, as S. Theophylact says, ‘with intention,’ for by saying ‘fox’ in the singular He, made them think that He meant Herod, but by the addition of the demonstrative pronoun (sic) ‘this,’ He signified that they themselves were the crafty ones.”
Jesus, our God, had no fear of any man, nor could He. He would deliver Himself up when He willed to do so. That moment was soon to come: Behold, I cast out devils, and do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I am consummated. Today and tomorrow He would continue to cast out devils and cure the ill, and then, “the third day,” His work of redemption would be consummated on the Cross. Thus, Our Lord continues: Nevertheless I must walk today, and tomorrow, and the day following: because it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.(vs. 33).
To “walk,” as used here by Our Savior, is a Hebraism, which can be employed to mean “to work,” as it is in this case.
It is as if Jesus were saying,‘Therefore, ye pharisees, you seek to make me afraid of Herod? I am not! Nor am I afraid of you. When I finish my “work” of the gospel, then and only then, I will go to Jerusalem and my work will be consummated there as My Father has so ordained’:
Therefore doth the Father love me: because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No man taketh it away from me: but I lay it down of myself, and I have power to lay it down: and I have power to take it up again. This commandment have I received of my Father (John 10: 17&18).