The stories about Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox, at least as far as I am concerned, are an integral part of Southern folklore. Unfortunately, in this day of political correctness, telling such stories has fallen by the wayside.
But, like all folk stories, these stories give us an insight into the human character. And so, with no apologies for the lack of political correctness and with no intent of offending anyone, here is the story of Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch.
Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby!
Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch by Uncle Remus
“For a mighty long time” Brer Fox had tried to catch Brer Rabbit and Brer Rabbit had outwitted him. The closest Brer Fox ever came was this:
He built a contraption of molasses and tar that he called a “Tar Baby” and put it where Brer Rabbit was sure to find it. When Brer Rabbit came across the Tar Baby he tried, fruitlessly, to converse with it. In anger, Brer Rabbit punched at the Tar Baby until he became completely stuck.
Brer Fox, overjoyed at finally capturing his nemesis, mused aloud over what to do with him. With every idea (barbecuing, hanging, etc.) Brer Rabbit pleaded, “Do what you want but please don’t throw me into the Briar Patch!” Brer Fox, wanting to hurt the rabbit as badly as possible, flung him into the briar patch. Brer Fox realized his mistake when, instead of crying in agony, Brer Rabbit smiled smugly at the fox and sang that he was “Born and bred in the briar patch!” and Brer Fox knew that Brer Rabbit had once again outwitted him.
Now, if Brer Rabbit had not been so full of himself, he never would have gotten entangled with the "tar baby". But he could not stand it that someone would ignore him and that is what got him into trouble. And the more he struggled with that sticky concoction, the worse the situation got.
But as much as Brer Rabbit’s struggle reminds us what happens when our pride prevents us from solving problems or how it can get us into a deeper mess, so too does Brer Fox’s reaction tell us something about ourselves. Like we might have, he saw the thorns of the briar patch as a problem and not as a solution.
We don’t like thorns. Thorns hurt. We want simple problems to solve in life, ones that will quickly go away. Problems that are hard to solve or take too long are often called "thorny". We don’t want them in our lives. NIMBY, or not in my backyard, has quickly become the acronym for those problems that we don’t want in our lives. Our solution to such "thorny" issues is to give them to someone else.
The reference to thorns is not new. Paul referred to "the thorn in his flesh." (2 Corinthians 12: 7) It has never really been established just what this thorn was. It could have been a real ailment or the reference to some temptation in Paul’s life. Or it could have just have been a metaphorical statement that served as a reminder of what Paul should focus on.
The writer of Proverbs also referred to thorns as an indication of laziness. "I went by the field of the lazy man, and the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding, and there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down. (Proverbs 24: 30 – 31) If we are lazy, our work becomes harder because we have to overcome the thorns that grow in the place of good work.
Even Jesus used the idea of thorns to show the difficulty of life. In the parable of the sower, some of the seeds were thrown on rocky ground and did not grow because it was impossible to do so. Some were thrown into a patch of thorns but the thorns grew more rapidly and prevented the growth of the seeds. It was only the seeds that were sown in the fertile soil that had a chance to grow properly. (Matthew 13: 3 – 9) Later, Jesus explained to the disciples that "he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes untruthful." (Matthew 13: 22)
Just as the writer of Proverbs and Jesus both place the presence of thorns in one’s life in a negative sense, so too is David’s reference to thorns in today’s reading one of contempt. His use of the phrase "sons of rebellion" is one of contempt and scorn. It is the same phrase that was hurled at David as he had fled from Jerusalem and the rebellion incited by his son Absalom. David’s comments are in anticipation of God’s judgment on the ungodly, which like thorns are fit only to be burned.
But, in the case of Brer Rabbit, he knew what good come out of thorns. For him, they were the solution to the problem, not another problem. In today’s world, such thinking is often called "outside the box" or the result of a new paradigm.
Our reading from Revelations this morning gives us insight into such a new paradigm. For many, this passage is a description of the Second Coming. But I see it in an entirely different manner. The coming of Christ in one’s life is more likely to occur as it did for John Wesley, one of quiet assurance and comfort, than it is described in Revelation. But however it comes, it brings with it a sense of assurance and comfort.
Bringing Christ into our lives is the simplest and easiest way we have for empowerment. Contrary to what people may think, having Christ in one’s life does not insure that their problems will be solved. But there will be a confidence in their lives that will enable them to face the problem and solve it.
Pilate was faced with a dilemma that evening in Jerusalem. How should he resolve the problem with Jesus? The simplest solution was not the easiest by any means and that was the solution that Pilate wanted. Pilate could not find fault with Jesus but was forced by the desires of the crowd to take an action that he did not want to.
In the end, Jesus was given a crown of thorns. This crown of thorns was in mockery of a kingly crown and meant to embarrass or ridicule Jesus. But this crown of thorns is an expression of Christ’s suffering for us. And through Christ’s suffering, we find our freedom.
There will be times when we are trapped, struggling to find a solution. In such times we need to think in a new way, much as Brer Rabbit did when he was trapped with the tar baby. Brer Rabbit knew that the thorns of the briar patch were not a source of pain but rather a path to his freedom.
Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is a day when we are reminded that Christ is king, not of this earth but rather of heaven. He is our king and his crown is made of thorns. And in the pain and suffering that those thorns inflicted on Jesus, we find our freedom from sin and death, just as Brer Rabbit found his freedom in the briar patch.