Beware the Foxtails! Applying Mark 12

Beware the Foxtails
Beware? or Not a care? A woman walks oblivious to the foxtails on either side.

Photo by Florian van Duyn on Unsplash


Beware? That’s the first of many warnings Jesus gives us in Mark 12, during his final week. That ominous warning comes to us from Old English, a single syllable cry, “Ware!” calling all hunters within earshot to “watch out!” You can imagine how that short cry would carry its message with clarity and speed, putting its hearers on red alert.

But what is the specific danger at hand? Sometimes we have to learn that the hard way.

I took my doggie for her walk yesterday afternoon. Time was short so I picked up a lemon that had fallen from a nearby tree and tossed it for her. Sasha loves to chase lemons, except she doesn’t bring them back to me. She prefers to settle down in the grass so she can nibble on her catch before I toss it again.

After a few tosses, runs, and nibbles, we headed home. I could see some grass in her fur, so made a mental note to brush her when I got home.

Beware the Trouble in the Night

As soon as I walked inside, I started making dinner. By the time I’d cleaned up, finished at the computer, and tackled my after dinner project, I’d completely forgotten about the dog.

Around midnight we were awakened by a flap, flap, flap, jingle, jingle, jingle. Sasha was shaking her head frantically, her ears and choke chain singing duet. I finally got up and checked her ears. What could be bothering her? It was hard to tell with her thick fur blocking my view, but something was obviously wrong.

Oh, yeah, I remembered, I never did brush those burrs off her coat. I wonder if that could have something to do with it.

Foxtails? Who Knew?

Between the dog’s flapping and my growing unease, my husband and I were both up before dawn. I told Mark about the walk. He asked a few questions, consulted his computer and exclaimed, “Fox-tails! They’re wicked!” We boned up on this unfamiliar danger.

Foxtails and grass seed awns are designed to do one thing: burrow. This is how the grass spreads as the seed slowly works its way deeper and deeper into soil and becomes lodged when the barb-like spines set in place. And this is why foxtails are such a hazard to dogs.

Due to the unique shape of this seed, it’s always moving forward — never backward. Forward through your dog’s skin. Forward through their eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.

As soon as the vet opened, we were at his door. He was able to find five or six barbs in each paw, and one in her left ear. When I got home with her, I saw a foxtail on the kitchen floor. “Watch out Sasha!” I ran to get a broom. Half an hour later I’d swept the house, washed out her crate and put her towels through the laundry.

Beware the fox-tails! Who knew?


Jesus is surrounded by enemies during the scenes of Mark 12. It is the week between his triumphal entry and the Passover. The Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and Scribes have overcome their differences to unite against him, fulfilling the prophecy of Psalm 2.

The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”

Psalm 2:2-3

What does he say to these foes, who come to him in wave after wave of cunning questions, meant to trip him?

Jesus is also surrounded by his disciples and crowds of curious followers. They are full of messianic expectations, hanging on his every word. What does he say to them? How does he carefully guide their hope away from superstition and falsehoods to the True One who stands before them?

“Beware” is a word of grace.

In Mark 12 we hear Jesus speak to both groups. Sometimes he quotes the Scriptures, at other times he interprets them or speaks his own authoritative saying. The words vary. Among them we hear

  • parable,
  • rebuke,
  • truth,
  • encouragement,
  • caution.

To one he says, “You are quite wrong.” To another, “You are not far from the Kingdom.” But all the words share one thing in common–they speak grace because they give the hearer a chance to change.

One such word is “beware.”

In Mark 12:38, Jesus says, “Beware of the scribes… .” He is warning–not just his disciples, but the crowds–about loving reputation, feeding off honor, exploiting privilege. He cautions his present and future followers about hypocrisy, about parading your faith for public notice instead God’s alone.

Hypocrisy isn’t something I think about very often. It’s simply not on my daily radar, a non-problem as far as I’m concerned. I’m much more preoccupied with real problems, like being cut off in traffic by crazy drivers, running out of money before I run out of month, getting through my list for the day.

But Jesus’ words woke me up. I began to see hypocrisy burrowing like a foxtail into my “fur,” causing trouble.

But Jesus’ words woke me up. They made me pay attention. I began to see hypocrisy burrowing like a foxtail into my “fur,” causing trouble. I could see it in hasty emails promising prayer without follow through. There it was in glib greetings that were meant to brush people off more than welcome them in. I could see it in quoting Scripture to someone before I’d really listened. I was starting to see it everywhere, just like those fox-tails all over the kitchen floor.

“Beware” is a gracious word. What small burr is Jesus warning you about today? Let’s run together to his word for clarity and his cross for cleansing.

Find more Gospel of Mark posts here.