A Hen Gathers Her Chicks - Lectionary Reflection for Lent 2C (Luke 13)

Luke 13:31-35 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
                As we continue along the Lenten path, we know that Jesus' path leads to his death. While Jesus could try to escape this fate by fleeing, that would require him to give up his ministry. When Jesus went up the mountain of Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36), he discussed his future with Moses and Elijah, who reinforced what he already knew about his impending departure from this earth. By this point in Luke's story of Jesus,  Jesus knew what was coming. He was also ready to face it head-on. In Luke's Gospel, from the moment Jesus descended from the mountain his face was turned toward Jerusalem, a city that tended to deal harshly with prophets.

I’m sure Jesus would have preferred a different way if that was possible. Courting martyrdom is not a good posture in life. However, as many figures in history have understood, sometimes that’s the only way forward. Jesus understood that the way of the prophet often leads to death. Having been reminded by Moses and Elijah about what lay ahead for him, a group of Pharisees, his usual opponents, come to warn him that Herod Antipas was out to get him. Jesus doesn't seem to be too surprised because he tells them to tell Herod, whom he calls "The Fox," that he wasn't going to stop doing what he'd been doing. He told them to let Herod know he was up to with his ministry of exorcism and healing. At least he was planning on doing this until the third day, At that point, he would rest. That would be the day of resurrection! 

            Passion Week is foreshadowed in this passage. There are signals of a triumphant entry when the people will cry out “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” The ending of the ministry is hinted at, as well as the resurrection in the mention made here of the third day. Consider also this declaration: “Today, Tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way.” This triad of days is not mere chronology. It’s a signal that something momentous is about to occur. Yes, death will come, whether it’s Herod or not, but death will not conquer. With this in mind, Jesus is ready to meet his fate. He will not avoid going to Jerusalem, no matter what Herod has in mind (remember that Herod is not in control of things in Jerusalem, but he provides a good foil for Jesus).

           Jesus may not fear his fate, but he does grieve for the city of Jerusalem. Luke doesn’t mention Jesus weeping, but I can imagine tears coming to his eyes as a laments the fate of Jerusalem. It is good to remember that by the time this Gospel is written late in the first century, Jerusalem had been laid waste by the Romans. The Temple was destroyed. The priestly office became irrelevant. Jerusalem has fallen, and the people who remember it must grieve. It was supposed to be the city of God, but it no longer served that purpose. The sense you get here is that if only they had listened to Jesus and embraced his message things would be different.

        So Jesus shares a lament over the city of Jerusalem. God had sent messengers to this city, but they had often been killed by the residents. Like many of us, they didn't enjoy hearing prophetic words. Like them, we resist the message, sometimes violently. For some reason, we seem not to like hearing prophetic words. We resist them, sometimes violently. As he laments the fate of Jerusalem, Jesus compares himself to a mother hen who tries to gather her brood under her wings to protect them. She’s been calling out to her chicks, as a mother hen will do. Unfortunately, her chicks ignore her call. Therefore, they don’t heed the warning, and as a result, they put themselves in danger. 

                Something needs to be said here about the maternal imagery that Jesus uses for himself. It is an important reminder that our language about God needs to be expanded. Male language has traditionally been used to speak of God, but Scripture uses both male and female imagery and so should we. By broadening our language for God we not only include others, but it reminds us that God transcends our language. God is not the “man upstairs.” God is God. While God can be described as a father, God can also be described as a mother, as is true here in Jesus' self-description of being a mother hen who seeks to protect her chicks.

                As I read this passage and consider the message of Jesus, I have to wonder about whether Jesus weeps at this moment in history. Conflict has long been present in our world. In percentages, the number of those killed and displaced today could possibly be less than in earlier generations, but that doesn’t make things better. In recent years, we've seen millions of Syrians displaced by war. Now, it's the Ukraine that is suffering. What is mind-boggling is that Russia and Ukraine are both historically Orthodox countries, and the Russian Orthodox Patriarch gives cover to a devastating war against neighbors, many of who are also Orthodox Christians. It seems as if nihilism has taken over the world. We seem intent on self-destructing. If it's not war, it's a climate that is changing, promising disaster. Democracy is in retreat, even here in the United States. Jesus would gather us under his wing as a mother hen would do, but we seem unwilling to take cover under that wing.   

            In the Gospel story, Jesus faces a difficult journey. Death awaits him, but so does resurrection. That promise is wrapped up in the quotation from Psalm 118:26: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Thus, the nihilistic vision that seems to be captivating our world will not be the final word, but it may do great damage to this world lest we listen to the voice of God and change our ways. That is the message of Lent, is it not? Contextually, based on when we think Luke's Gospel was written, Jerusalem will fall victim to an expansive empire, but God’s love and grace are more expansive than this fate. When we understand this promise, then the future is no longer quite as daunting. So, let us continue the journey, heeding the call of Jesus the Mother Hen so that we might refuge. Then, empowered by the Spirit, we can follow Jesus into the city and face whatever comes our way. 

Image Attribution: Austrian, Ben, 1870-1921. Motherhood, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=58873 [retrieved March 6, 2022]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ben_Austrian_-_Motherhood_-_1962.230.1_-_Reading_Public_Museum.jpg.


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