In today’s lesson, we witness an argument between the Pharisees and Jesus. But there is so much more at stake then first meets the eye. We are witnessing a contest, in which fear seeks to triumph over love.
Jesus has been making his way to Jerusalem, while stopping along the way to teach, preach, and heal. And as Jesus was preaching to a crowd some Pharisees came up to him and said, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you” (Luke 13:31). Jesus responds by saying,
“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. 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.’ 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! (Luke 13:32-34)”
The emotion in this exchange is palpable. Both Herod, who made the threat, and the Pharisees, who delivered it--and not out of kindness, are threatened by this wandering preacher, who was teaching, and healing, and bringing the message of God’s love to society’s outcasts. Jesus was bringing people together in a way that caused him to become a credible threat--both to the religious establishment and the local government. They thought if they threatened murder, it would scare Jesus and his followers into compliance. Except, much to their dismay, it didn’t work like that because Jesus was the real deal and no amount of fear tactics could ever drive him away.
There are two things that I think are particularly important to notice in this exchange.
The first has to do with the fact Jesus calls Herod a fox. In a lenten podcast, Bishop Fisher reminds us that foxes did not have the same characteristics we give them today, such as cleverness or sexiness. Instead, rabbis of the time considered foxes to be useless and worthless. Herod thought of himself as a lion, a mighty leader who had complete dominion over his kingdom. Yet Jesus flipped this idea on its head when he describes Herod as a useless and worthless fox.
In essence, he is saying, Herod, “Herod, you have no power over me. I’m performing cures, and healing. I have a life to live, and you can’t stop me from living it.”
In his podcast, Bishop Fisher suggests we do the same. What has power over us? Is it fear, is it addiction, is it depression, is it the copious amount of stuff in our homes? What if we were to to turn to that thing that holds us back, from being our fullest and best self, and say, “You have no power over me. I have important work to do. I have a life to live, and you can’t stop me from living it.”
The second important thing to notice in this passage, is that Jesus describes himself as a mother hen who longs to gather up her brood under her wings. It’s not the first time God has self described with feminine imagery. In Deuteronomy God is described as a mother eagle, and in Hosea God is described as a fierce mother bear. For some of us, it might be a bit uncomfortable to lean into the feminine aspects of God, given so much of our liturgy refers to God using masculine language. And know, that there’s nothing inexplicably wrong with praying to our father in heaven. It’s when we only pray to God using masculine language that we miss out on a deeper connection with our creator.
In Genesis, it describes how in the beginning, God created us in the image and likeness of God, both male and female. Then in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, he writes that there is no longer male or female, for we are now all one in Christ. The scriptures attempt to paint a picture of God, one where God is both male and female and at the same time no gender at all. The nature of God is bigger than anything we could ever conceive or imagine, so it is important that we notice Jesus describing himself as our mother hen.
As a parent, I take great comfort in these images of a mother eagle, bear, and hen. In fact, this past week there was not one, but two incidents, where my children were hurt, and my blood has still not stopped racing. I want to swoop in like a mother eagle, to roar at my adversaries like a mother bear, and to hide my children under my wings, so that I might protect them. Honestly, I couldn’t even imagine preaching on this text as my blood boiled within me.
And yet, isn’t that the point? That is how much our God loves us. Jesus is our mother hen, who wants to gather us under her wings, to protect us from the dangers of this world, even though she knows what awaits her in Jerusalem. To help us grow and flourish into the people we were born to be, so that together, we might transform this world into what God created it to be. Have you ever loved someone or something in that mother hen kind of way that Jesus loves us?
Do you remember how it felt when that someone or something was in danger? That is how God feels about us--that overwhelming kind of love that will stop at nothing to give us our very best chance.
In her book, Bread of Angels, Barbara Brown Taylor describes the scene from today’s gospel in a way I can’t stop thinking about.
“It may have looked like a minor skirmish to those who were there, but the contest between the chicken and the fox turned out to be the cosmic battle of all time, in which the power of tooth and fang was put up against the power of a mother’s love for her chicks. And God bet the farm on the hen.”
“Depending on whom you believe she won. It did not look that way at first, with feathers all over the place and chicks running for cover. But as time went on it became clear what she had done. She had refused to run from the foxes, and she had refused to become one of them. Having loved her own, who were in the world, she loved them to the end. She died a mother hen, and afterwards she came back to them with teeth marks on her body to make sure they got the point: that the power of foxes could not kill her love for them, nor could it steal them away from her. They might have to go through what she went through in order to get past the foxes, but she would be waiting for them on the other side with love stronger than death” (p. 129-130).
Our mother hen, Jesus, longs to gather us under her wings. So that we can gather all the strength and love possible, before we take those brave steps and leave the safety of our mother’s wings. Where we might dare to overcome our fears, to be our best selves, to come together and change this world into God’s greatest dream for creation. To tell that fear or addiction or depression or stuff that holds us hostage, “You have no power over me. I have important work to do. I have a life to live, and you can’t stop me from living it.”
We know it’s possible, we know it can happen, because we know what happens at Easter. We know that love will always conquer fear. Amen.
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