~ Luke 13:31-35 ~
We’re sitting around the blazing campfire under a starlit sky. We’ve had a good, hard day climbing up to this 10,000-foot high meadow. And now, after having set up our tents and cooked our supper, we are enjoying the fire as we sip our hot chocolate. As the leader of this motley crew of teens, it is now my task to get them to talk about themselves, about life. So, I use the question that every camp leader has learned will get a response: “If you could be any animal what animal would you want to be?”
And magically, they respond. Often, they say “eagle.” Some choose “bear.” Or maybe “wolf.” A smart aleck might say, “rat” or “skunk” or “mosquito” just to get a laugh. But I can say with some certainty that in all the times I’ve asked the question, no one has said “chicken.”
Who would want to be a chicken? And yet, here is Jesus identifying himself, and by extension God, as a chicken. OK, to be more likeable, a “hen,” but a chicken, nevertheless. Thus, it raises the legitimate question: “Is God a chicken?”
Animal metaphors are interesting because there isn’t necessarily one characteristic for any given animal. I mean, as majestic as is an eagle, and being our national emblem and such, it is a bird of prey feasting on cute little bunnies and helpless field mice, or even dead carrion. It’s all a matter of perspective.
And chickens? In modern usage, we use the chicken metaphor to describe being a coward, afraid to stand there and take it. We hear of “playing chicken,” that dangerous game of driving our cars head on to see who veers off first. The bully cries “chicken” at the kid who runs away from the fight. Being a chicken is not a noble thing. Yet, here is the question for today: “Is God a chicken?”
How often do we use the term “mother hen” of one who is particularly nurturing and protective of her loved ones? True, its often said in a disparaging manner – too much nurturing. Although, I understand the term of choice these days is “helicopter parent,” hovering to much.
Given all this, how interesting is it that Jesus uses this metaphor: God trying to gather God’s children together as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings. Again, a chicken is not usually the first animal we think of as a protective animal. No, we might go for the eagle or the bear, animals with talons and claws – powerful animals. Yet Jesus chooses the lowly chicken. God, the mother hen, calls us to the safety of the nest, underneath those downy wings, beneath the strong heart that beats in her vulnerable breast. There is, indeed, power in this image – a vulnerable power.
Make no mistake – danger lurks everywhere. The Pharisees come to Jesus to warn him of danger. Jesus is in the last days of his journey to Jerusalem. He has been teaching and healing along the way. In giving this warning, we don’t know if these particular Pharisees were just trying to get Jesus to leave their territory, for as you may well know, Jesus had many run ins with the Pharisees. I suppose it’s possible that it may have been out of genuine concern for his welfare. But the message is clear: Herod is out to kill you.
Herod was not a nice guy. Serving at the pleasure of the Roman Empire, Herod was a ruthless, violent dictator of the worse sort. He was everything Jesus despised. So, assuming Herod has heard of Jesus’ exploits, he would want to be rid of a prophet who is subverting his rule. Herod might very well be out to kill Jesus.
Jesus response to this warning? You go tell that fox, who devours the weak (notice, another animal metaphor), that I will continue to do what I do, casting out demons and healing the sick, today, tomorrow and the next. Besides, prophets aren’t killed out in the countryside; they are only killed in the city, in Jerusalem. Yet, Jerusalem is the very place Jesus is headed. This can’t end well.
“Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” Jesus laments. How enthralled you are to the bondage of Herod’s power. You kill the prophets and stone the messengers that come to you. How I wish you could be liberated. How I wish you could find safety and comfort under the wings of God’s provision and care, even as a mother hen gathers her chicks under the protection of her wings.
Alas, that is not to be. You have decided with whom you are aligned. Even when I enter your gates, says Jesus, and you cry, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of God,” even then, I’m afraid, you will not reject the power-hungry ruler who oppresses you and exploits you. Instead, I’m afraid, you will reject me and the liberating message of God’s kingdom of peace and justice.
Indeed, that is what they did. It seems that people throughout the ages and maybe especially today are enthralled by such power-hungry rulers. And, as we are all too aware, such rulers exploit the people’s fears to maintain their power, their enthrallment to him. We live in a time fueled by fear – fear of the other, fear of economic insecurity, fear that the things we value will be taken from us, fear of our own shortcomings, fear of death. However, we also may be afraid that Jesus asks too much of us. Being a Jesus-follower is wrought with uncertainty. I mean, look at what happened to him! Yet, as a mother hen, God gathers us under her wings.
Maybe we are afraid we aren’t up to the task of being a follower of Jesus. “I can barely take care of myself,” you might say. “There are so many things which are burdening me right now. I can’t stand, or walk, or serve in the way you should be served.” Yet,even in the midst of your doubts, God stands by us. As a mother hen protects her young, God gathers us under her wings.
Maybe we are too afraid to venture at all on this Lenten journey. “How can I serve God?” you might say. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t have the fancy words that would bring comfort to the hearts of people who are troubled. I can’t even solve my own problems. You ask me to reach out and take your hand, Jesus, but I fear that I may fall and falter.” Yet, God holds our hand and doesn’t let go. As a mother hen protects her young, God gathers us under her wings.
Maybe we are afraid God would reject us. “Why would God want someone as lacking as me?” we might say. “I’m not sure what it means to be your child, O God. I don’t know if I measure up. Sometimes I feel hopeless, discouraged.” Yet, God has given us the name “beloved,” so we can say, “I am your child, God, I am yours.” As a mother hen protects her young, God gathers us under her wings.
Maybe we are afraid that too much is being asked of us. “I feel as though I am spinning around in circles,” you might say.”I am called to go here, to go there, to be this kind of person, to be that kind of person. Too much.” Yet, God reaches out to you, one who is called “beloved,” and has laid claim to your heart. As a mother hen protects her young, God gathers us under her wings.
My prayer is that you can pray with me, “I feel your presence with me as you hold my hand, stand by me, and call me your own. Now, God, guide my feet. I place all my trust and my life in your care.” May God, the mother hen, who gathers us under her wings, give us all such assurance and purpose. Amen.