(Luke 13: 31-35)
I must admit that I deeply struggled with this passage. What does it mean? There are too many theological obstacles for me to work through to identify where the good news is. Maybe you also found it a bit confusing, where is the good news in this complex text? What does Jesus mean in all these statements? What are the Pharisees saying? It wasn’t until I read an essay by pastor Debie Thomas that I was able to start finding any meaning in this passage. Thomas describes three ways that this passage, and particularly this image of Jesus as the mother hen, is calling us this season of Lent.
First, This passage calls us to return. In the season of Lent we are particularly called to repentance as a means of returning to God. Called to turn away from the things that keep us from knowing and experiencing God fully so that we can embrace the ways that God is in our lives. And this passage invites us to do just that. To repent of the ways that our ideas of God have gotten in the way of us knowing God.
Jesus says “you were not willing.” You were not willing, not willing to let me love you, you were not willing to let me protect you, you were not willing to let me be with you. So, we must consider how we are not willing. How we are not willing to accept a God who is vulnerable. How we are not willing to accept a God who loves us when we think we can’t be lovable. How we are not willing to accept a God that sits with us in the midst of danger rather than taking the danger away. How we are not willing to love God when God doesn’t totally make sense.
We repent so we can return. Return to a God who longs to comfort us, a savior who desires us, Jesus who wants to gather us in. What in us is afraid to return, afraid to return to the God who desires us, the God who longs to gather us in, the savior who promises to gather us under her wing? Lent is a particular invitation for us to consider those things so that we might repent and return to God. And this passage particularly, we hear Jesus’ cry for us, his children, to return to him.
Secondly, this passage, it calls us to lament. Jesus weeps for his children who do not accept him. Perhaps you too weep for what is not. A church that does not have full pews, a child who will not call you back, a relationship that could have been but isn’t, a country and world that is divided by hate rather than united by love. Jesus weeps for these things too.
He cries out in distress over how things are not as they could be. And maybe in this season of Lent, that is all we need to do, to cry out, to lament the pain this may cause us. To sit in the anguish what could be and is not causes with our honest and vulnerable God who cries out and laments with us.
So, why don’t we sit in the uncomfortable and vulnerable reality of lamenting – lamenting that which is not as it should be, just as Jesus did.
Finally, this passage calls us to embrace radical vulnerability. Jesus shows us here an incredible and vulnerable side of himself. Jesus describes himself as a farm animal, not a domineering powerful animal but rather one who is vulnerable to all sorts of attacks. The mother hen. He weeps for the way things have not gone as he planned. He describes his deep longing for his children, Jerusalem. He describes himself not as a strong and powerful God but as one who longs and desires to be welcomed by his children, a vulnerable God.
Author, storyteller, researcher and all-around advocate of vulnerability, Brene Brown writes about vulnerability: “I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind let us think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives and may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow – that’s vulnerability.”
Which I think is exactly what Jesus does here. He describes his deep longing for his children to welcome his love. So how might we take on a savior who is radically vulnerable, a savior who does not defeat the threats around him, but who continues to move in their midst, practically ignoring these looming threats? What might it look like for us, as the people of God, to accept Jesus’ radical vulnerability as our strength?
The strength of a savior that chooses to welcome all his children
The strength of a savior who lays bare all his fears and feelings
The strength of a savior who walks into the face of defeat
The strength of a savior who opens himself up to challenges
The strength of a savior who gathers her children into her body
What would it look like if we accepted Jesus, even just for a season, not as one who will keep us from the fox or the foxes of the world or who will ward the fox off, but one who will stand with us in the middle of it all, honestly and openly gathering us all in even when it will mean death for him? What might it look like for us to embrace radical vulnerability as a divine characteristic?
Another confession, I got the title of this sermon wrong. The title of the sermon is “God Moves Past All Obstacles” which implies that God slies God’s way around obstacles in some kind of divine maneuvering. I think the sermon would be more aptly titled, “God moves in spite of obstacles.” Or “God Moves all over the obstacles” or “God moves in the obstacles” Because what Jesus does here is not to overcome the obstacles that the Pharisees warn him about but rather he pushes them to the side, he knows about them but they are not what he is here for.
God Moves In the Obstacles, yes, I think this makes more sense. In the coming weeks, Jesus will not avoid Jerusalem and Herod’s threats, Jesus will not turn his head away from the things that threaten him, and perhaps most perplexing of all, Jesus will not destroy the threats that face him. Rather, what Jesus will do is stand right in the middle of them like a mother hen, welcoming and embracing all her chicks under her wing. In the coming weeks we will see that what Jesus does is march in a roundabount way of healing and teaching into the city of Jerusalem where he will peacefully accept the death Herod has waiting for him.
The text we find for ourselves this day comes right dab in the middle of the Lukan travel narrative. In chapter 9 of the gospel of Luke, Jesus “turns his face toward Jerusalem” and from then on in the next 10 chapters Jesus is on the move, moving from place to place with Jerusalem, the cross, death, and resurrection as his final destination. He moves in a very roundabout way, which ought to point out to us readers that everywhere he goes and everything he does is intentional, not accidental. And here in the 13th chapter, we hear a bit about the final destination Jesus has, Jerusalem, and how his eyes are intently fixed on the cross and what will happen in Jerusalem.
And so we find Jesus on his way to Jerusalem when he is approached by the Pharisees about the threat that awaits him in Jerusalem. Jesus’ response in verse 34 speaks volumes about who Jesus is: 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!
Images of God have come in many and varied forms – an insanely strong and muscular man who can brood off evil. A lion who protects his children from prey. An eagle even, which is my favorite image, strong yet at peace. But here Jesus gives us an image I’m certain has seldom been featured in images of God, a mother hen. It doesn’t appear very often in the bible, this thinking of Jesus as a mother hen, but here in this passage, that is exactly how Jesus describes himself so it would do us all well to consider what it might mean to us to have a savior who describes himself as a mother hen.
How often have I desired to gather you. Jesus says. During this Lenten season of repentance, of transformation, and vulnerability may we be called and comforted by the God of the vulnerable and the God who embraces vulnerability. By the God of those who weep and the God who weeps too. By the God who calls us home and the God who provides a safe home.
The image of the mother hen may confuse us, it may not be the God for whom we hoped, perhaps we want the lion God or the muscular God or even the eagle God. But I find hope in this mother hen God who does not promise to keep us from pain but promises to love us in the pain who cries with us and invites us to be hers in the midst of all our and our Savior’s vulnerability.
In the name of God our creator redeemer and sustainer. Amen.