Jesus is Our Hen
Sorrow for Jerusalem
31 At that time, some Pharisees approached Jesus and said, “Go! Get away from here, because Herod wants to kill you.”
32 Jesus said to them, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Look, I’m throwing out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will complete my work. 33 However, it’s necessary for me to travel today, tomorrow, and the next day because it’s impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’
34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that. 35 Look, your house is abandoned. I tell you, you won’t see me until the time comes when you say, Blessings on the one who comes in the Lord’s name.”
I’ve done a fair amount of driving recently. Last weekend we watched The Batman for Miles’ birthday party; we could have seen it here locally, but we wanted an extra fun experience, so we went to the Alamo Drafthouse in Denton. I had lunch with a clergy colleague the other day in Aubrey. Linus and I saw Elton John in concert in Dallas- his Christmas 2019 gift. Yesterday I drove our boys to Madisonville, where my mom collected them for a week in Bay City for Spring Break. Each of those drives involved a certain amount of planning: fuel for the car, tickets for the movie, a non-chain restaurant, time coordination with the boys’ grandmother. Christy and I are making plans for a summer road trip with the boys to Florida. I’m thinking about journeys and the necessary planning today because Jesus in Luke is making preparations for his own journey- to Jerusalem. It will not be a time of entertainment, celebration, or rest.
Jesus was very familiar with Jerusalem. He wasn’t born there, but he got there as fast as he could- circumcised in the Temple on his eighth day of life. A prophetess, Anna, was there, saw the infant Jesus, and left speaking to everyone about Jesus and the coming redemption of Jerusalem. Jesus and his parents returned to Jerusalem each year for Passover. The devil’s final temptation of Jesus happened in, you can say it with me, Jerusalem. Jesus’ ministry began in the Galilee, but Jerusalem always lingered on the horizon: “As the time approached when Jesus was to be taken up into heaven, he determined to go to Jerusalem. He sent messengers on ahead of him. Along the way, they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his arrival, but the Samaritan villagers refused to welcome him because he was determined to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51-53). This passage takes place near the end of Chapter 9 of the Gospel of Luke, four chapters ahead of our text for today. Galilee was under the control of the evil Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee, during Jesus’ lifetime. Antipas was the son of Herod the Great, the Roman installed Jewish king who ordered the slaughter of the innocents after Jesus’ birth. Upon Herod’s death, the Roman occupiers divided up control of Israel between the kids.
The religious leaders, who hounded Jesus constantly throughout his ministry, at least on this day express concern for him. “Hey, you think we’ve been tough on you- honestly we have- but Herod? This guy is evil. He is looking to kill you.” Herod Antipas murdered John the Baptist; now he is coming for Jesus. “That fox?” Jesus responds. “Go tell that fox if he wants me I am right here, going about the work I have been called to. Healing people, exorcizing demons, doing the things that must be done. I’m here all weekend. If he wants me, he can find me.”
Of all the metaphorical animals to describe the nature of Herod and himself, it’s interesting that Jesus chooses fox and hen. Earlier in the gospel Jesus says, “Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Human One has no place to lay his head.” Herod’s den is a lavish fortress, the ultimate symbol of earthly power. But Jesus has no home, no place of comfort to rest. He is a hen, longing to provide shelter for his wandering and vulnerable chicks. Why didn’t Jesus choose an animal above the fox in the foodchain for himself?
The great preacher Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world –wings spread, breast exposed — but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand… So of course he chooses a chicken, which is about as far from a fox as you can get. That way the options become very clear: you can live by licking your chops or you can die protecting the chicks.
In today’s text, Jesus said, “I tell you, you won’t see me until the time comes when you say, Blessings on the one who comes in the Lord’s name.” When will the people say that line? Palm Sunday, just four Sundays from now.
“As Jesus approached the road leading down from the Mount of Olives, the whole throng of his disciples began rejoicing. They praised God with a loud voice because of all the mighty things they had seen. They said, “Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.” Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!” He answered, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.” As Jesus came to the city and observed it, he wept over it. He said, “If only you knew on this of all days the things that lead to peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes. The time will come when your enemies will build fortifications around you, encircle you, and attack you from all sides. They will crush you completely, you and the people within you. They won’t leave one stone on top of another within you, because you didn’t recognize the time of your gracious visit from God” (Luke 19:37-44).
As Jesus is led to the place where he will be crucified, outside Jerusalem’s protective city wall, “Jesus turned to the women and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t cry for me. Rather, cry for yourselves and your children. The time will come when they will say, ‘Happy are those who are unable to become pregnant, the wombs that never gave birth, and the breasts that never nursed a child.’ Then they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ If they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
“Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.”
Let’s go back to Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermon on this text. “Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first.
“Which he does, as it turns out. He slides up on her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep. When her cry wakens them, they scatter. She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her — wings spread, breast exposed — without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart, but it does not change a thing. If you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.” - Barbara Brown Taylor, “As A Hen Gathers Her Brood,” Sermon, 1996.
More than half of Luke’s gospel takes place with Jesus’ mind focused on the holy city Jerusalem. He knows the city’s history, how Solomon’s glorious temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in the year 587 BCE. He knows Herod Antipas’ renovated temple will soon be torn down by his bosses. He knows God’s prophets have been tortured, even killed in the city. He knows everything that will happen to him there. Yet, knowing all this, Jesus is resolute in carrying out his mission. He laments the holy city’s stubbornness, its arrogance, its blindness to God’s activity: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that.”
But you didn’t want that.
We are on this Lenten journey with Jesus. Journeying takes planning. We've only just begun this season; it’s only the second Sunday. It’s a few more weeks before we will shout, “Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.” with the crowds of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. For now, we are still lingering in the Galilee, but Jesus’ mind and eyes, even now, are set on Jerusalem. He knows what has happened there before, what will soon happen there to him, and what will happen in the future. “on the third day I will complete my work.” The third day- a reference to the Cross and the empty tomb. When God’s saving work will be accomplished. As we are walking with Jesus- you’ll notice the Lenten graphic has a trail leading to three crosses- Jerusalem is always on the horizon. As we walk through this season of spiritual development and self examination, as an exercise let us ask ourselves: do we want to find shelter in our caring hen’s wings? Or is the cunning fox more in line with our worldly understanding of power?