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Like a Mother Hen
The Bible at times refers to the mothering nature of God. So on Mother's Day, I would like to explore with you how this portrayal of God can impact our daily lives. Let's listen to this startling imagery, which Jesus used to describe himself.
In this passage he is talking about the Kingdom of God and how God will gather people from the four corners of the earth to eat together in the Great Banquet. Some religious leaders warn him that he has become a threat to King Herod and the powers that be. Listen for Jesus' reply in Luke 13:29-35:
Prayer: Breathe on us, breath of God, fill us with your life anew that we may love all that you love and do what you would do. Amen.
One of the most striking images in the New Testament is the one Jesus uses here. Some Pharisees inform Jesus that King Herod will get rid of him if he keeps doing what he's doing. Jesus then notes that he is not in Jerusalem yet which is where the prophets die.
Yet his emotions rise for the city of Jerusalem, for its history, for its rich promise as a Light to all the nations, and for its people. Jesus laments, "How I'd love to gather you under my wings," he says, "but you would not be willing."
Here we see the Divine One portrayed as a Mother Hen. She flaps her wings to bid her chicks to come and find safety from the fox, that is, from the Herods of the world. Jesus the Messiah is set to save the people from all those who would destroy others for self gain and glory. Yet he uses the image of a female chicken in this battle he knows he must wage. This is hardly the "Clash of the Titans" kind of battle we are used to seeing.
Why would Jesus use such a surprising metaphor for himself in this battle between good and evil? Perhaps it might help if we consider that Jesus has drawn upon a tradition of scripture that portrays the mothering aspects of God's love that overcomes hatred and separation.
What are some examples of these? In Genesis when Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden, God makes clothing for them, protecting them in their banishment. That is the work of a homemaker who clothes her children.
Our passage in Hosea reveals a mother's aching heart for the people of Israel. Even though the disobedient people have rebelled against God and deserve God's anger, God reveals that non rational aspect of unconditional love. God is like a mother who remembers her child in infancy and as a toddler whom she taught to walk and delighted in. God acknowledges those bands of love that simply cannot let Israel go:
"How can I give you up? It was I who taught you to walk. I took you up in my arms; I healed you, led you with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I bent down to you and fed you..." (Hosea 11:3-4).
Isaiah 49 paints God's relationship to Jerusalem in these mothering terms: "Can a woman forget her nursing child or show no compassion for the child of her womb?" Later in Isaiah God is shown as a mother comforting her infant:
"Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands." (Isaiah 49: 15-16) and later, "As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem." (Isaiah 66:13).
There is a tender, protective quality about this kind of relationship. It's like that kind of "I'm wild about you, kid, just because you are you. You haven't earned my love. It's just there. My heart lights up when I see you, when I think about you. My heart goes out to you..." If you have experienced that non- rational, affection for another, then maybe this begins to give a glimpse of the way that God loves us.
Our human experience of this kind of love is just a drop in the ocean of love that God shows in the face of Jesus. In Luke Jesus reveals God's searching, aching love as a mother hen who would gather all her chicks under her safe, protective wings. At the same time the mother hen can be quite fierce in guarding her young from the predators that stalk them. She will give her life to stand between danger and her chicks.
Have you ever thought about this kind of gathering, protective love that God reveals? It is one that reaches out. It warns against dangers. It is one that keeps the chicks close for their safety and welfare.
I also imagine this mothering force of God's love as a huge magnet. There is a great drawing force that keeps inviting people to turn to God and come back to the fold.
God has planted within us this kind of magnetic attraction; there is a deep yearning within us. And that yearning is a reflection of God's intense yearning for us to return to God, to live in the protective shadow of God's own wings. To allow ourselves to be loved as Jesus showed, that "Love Divine which is all compassion, joy of heaven to earth come down..."
Luke shows this intense, fierce, drawing, wooing kind of God revealed in Jesus. Yet at the same time, it also shows the tragic reality of life: the chicks do not respond to the calls, but go their own way. They are vulnerable to that fox, those Herods of the world, those destructive forces that would eat them alive. Yet they do not know that, or they deny that something like that can happen to them.
Most of us know what it's like to love someone who has turned away. Have you ever grieved in helpless frustration over someone you love who has made bad choices and suffered the consequences?
Perhaps most of us can relate to Jesus lamenting over a loved one or a friend who will not hear his warnings. Jesus looked at the city of Jerusalem and thought of all the people who gather there:
"...How often have I desired...how often have I longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings...and you were not willing!" (Luke 13:34)
And yet, I know from my own experience that there have been many times, however, when I don't hear that voice of love that calls me back to that safe, sacred space. Or rather, like those wayward chicks that the mother hen beckons to, I am not willing to stop and listen for that Voice of God in my life. I get busy with my own agendas and doing things but neglect that relationship that feeds my soul.
Or, have you found that times of discouragement can breed doubt and a dark outlook? You find yourself tuning out Christ's gentle signals to "come on home" to God? That's when the church, the Body of Christ, makes such a difference. Like a huge mother hen, it reaches out to comfort, to invite, to nourish, to challenge, to encourage growth, to gather and attract people into a loving relationship with God and others, to offer the meaning and purpose that people are longing to find.
How have you tasted that kind of magnetic love? Is it in a study or prayer group in which people share their experiences; you hear the soul of another speak, and something resonates deeply within you? Is it in the joyous generosity of people helping other people through the food bank or reaching out to foster care children and youth?
Do you find your heart "strangely warmed" by a phrase in a hymn? A new awareness wakened in one of the prayers? A new insight from the sermon or the warm welcome you see in the faces of others who extend the sign of Peace? Maybe you get a sense of God's magnetic love that goes beyond words when the music touches your soul?
How about those times when the youth lead the congregation in worship like last week?
God is the Great Attractor writes Barbara Brown Taylor. There is something planted in our souls like a homing device that responds to this magnetic pull. We cannot quite explain this. We simply have this holy longing. Then we discover that it is God's yearning for us. Like that homemaker who diligently searches for that lost coin or that father who runs to welcome the wayward prodigal home, so God keeps gathering us in and will not rest until we find ourselves in the place where we really belong in relationship with God and others and our own best selves.
So, take heart, those of us who realize how we have tuned out this call of God. Take heart, those who grieve over others who may be deaf to God's bidding. We can listen to the promise of Isaiah that God continues to woo people back:
"Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, 'Give them up' and to the south, 'Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.'" (Isaiah 43:5-7)
Even though a mother hen image may seem weak in comparison to a destructive fox like Herod, God's wisdom prevails. It was not through force or violence that Christ overcame the dark, demonic forces of all that demeans human life and creation.
Rather, Christ, once again turned the whole world upside down by his willing obedience to God's greater plan. Jesus gave his whole life, his whole future, his own self to God, so that we may live and be gathered into God's plan of eternal life.
Christ used an unexpected image of a mother hen for himself and so he gently, yet powerfully, still calls out to us today.
May this Mother's Day be filled with that new birth into eternal life which Christ has won for all of us.
Thanks be to God in whom we live and move and have our being.
©Kate Thoresen 2010