Not too long ago, a windstorm knocked the power out in our community. We were without electricity and heat for almost two days. I remember thinking how unbelievably cold our house was and wishing for a fireplace. That experience took me back to my childhood, to a time when my family still used oil heating.
On those few occasions when the oil ran out before payday, we went without heat in our home.
My mom bundled us up in blankets and took us into the kitchen. She turned on the oven and pulled open its door. We spread out blankets onto the floor, created sleeping mats and laid down next to my mom’s lap, warmed by the oven. We must have been a sight! My mother, pulling us close, making sure we were tightly wrapped—children on her left and right, huddled close to her body for more warmth.
I think that’s what Moms instinctively do. They hold us close. They make sure we are safe and warm. They do what they need to do to protect us. I love this memory of my mother, especially as I think about today’s reading.
Herod the Fox
As you can see, the passage starts out rather violently. The Pharisees inform Jesus, “Herod wants to kill you.”
And Jesus responds: “Go tell that fox I will keep on driving out demons…”. Jesus’ eyes were turned toward Jerusalem, the cross and the work set before him.
While Herod is a like a fox waiting to devour, Jesus offers up an unexpected response. He doesn’t get pulled into the fear of Herod’s threats. He doesn’t plan retaliation. Instead, Jesus remains focused on what He is sent to do. And, he reaches for an odd image to describe the way he saw himself in relationship to the children of Jerusalem who were in trouble:
“How I long to gather you like… A. Mother. Hen.”
Wait. What? Jesus, aren’t you going to fight back?…Make a plan to kill Herod before he gets to you?
His response is laughable in many ways. I can hear the disciples and the Pharisees questioning whether or not Jesus really understood the danger he was in.
Jesus the Hen
Jesus knew full well what was coming his way. But using violence to combat violence doesn’t free anyone. As hard as it is to imagine, that wasn’t the way Jesus intended to bring peace.
So what does that leave us with?
Hen vs. Fox?
We know how this should turn out. Hens don’t generally fair well against larger predators. It would have made so much more sense if Jesus would have picked the Lion of Judah to describe himself. Lion beats fox every time in the ring of violence.
So why? Why wouldn’t Jesus reach for a stronger image to describe his own power and might?
I’ll be honest. Even as a woman, the image of Jesus as a “mother” hen feels strange and unknown. It even feels kind of embarrassing that Jesus would make this comparison himself. And that’s probably why a lot of people struggle with this metaphor; the feminine image of Jesus is so foreign to us. We haven’t had much practice with it. That’s unfortunate.
This image conveys a different notion of sacrifice for me than the cross. Jesus on the cross, hanging alone, has always felt distant for me. I’m an “observer” to this act of love.
When I consider the metaphor Jesus offers here, of himself as a mother hen, my imagination about God is peaked in new ways.
As a mother hen, Jesus longs to gather us together. He hovers and broods over all of us. This hen, she spreads her wings and shields us from danger—from the threat of violence from those “foxes” who come to devour and keep us fearful of the world. She sits there…covering us. Under her wings, we can hear and feel her heartbeat and the warmth of her flesh. This Jesus is not distant. This Jesus is intimate and close to us.
This was Jesus’ longing for Jerusalem and its people as he journeyed toward the cross. In this season of Lent, may the Spirit of God cultivate in us that same sacrificial, embodied longing—to gather our communities into her loving care and protection.