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The Mother Hen

In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Jesus longs to gather the people of Jerusalem together like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings to protect them. The people, however, are having none of it. I love this passage because of what it says about Jesus.

He was a man in touch with his maternal side, and he wasn’t ashamed, even in a misogynistic culture, to acknowledge it. That requires security and maturity, something Jesus seemed to have in abundance.

Barbara Brown Taylor, in one of her sermons on this scripture, notes, “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. The most vulnerable posture in the world is to stand wings spread, breast exposed, but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.”

This passage in Luke begins with Jesus calling Herod a fox and ends with Jesus calling himself a mother hen. You might think he would have selected a different image for himself, like the Lion of Judah. A mother hen doesn’t inspire much confidence. No wonder some of the chicks decided to cast their lot with the fox.

A hen, however, is what Jesus chooses, and, if you think about it, that’s pretty typical of him. He is always turning things upside down: the first become last, the poor become rich, the least are the greatest. Jesus is always shattering our expectations of how things should turn out, so, of course, he chooses a chicken, about as far from a fox as you can get.

Jesus apparently wanted our options to be clear: you can live by licking your chops or you can die protecting the chicks. “Jesus won’t be king of the Christian army or any other,” Barbara Brown Taylor continues. “He will be a hen standing between her chicks and those who would do them harm. No fangs, claws, no powerful muscles, all she can do is shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first. Which of course he did and the chicks scatter in fear. She died where both foxes and chickens can see her–wings spread, breast exposed–without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart, but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.”


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Rev. Michael Piazza

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