March 17, 2019 – Lent 2 – Year C
As those of you who have come from the prairies so well know, the early fall is often a time when farmers burn stubble off the fields. One fall day, a famer walked through a field just burned and noticed some movement under what he first thought to be a blackened stump.
Upon closer inspection, the farmer discovered the movement to be tiny, fuzzy chicks stirring from under their charred covering. What had appeared to be a stump was in fact the burned carcass of their mother.
Although the mother hen could have flown to safety, she had stayed on her nest to protect her brood from the fire’s flames. She had sacrificed her own life for that of her young.
I did a bit of checking in my handy dandy commentary and found that the use of the hen simile is fairly common in the Hebrew Scriptures, being found in both Ruth 2:12 and Psalm 36:7. This metaphor also echoes a passage in the apocryphal Book of 2 Esdras 1:30 where God is compared to a protective mother hen. So, Jesus picks up on an image that would be familiar to the people of 2000 years ago.
Now, as you and I know, there is nothing as ferociously protective as a hen with baby chicks. She will dart around the yard, attacking anything that comes near her young. She will lure the foe away from her precious chicks with persistent pecking and squawking. At all cost her little ones are to be cared for.
But, too often we are like the young chicks, who do not obediently stay under momma hen. Instead, we scatter around the yard, going willy nilly to the tune of our own drummer. I picture a plump mother hen literally darting about the yard, trying desperately to gather her chicks under her wings. Unaware that danger may be lurking around the bushes, the chicks disperse into wild abandon or curious investigation. Doesn’t that image describe us. Don’t we too often resist the protection that God offers?
As we examine the scripture from Luke, we encounter some Pharisees who warn Jesus to leave and not go on to Jerusalem because Herod wants to kill him. Jesus responds with a lament. He recalls with violent treatment that rulers of Jerusalem have given to prophets sent by God to guide the people back into faithful observance of God’s laws. Jesus expresses his yearning to protect God’s children – likening his love to that of a mother hen who wants to gather her brood under her wings. This metaphor echoes a passage found in the apocrypha, in which God is described as a defending mother hen.
The Pharisees had strong reasons to warn Jesus. As scholars and teachers of the Law, they were widely respected by their own people. They were also well acquainted with Herod’s ruthless reaction to those who challenged him. According to biblical scholar, Richard Horsley, some of the Pharisees themselves had been executed for opposing the king. In warning Jesus, they were trying to protect him from being another victim of Herod’s wrath.
Despite the well-intentioned warnings, Jesus stands firm. He is known for casting out demons and healing the sick, but he will “finish his work.” This is Jesus’ way of saying: “I already have a reputation for doing things that threaten the established order – but I’m not going to stop my ministry, even if Herod – the fox- threatens my life.
It was 18 years ago and I was visiting a friend and ministry colleague. At 3:13 in the morning the door bell was incessantly being rung warning us that a fire had broken out in the garage. We quickly got out of the manse and got her 2 dogs safely into the milk delivery person’s truck. So, we knew they were safe and out of the way. Within minutes the volunteer fire fighters were fighting the blaze. Unfortunately, the fire soon engulfed the entire house and it could not be saved. Both our vehicles were incinerated along with all of my friend’s possessions. It was a devastating scene to see the 125 year old manse destroyed in a matter of a couple of hours. But my friend saw herself as richly blessed. The generosity of complete strangers was amazing. Prayers were offered from around the world. People cared in compassionate ways. We experienced God’s presence in the face of disaster.
I share this incident for it reminds me that God protects, just like a mother hen. We find the comfort and support from our Creator who gathers us together as baby chicks. We are people who encounter God in amazing ways. And we hear Jesus crying out to those who would listen, reminding them that he desires to oversee and nurture.
In this busy, complex world we seek the assurance that God’s protective care is for each one of us. On those days when nothing seems to go right, we turn to God in prayer, confident that we are heard and protected. Those are the times to take that deep breath, ground oneself and allow God’s healing presence to envelop us. When words fail us, the Lord’s prayer gives us the sustenance we need. Turn to the meditation booklet that we have prepared and take some quiet time to reflect and meditate. Go for a walk and soak in God’s beautiful nature and experience anew the wonder of God’s great caring.
When I go to read to the Al Mahommed children each Friday afternoon, I am always struck by seeing the prayer mat sitting on the back of the chesterfield and the Koran sitting on the coffee table. They faithfully say their prayers as a family. They know that God has been their comfort and guide as they fled Aleppo, and continues to be their protector and strength.
May we trust in God, who like a mother hen, protects and directs. Amen.