“As a hen gathers her chicks…” (Lent)


” At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.’

32 He replied, ‘Go and tell that fox, “I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.” 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

34 ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Luke 13:31-35)

There’s a flow in this passage between a political and a spiritual reality. I guess there always is. It’s not as sharp as in that confrontation when Jesus famously said “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” but even so, we see the underlying connectivity.

And so in the first section, we see the schemes and machinations of “that fox” Herod (possibly the nearest approach to invective used by our Lord!) being overruled by the destiny of the Messiah.

It’s oddly reminiscent of that moment in the birth narratives, when (a different) Herod sought to find out where Jesus was, in order to kill him. On that occasion, it was a dream  of the “righteous” Joseph that alerted danger and forced a hasty retreat. Here it’s the entreaties of some “righteous” Pharisees (portrayed postively, as in Luke 7:36 and 14:1).

In the second section,  Jesus offers a moving lament over Jerusalem, as “you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.” Here again, two kingdoms are at war and the conflict is proverbial and longstanding. It was ever this, and ever will be, until “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” (Rev 11:15)

But for now, Jesus uses the impending threat to clarify the meaning of his coming death. Jesus is going to die, sure, but it will have nothing to do with the threat of Herod. It’s rather the completion of his present ministry, whcih is characterized as “casting out demons and performing cures” (v32).

The dual mention is interesting: it’s like a thumbnail sketch of Jesus’s kingdom work.

The significance of casting out demons for Jesus’ ministry is given in Luke 11:20: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.” That is to say, casting out demons is part of Jesus’s assault on the kingdom of evil (a kingdom manifested in the rule of Herod.

And “Performing cures” is also a part of the mandate of mission, as announced in Luke 4:18-19 as being “to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind” -another statement about the establishment of God’s kingdom.

And that kingdom is being established “today, tomorrow, and the next day ” (v 33) because there is a continuum between what Jesus is doing right now, and what he will accomplish at the Cross (and at the Empty Tomb, and throughout the book of Acts and even into our present lives).

And at the apex of that prophetic view of history stands Jerusalem itelf, which evokes both denunciation and compassion from Jesus.

In the first place, according to Deuteronomy 12:5, Jerusalem is “the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes as his habitation to put his name there.” It carries the stamp of approval and election. But now, Jesus classifies it as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it” (in Luke 13: 34).

And of course, Jesus is taking the role of Jerusalem upon himself, in terms of being both God’s choice and the scene of man’s ultimate rebellion. Jerusalem is the place of the cross.

The heart-cry of Jesus (speaking for God) over the lost city has all the sharpness of a Gethsamene. God longs to shelter the children of Israel like a mother hen does  her brood. It’s a poignant reminder of Psalm 91: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” 

But this passage is mostly a recognition of due punishment, like a judge putting the black capmnon his head, preparatory to passing sentence. And here it is: “Your house is left to you desolate.” This refers to the annihilation of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70.

There is just one positive element here: the mention of Palm Sunday (that Jerusalem will, at least for a moment, recognize him, v 35) forms a kind of concluding appeal to this section.

It’s an appeal to recognize who Jesus really is and what he is doing. 

I wonder what God is saying to us out of this passage.

  • Are our lives part of the way God is establishing his kingdom in our world?
  • Or do we slink back, fearful of the threats of the Herods and the “earthly powers”?
  • And what is Jesus’s message to us? Do we too resist the coming of the kingdom like Jerusalem did?

Or have we -at last!- found shelter beneath his wings?

And Jesus’s heart-word is this: “How often I have longed to gather you as children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” Safe. It’s the only secure place when the storm rises and the threat of “Herod” gathers intensity.



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