I can still hear the words even today: "God is doing something powerful in the cities of our world. You don't have to travel halfway around the globe to reach it, for God has brought the world to our doorstep. Where is God leading you?" I was a student at the University of Southern Mississippi and we were attending a mission conference in Dallas Texas, whose emphasis was on urban missions around the world. The speaker that night was the pastor of a multi-ethnic church in the metro Los Angeles area. My girlfriend sat next to me that night (it wouldn't be long before she would become my wife). It was the first time that we felt the call together. We didn't know where God was calling, what kind of ministry it would be, or any of the details, but we knew we were being called.
Jesus, too, was called to a profound ministry. Likewise, he was called to a specific city as well. I mean, sure we all know that Jesus came to save the world, but read Luke's gospel and you get this real sense that there is something about Jerusalem that is calling out to Jesus. There is something there that is beckoning him and drawing him like a tractor beam. As one scholar noted, there are 90 references to Jerusalem in the Gospel of Luke while there are only 49 references in the other three gospels combined. It's the place where Luke's Gospel begins (the angel appearing to Zechariah while he served in the temple) and the place where his gospel ends (Jesus appearing to the disciples following the resurrection).
In our passage today, we hear this passion for Jerusalem, as Jesus says, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" As I hear this passion and look out over the city to which I have been called, I can imagine Jesus saying, "O Asheville, Asheville (or enter your city name here)! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" Later in Luke's Gospel, we read, "And when he drew near and saw [Jerusalem], he wept over it. . ." (Luke 19:41). When was the last time I wept over my city like that? When was the last time that I became so broken hearted over the rejection of God that it brought me to tears - that is crushed me? When was the last time I wept over my own sin and shortcoming like that?
Jesus does an interesting thing in this passage. He likens himself to a mother hen. Now, I will freely admit that this would not have been my first choice of animals. While we don't have chickens or hens at my house, I remember mission trips in some impoverished rural areas and the crazy hens that tried to attack us on a daily basis. I remember summer vacations and my family's farms in Mississippi. Really, Jesus? A mother hen? You were called the lion of Judah. But a mother hen? In Hosea you were called a stealthy leopard or a bear who has been robbed of her cubs. But a mother hen? In Exodus, you referred to yourself as an eagle, carrying the people out of Egypt. But a mother hen? Really?
Ad Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us, though, this is Jesus' way. This is the way of the one who says, "The first will be last and the last will be first." This is the one who says, "you will save your life by losing it." There are two options in this story: you can be the fox or the mother hen. Taylor puts it this way:
You can live by licking your chops or you can die protecting the chicks. Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first.
Which he does, as it turns out. He slides up on her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep. When her cry wakens them, they scatter. She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her -- wings spread, breast exposed -- without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart, but it does not change a thing. If you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.
This is where we find our shelter - under the wing of the crucified one. And this is where we make our stand - with our own wings spread wide, exposed, vulnerable, willing to lay down our life for those under our care. For our community. For our city. O Asheville, Asheville! How often would He have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.
Prayer: God, break my heart for my city. Break my heart for the sin and suffering of those inside its borders. Break my heart for my own sin. Show me how to lay down my life that others may have life. . . that others may know you. Amen.