Finding the Way

Luke 13:31-35

In the Scripture today, Jesus is on the Way to Jerusalem.

As Jesus travels on the way, I imagine Jesus encounters many people, like a man who was lonely, a woman who was hungry, a young person who was laden with debt, and an elderly person who was trembling with anxiety.  When Jesus sees these people, Jesus stops; Jesus stops and looks them in the eyes; Jesus sees the depth of their pain and, suddenly, within him wells up a desire like mama hen to care for all her chickens.  Jesus is filled with a desire to gather all her chicks in and let them know how deeply cared for they are.

And so, Jesus stops on the Way and begins to heal the people around him, casting out demons, proclaiming the truth that no matter who you are, whether you are a blind beggar on the street or have a serious condition like leprosy or have not-so-popular job like tax collector, you are still the beloved of God and nobody else can tell you otherwise. Not your family.  Not a stranger. Not a government official.

While Jesus is healing the people, Jesus starts telling them about God’s kingdom, because he sees how oppressive Herod’s kingdom is.  Herod was appointed by the Romans as king of a section of Jewish territory, with those from the temple serving as his local administrators.  Together, their focus is on confiscating land, having lots of money, consolidating power, and persecuting anyone who threatens Rome’s rule.[1]

The message of Herod’s kingdom is clear: trust no one, be hard-hearted, be envious of what your neighbor has, take it for yourself and protect your power at all costs.

In contrast, Jesus says to the people, the young person, the lonely man and the hungry woman, “Let me tell you about another kind of kingdom, another way of living and being in the world.”

This kingdom could even be thought of as a kin-dom, because it prioritizes kinship, relationships, and mutuality among all of creation … unlike Herod’s kingdom.

So Jesus begins to tell people of God’s vision for the world.  Jesus begins to tell the people about the Way of tenderness, kindness, vulnerability and truth.

“This is the Way to life made new,” Jesus teaches them.

As Jesus is teaching, some Pharisees come up to Jesus and warn him,

“You better get out of here.  Herod is trying to kill you.”

They are reminding Jesus – “Don’t forget, you are in Herod’s territory.”

They are saying to Jesus – What is tenderness, what is forgiveness, what is compassion in the face of violence?

They are inviting Jesus to turn away from his path, to be shaped by the forces of fear, to fight apathy with apathy.

As Jesus contemplates their words, I imagine that Jesus looks around, holding the gaze of each person that he had not yet cared for. He sees their hunger, their weariness, their longing – and Jesus says to the Pharisees, “Go and tell that fox, ‘I am going to keep healing these people.’”

Jesus cannot be turned away from the path that he is traveling.

Jesus continues, “And I am going to keep casting out demons today, tomorrow and three days later I’ll be through … I am going on my Way today, tomorrow and the next day.  After all Jerusalem is a place where prophets are killed.”

We, the readers, know that this means that Jesus will continue on the Way to Jerusalem, to the cross where he is killed, to the tomb, and then, on the third day, to resurrection.

Jesus will not be deterred from his journey by Herod because he knows exactly where it leads.

It is the journey of new life.

Yet, in the conversation with the Pharisees, Jesus sees not only the pain of the people before him, but the pain of Herod, the ruling class, the hard hearted in the world around him, and Jesus begins to lament.  He sees how deeply they too hunger for meaning, belonging, love and joy, but somehow, in the midst of their collaboration with Rome, they react only out of fear – thinking, “How can I save myself?”  They react by erecting walls, hoarding land, and enacting violence.

Jesus sees how desperately people try to isolate themselves and it breaks his heart because God’s deepest longing is to be present with us in places of deep suffering, to embrace us, to gather us under the wing, and to nurture us into health.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” Jesus cries out, “Your people have killed the prophets and have stoned the messengers who were sent to you. I have often wanted to gather your people, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.”

What I find most compelling about Jesus’s words is that Jesus describes Jesus’ self as a mama hen.  After calling Herod a fox, we might expect Jesus to respond in-kind with a reference to something fierce and fox-eating!  We might expect Jesus to say I’m like a mountain lion or a mama bear protecting her cubs or an eagle!

But no, Jesus says, I am like a chicken.  An ordinary, farmhouse mama chicken.

Why does Jesus describe Jesus’ self as chicken?

To discover the answer to this question, I did some digging about chickens this week.  The first thing I learned was, “[Chickens] are dirty and they poop a lot.”  However, when I dug deeper about mama chickens, one farmer said that, “Any time it’s raining or overcast or the weather seems bad in any way, [the mama chicken] opens up her wings wide and shelters her chicks.  She does it when she’s trying to hatch eggs, too.  Just completely covers the eggs up in her feathers.”  So before the eggs are even hatched, the hen is mothering them, sheltering them, protecting them.  When the fuzzy little chicks are running around the barnyard in inclement weather she flaps open her broad mama wings and calls them back home again.[2]

Another person describes Jesus’ chicken metaphor this way, “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. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world –wings spread, breast exposed — but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.”[3]

Jesus is our mama hen.

Through words, actions and even posture, Jesus conveys the deepest yearning of God’s own heart.

I always find it striking that the root of the word will, as in God’s will, actually means desire.[4]  God’s greatest desire for us, in God’s heart of hearts, is that we might experience love, peace, warmth, forgiveness, and renewal.

This is Life.  This is Truth.  This is the Way to go home.

And nothing, not foxes or kings, nor things above nor things below, nor hard-heartedness or greed, will ever turn God away from loving us.

No matter who we are,

Jesus invites us home.

As we journey in this time of Lent, I find it particularly compelling that in the Hebrew, in the Old Testament, repentance is defined as a “returning,” particularly a “returning from exile” or a “returning home.”[5]

This season, we are called to repent, to return home to God who is wild about us, God whose deepest yearning is to gather us up into a warm mama hen embrace, God who stands there – wings spread, breast exposed – vulnerable and loving.

No matter how far we are scattered, Jesus invites us to journey homeward today, tomorrow and the next day, knowing that, as we journey, new life will come, healing will come, demons will be cast out, and buds will sprout up, even in the wilderness, even in the most wild places of our hearts.

Amen.

[1] The historical information in this paragraph comes from Last Week by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan.

[2] This paragraph on the behavior of chickens comes from the sermon Mama Jesus or Jesus is My Chicken, found here: http://wesleyatuva.org/2013/02/mama-jesus-or-jesus-is-my-chicken-worship-22413/

[3] From Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermon, “As a Hen Gathers her Brood”.

[4] Source: On the Mystery by Catherine Keller, p.89.

[5] Source: Last Week by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, p. 102.

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