31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”
A war between Ukraine and Russia goes into the third week. Since Russia launched its full-scale military invasion into Ukraine on February 24, it has caused over thousands of civilian casualties and pushed more than two million Ukrainians to flee to neighbouring countries. According to the United Nations refugee agency, that number could soar to more than four million in the coming months. In the middle of this war, one person stands out like David fighting the mighty goliath and refusing safe passage out of his homeland.
It would be unnecessary for me to begin my reflection by reminding you of the war, because what else do we talk about nowadays? We are torn by this war, but I’ve decided to begin my reflection today with a horrible scene because the context is very close to today’s scriptural background. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is warned to get out of Jerusalem – just as the US warned the Ukraine President to leave his country if Russia invaded it because it would be a dangerous place for him and all the people. How dangerous? In the story told by Luke, there are images of small yellow chicks and at least one fox. Some have already been caught by the fox. Others are huddled out in the open where anything with claws can get to them. And the mother hen is clucking for all of them. Most of the chicks cannot hear her, and the ones that do make no response. It is a very dangerous situation for the chicks.
In this story Jesus calls Herod a fox and identifies himself as a mother hen. Jesus is like a mother hen spreading open her wings to protect the chicks who are in danger. She calls her children to shelter under her soft and warm wings. How do you respond emotionally to this image of Jesus? Do you think the chicks are safe? Do you think the mother hen is safe? There is a tremendous risk for the mother hen in extending her wings as she confronts the fox. But she would rather give up her life than abandon her children to the wiles of a fox, to that fox, Herod.
A well-known preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor, once wrote, “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.”
I see this image in the leadership of Ukrainian president Zelenskyy. Before the war, many people thought a former TV actor and comedian, a political novice would easily seek a compromise with Moscow. He, however, rejected the US’s plan to flee the country and determined to share the danger that the people of Ukraine would face. Mr. Zelenskyy has created “a reciprocal relationship between [him] and the Ukrainian people.” (Here I am quoting from the Andrew J. Polsky, a professor of political science at Hunter College in New York.) “They have gotten energy from each other and confidence from each other. That’s an impressive communications accomplishment for a leader, to be that much in touch with his people in the middle of a crisis.” Like a hen who opens her wings, Zelenskyy opened his heart not only to Ukrainians but to the people beyond his country. A few days ago, he said to the European Parliament, “we’re fighting just for our land and for our freedom.” He added, “Nobody is going to break us. We are strong. We are Ukrainians.” I was deeply moved by his speech and leadership.
Given the number of animals available in the Bible, it is curious that Jesus chooses a hen. Where is the biblical precedent for that? What about the mighty eagle of Exodus, or Hosea’s stealthy leopard? What about the proud lion of Judah, mowing down his enemies with a roar? Compared with any of those, a mother hen does not inspire much confidence. No wonder some of the chicks decided to go with the fox.
I am curious about why Jesus chose the image of a hen. But a hen is what Jesus chooses which – if you think about it – is pretty typical of him. He is always turning things upside down, so that children and peasants wind up at the top while kings and scholars land at the bottom. He is always wrecking our expectations of how things should turn out by giving prizes to losers and paying the last first. So of course, he chooses a chicken, which is about as far from a fox as you can get. That way the options become very clear: you can live by licking your chops or you can die protecting the chicks.
Jesus won’t be king of the colonized homeland 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.
So, it should not be a surprise that later in the story of Jesus we find him on a cross. On the cross her wings are spread, her breast exposed – without a single chick beneath her feathers. It is so sad, it breaks our hearts but if we believe Jesus is like a mother hen and we are the chicks, we also expect to become a mother hen who opens her wings wide for those around us. I see this image in you and you and you. You have opened wide your wings like a mother hen in welcoming new commers, new ideas and a new vison of becoming an intercultural church where we create a safe, welcoming space for all beyond our differences. Meaning what we say when we say we are followers of Jesus, then this is how we act toward each other. Just as Jesus embraces us, we open our arms wide to embrace the vulnerable of God’s world. Amen.