Sermon from March 13: Mother Jesus

Mother Jesus
Lent II; March 13, 2022
Luke 13:31-35

I said last week that I would be watching out for other times Jesus is tested; here is one. The instinct for self-preservation could easily kick in, but he resists and sticks to his appointed path. It isn’t clear why the Pharisees come to warn Jesus that Herod Antipas is after him; after all, they have been Jesus’ fiercest critics and he likewise is critical of them. Maybe they are genuinely concerned for his well-being; maybe they wonder if he will cut and run like a frightened rabbit. Well, if he is a rabbit, he’s a rabbit unafraid of the fox. “You go and tell that fox for me…”

This vignette tells us a few things about Jesus; it may also reveal something about ourselves. We see a Jesus who knows his path and isn’t going to be dissuaded from it. That characteristic isn’t always a good thing. After all, Vladimir Putin knew his path too. We tend to admire certainty in leadership – and certainly some major figures in American life have expressed their admiration for Putin – but in reality wisdom includes the willingness to stop and question oneself. It is wise to be willing to listen to good advice.

But then again, we’re not Jesus. He has a pretty good sense of his calling and his eventual destiny. It’s not clear when he became aware that his road to glory was to go through a cross, but he did not shy away from it. And he was clear on the timing and the location; it’s not going to happen now, while I am in Galilee. I’m on my way to Jerusalem, knowing what awaits me there.

Jesus knows his destiny and pursues it without straying. He also isn’t afraid of anyone. He certainly isn’t afraid of Herod Antipas who, you may remember, beheaded his cousin John. “Go and tell that fox…” I can imagine the Tetrarch’s rage when a couple of Pharisees show up in his court and say to him, “Do you know what Jesus called you?” But the fox doesn’t go hunting that rabbit; Pilate will take care of that. Still, I wonder if the Pharisees are right about Herod’s intention. After all, when he finally has a chance to meet Jesus, he doesn’t seem to want to kill him, but wants him to do a miracle for him (Luke 23:8):

So you are the Christ, you’re the great Jesus Christ.
Prove to me that you’re divine: change my water into wine…[1]

Both now and when he is face-to-face with Herod Antipas Jesus isn’t afraid of the ruler. So here are two pieces of a picture of Jesus: fearless in the face of power, committed to pursuing his path.

And then he laments over Jerusalem, possibly even weeping. So at the same time we see him fearless and determined, we also see him tender and compassionate. “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Mother Jesus: the mother hen who would protect her brood, fearless before the fox. In last week’s reading the Devil quoted Psalm 91; it is Psalm 91 that says that the Lord will cover you with the divine pinions, and under God’s wings you will find refuge (Psalm 91:4).

Imagine this picture of Jesus: the mother hen, gathering her brood; the martyr, pursuing his path; the leader, unafraid of the politically powerful. And he is the Church’s Lord, the one we put our confidence in… or do we?

That’s one question this raises for me. When Jesus says that he would gather Jerusalem under his wings, but Jerusalem was unwilling, you and I are tempted to be scornful of Jerusalem. “If I had been there…!” Do you ever catch yourself saying that? “If I had been one of Jesus’ disciples, I would not have doubted him.” “If I had been present on Easter, I would have believed the women.” It’s all too easy to sit back and look at the position someone else is in and say what you or I would have done. Perhaps you think you know exactly what President Biden should be doing for Ukraine. I know that I keep catching myself saying, “The United States should…” and then I remind myself that I don’t have the whole picture. What should Jerusalem have done differently all those centuries ago? The choices Jerusalem made led to its destruction (“See, your house is left to you” – v. 35) about forty years after it sent Jesus to his Cross. Could any of them have seen that? What should they have done differently?

So before we’re quick to judge Jerusalem for its choices 2,000 years ago, let’s ask ourselves whether we truly accept Jesus’ offer to take shelter under his motherly wings. In our Lent study this week we read the story of a woman who belongs to a church that made the decision to become truly intercultural. She is a White woman in her eighties who has been part of her congregation for twenty-seven years. The change in the church was difficult; it was hard for her, since many of her White friends left because they were uncomfortable with the changes in worship that come with becoming truly intercultural. She wondered if she should go with her friends. But she said, “I asked myself a simple question: was anything that was happening displeasing to the Lord?”[2]

“Was anything that was happening displeasing to the Lord?” Do you and I ever ask that question? When facing a possible decision in the Church, in our society, in our own lives, do we stop and ask what the Lord thinks about it? Or do we simply go our own way? The Lord Jesus is a mother hen who protects her brood, while fearlessly facing the fox and pursuing her destiny. Do you and I take refuge in those wings or seek to go our own way? Or, put a different way, do we, like the White woman in her changing church, stop and ask ourselves what is pleasing to the Lord? Or do we ask only what pleases us?

Jerusalem is almost as much a myth and metaphor as it is a real place. It stands for the hopes of people of faith, hopes for unity, hopes for peace. It is the place where the Lord placed the divine name and Solomon built a temple; it is the place where Jesus was crucified for our salvation; it is the place where Mohammed had his Night Journey to heaven. It is also the focal point for Israeli hopes for a united land and Palestinian hopes for a free land. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all see ourselves as children of Abraham and heirs of the promise to Abraham (Genesis 15) and we all look to Jerusalem as a sign of God’s promise.

While we squabble with each other and claim our own way, the Lord God, Mother God, through Jesus sighs, “How often would I have gathered you under my wings.” The Lord will cover you with the divine pinions, and under God’s wings you will find refuge. The picture of Jerusalem (below) at dawn that my friend Andrew took reminds me that the new day comes to the city and with it brings hope. The new day comes to God’s people and with it brings hope. The woman’s question about what pleased and displeased the Lord helps focus it for us: when we let go of our own plans and priorities, then the mother hen can lead the way. The mother hen leads to hope, even when things are frightening and uncertain. The woman who asked that question did not know if her church would die or if it would have a new birth of vitality. As it happened, it had a new birth of vitality because it let go of itself and took shelter under the wings of the mother hen.

I don’t know what this may mean for our nation or, even more critically, for the people of Ukraine. Praying that those who do need to make decisions are making good ones, ones that follow the lead of God the Mother Hen, is certainly at the top of our list. For us, the metaphorical Jerusalem, as well as for the literal city itself, taking shelter under the wings of God may mean a very different direction from any we have had before.

Take shelter under the wings of Mother Jesus, people of God, and wait for the dawn of hope.

Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Omaha, Nebraska

Jerusalem at sunrise, photograph by Andrew Wiley, 2022

[1] Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber, “King Herod’s Song” from Jesus Christ, Superstar

[2] Seeking the Intercultural Church: An Adult Lenten Study Ó2021 The Thoughtful Christian, Session 1 Participant Handout, p. 5