Christ's Maternal Concern

Luke 13:31-35                           
2nd Sunday of Lent
Elizabeth M. Deibert                       
24 February 2013

My new favorite TV channel is Nat Geo. I used to watch CNN but now I’m sick of the sensationalism that has taken over every news channel. What I saw this week on Nat Geo was a mother seal trying to protect her cubs from a polar bear attack, sacrificing her flesh to try to avoid the death of the baby seal.

Yesterday as a group of us were traveling to the orange groves in Nokomis, Jane Taylor told me the story of encountering a herd of deer many years ago, and that one of the does charged her as if to attack. Jane scooped up her young son, as the mother deer became a fierce protector of her own fawns -- two mothers with great maternal concern.

Today we read Jesus’ maternal lament over Jerusalem. Jesus compares himself to a hen trying to gather her chicks but they were not willing. Jesus was told by the Pharisees that Herod wants to kill him, but he is not threatened by that comment. No, he is concerned about Jerusalem, the city where prophets like him get killed.

Guide us, O Christ, by your Word and Spirit, that in your light we may see light,
in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover your peace; Amen.

Luke 13:31-35
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.'" (NRSV)
It is hard to evaluate the motives of the Pharisees in the story. Ordinarily they are against Jesus and he against their attitudes and actions. But here it seems they are trying to warn him of impending danger. “Herod wants to kill you.” It seems to me this is a good example of why we should never type-cast anyone. After all, Pharisees can have their good moments. And even in their bad moments, they were just trying to follow the rules as they understood them. There are not bad guys who are always bad and good guys who are always good. No, there are good guys who get caught up in bad – and that includes all of us.

I love Jesus’ courage in this opening of the text. “Tell that fox that I’m doing good and powerful stuff.” Jesus does not shy away from speaking out against authorities, nor does he run from danger. He keeps moving toward Jerusalem, a journey that in Luke started in chapter 9. He set his face toward Jerusalem with a determination to press on toward the goal. This is one of those moments when we the reader see him walking bravely toward his destiny of death. He is not waving flags of defiance, but is simply acting out of a heart full of compassion, the kind of compassion that makes him lament this crucial city’s inability to love and to listen to the challenging words of change.

He shows us the heart of God in his fierce love and desire to protect, even at great cost. How often in the Biblical narrative do we see God desiring one thing for the people God loves, and how often do they, do we reject that one good thing. We eat the forbidden fruit. We break the covenant God established with us. We stubbornly go our own way, rather than seeking God’s will. That is the very heart of sin – recoiling from the desires of God. Failing to act in accord with God’s ways. We like to think of sin as awful, horrible illegal things, but the sin which overtakes us daily is more subtle than that. We simply want what we want instead of what God wants. We want to race out from under the protective wings of our mother Christ, and in doing so, we put ourselves at great risk.

Luke was writing at a time just a decade or two after the fall of Jerusalem, so it was easy for his readers to understand the critique of Jerusalem, as a sort of prophecy after the fact. They had seen it collapse at the hands of the Roman Empire. They were probably wondering why the temple had been destroyed, and Luke says, in essence, God Incarnate warned them of their fallen ways, but they did not listen. Early Christianity had been part of Judaism, but by this time, when Luke was compiling his Gospel, around 80 or 90 after the death of Christ, the division was increasing between the two religions. For generations, passages like this have stoked the attitude of anti-Semitism, but that is simply not a faithful reading of the text.

The theological point of this passage is that Christ’s maternal concern is one of compassion. Inasmuch as Christ’s shows us who God is, because he is God in the flesh, he proves that God’s response to a stubborn and misguided populace is not retribution, or punishment but rather lamentation and persistent love. God is not done with Jerusalem and its people. In fact, it is that very promise – that God in Jesus Christ will come to them yet again – with which this passage ends. 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.'"

This is no mere prelude to Palm Sunday; it is a promise from God to the people. God will once again engage and pursue the very city that kills God’s prophets and stones those whom God sends. It will serve not only as the final drum beat in Jesus’ journey to the cross, but also the setting of God’s greatest triumph. It is the people of Jerusalem who will see God’s own willingness to suffer and die for them face-to-face. It is an extraordinary statement on the grace of God, and also a compelling proclamation that no place and no people stands exempt from God’s tender compassion and persistent love. Those who seek to follow Jesus must learn to view the world with no less compassion, no less forgiveness, and no less love.

Isn’t this an appropriate message for Lent? In this season of repentance and reflection, we are called to examine that many ways in which we fall short of the glory of God. So often we do not exhibit God’s grace to the world. It is unfortunately commonplace for Christians to be characterized as unforgiving, and less than persistent in our attitudes toward those who disappoint us. We could learn something from Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem. Through Christ we realize that God’s response to hostility and violence is deep maternal concern in the form of disappointment and persistent grace. So how might those of us who call ourselves Christian handle the violent and hostile places of our world? How might we respond to the love of God more faithfully when we realize that God is simply trying to protect us all in love, to gather us under wing and love us? Blessed are all who go through life in the name of this Lord of love.

Let me end with one final story of maternal protection. The forest fire had been brought under control, and the group of firefighters were working back through the devastation making sure all the hot spots had been extinguished. As they marched across the blackened landscape between the wisps of smoke still rising from the smoldering remains, a large lump on the trail caught a firefighter's eye.
As he got closer he noticed it was the charred remains of a large bird, that had burned nearly half way through. Since birds can so easily fly away from the approaching flames, the firefighter wondered what must have been wrong with this bird that it could not escape. Had it been sick or injured?

Arriving at the carcass, he decided to kick it off the trail with his boot. As soon as he did, however, he was shocked by a flurry of activity around his feet. Four little birds flailed in the dust and ash then scurried away down the hillside. The bulk of the mother's body had covered them from the searing flames. Though the heat was enough to consume her, it allowed her babies to find safety underneath. In the face of the rising flames, she had stayed with her young. She was their only hope for safety, and willing to risk her own life she gathered them under her body and covered them with herself. Even when the pain reached its most unbearable moment, when she could easily have flown away to start another family on another day, she stayed. Her dead carcass and her fleeing chicks told the story well enough--she gave the ultimate sacrifice to save her young.
So it is with our God who came as Christ to save us, to save Jerusalem, to save all people from fiery destruction we create with our sin. 

Compassionate, nurturing Christ, thank you for covering us with your sacrificial love. Soften our resistance to your embrace, in this season of Lent, and awaken us to the depth of our compassion that our lives might reflect your grace and mercy.