Luke 1-9; 34-36
February 28, 2021
I recently came across a story about Eva the chicken.
It seems that one spring day Eva jumped the fence of her enclosure and disappeared. Her owners assumed she was gone for good … the victim of one of the local predators. But three weeks later Eva returned to her owners … with eight chicks following close behind her.
Eva and her chicks settled into life behind the wire and their owners took to being a bit more vigilant.
The owners saw that each night, the chicks would gather under Eva’s wings for warmth and protection.
They saw Eva puff out her feathers when other birds got too close … and saw the chicks run under Eva’s wings when they were in need of warmth and comfort. After a few moments, the brood was on the move again.
Once, a large dog wandered too close to Eva and her chicks.
Eva spread out her wings and curved them toward the dog. She rushed at the dog over and over again … loudly cackling each time … as the dog remained perfectly still … threatened by the hen.
All the while, Eva continued to guide her chicks behind her and then … as the dog backed off … get them under her wings … as she kept a wary eye on the intruder.
In ancient times, the hen was praised for their mothering skills rather than for their egg-laying prowess. Centuries later, hens’ skills as mothers and courage in the face of predators were recorded by the writers of the Renaissance.
Today, Jesus is travelling through the Galilean countryside on the way to Jerusalem when he responds to a comment from someone in a group of people who were listening to his teachings. The comment centred on the people’s suffering … specifically when it comes the Roman governor’s brutality and the collapse of a tower that claimed 18 lives.
Someone in the crowd wanted to know if the death and suffering the people endured was the result of some great sin they had perpetrated.
But Jesus reframes the question and, by doing so, levels the field among the people.
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” Jesus asks the crowd.
He asks a similar question involving the people killed by the tower collapse in Jerusalem.
Jesus places everyone on equal ground … they all are sinners and they all need to repent … or else death will follow … just as it will if the fig tree doesn’t produce good fruit.
Repentance in the Bible is much larger than just admitting personal misdeeds and often contains a corporate element. Indeed, repentance refers to individuals and communities turning away from things that violate God’s purposes and turning toward faithful living centered in worship of God and in the practice of justice, mutual commitment, and other values of living in covenant.
These are the good fruits and, according to the parable, the lack of good fruit means the tree is draining resources from the fertile soil and occupying space that could be better used by a productive tree … a tree that feeds, protects and even gives back to the soil that nurtures it.
After Jesus tells the gathering how difficult producing such fruits can be, Pharisees warn him that Herod is out to kill him. They tell Jesus to leave and go into hiding.
Jesus tells them that Herod … whom he calls a fox … will not interrupt his ministry to the people and that he will continue on to the city … a city that kills prophets and their followers.
Jesus then compares himself to a mother hen … wanting to gather her chicks for protection and comfort … and having the chicks wander off or resist the effort.
A hen who … out of love … fights on her chick’s behalf … even to the death. This comparison foreshadows Jesus’ death on the cross.
This is how seriously God takes human sin and how we cause suffering on one another … serious enough that God doesn’t just ignore it. God’s ultimate response to human sin was to go to Jerusalem and die himself to fully experience the ultimate wages of sin which is death that god would take it all into himself … then taking it up so that new life can take seed in the fertile ground.
Today’s passage serves as a good reminder that in Lent, that is where we’re going … we are walking toward Jerusalem … the cross … and the tomb.
Jesus by going to the cross … through his death and resurrection … offers the protection that grace … that God’s unconditional love … shared and embraced affords all people.
In today’s passage from Luke, Jesus seeks to turn the people away from the propensity to be self-protective and consider others in the vineyard … and to know that when the fox is lurking around, the chicks are not left to fend for themselves … God is with us.
To paraphrase theologian Audrey West, the hen is not the Saviour we imagined, but it is the savior we need.
Lent is a time when we are invited to reflect upon those aspects of ourselves … of our communities of faith … that hinder sharing the gift of grace or that prevent us from seeing the pain caused by injustice, corruption or unfair systems in the world … of seeing where there is a need for warmth, comfort and protection.
Lent is a time when we are called into repentance … a period when we are called to turn toward better embracing a faith-filled life … to persistently turn outward to the world rather than inward to self.
It’s a period when we can ask:
How do we orient ourselves when we or others are suffering? … Rather than try to explain suffering, how do we move through it in a manner that has integrity and faith? How do we respond when we see others suffering or in danger from the foxes of the world?
… to consider how do we … as a faith community … love?
God continually invites others to flock under protective wings … offering repentance ensures that we have room in our hearts to bring others under those wings … and … if you pardon switching comparisons … ensure that the good, nourishing fruit is produced.