It’s one of those stories I’ve heard in so many different variations that I wonder about the real facts: A farmer comes upon the scene of a recent fire and finds a hen with wings spread, burnt to a crisp. He wonders why the hen didn’t fly away and escape the fire until he gets a little closer and sees the little chicks are still alive and moving under the wings of their charred mother. They had been insulated from the fire by their mother’s sacrifice.
In Luke 13:31-35, Jesus uses that picture — the protective nature of a mother hen, willing to sacrifice for her loving, adorable, dependent babies. In our text, we see the picture in more than just Jesus’ words. It starts with the Pharisees trying to threaten, manipulate and trap Jesus. They bring King Herod into the picture. Remember, Herod had already killed Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist. But Jesus wouldn’t be bullied.
Instead, he showed how committed he is to doing his work and working his plan.
“I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow and on the third day, I will reach my goal… I must keep going… for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” Luke 13:32-33.
Like that hen in the fire, he was willing — no, he was determined to die for his people — because that’s what it took to give safety under his wings.
But here’s where it gets crazy. The ones Jesus is determined to die for — they weren’t those loving, adorable, dependent chicks. They didn’t even want the protection he was dying to give.
Verse 34: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”
Jesus wanted to protect them, but they weren’t willing. The Pharisees tried to trap him. Herod wanted to kill him and it wasn’t the first time. Jerusalem had been killing God’s prophets for centuries. And now they were trying to get rid of Jesus. They didn’t want his help. They didn’t want his wings.
Well, it’s only unbelievable until it strikes us that there are times where we do the same thing. And, of course, we bristle to hear that and try to dodge the guilt, but it’s true.
To protect her chicks, the hen had to spread out to take the intense pain of being charred to death. Jesus died on the cross.
He stretched out his wings by stretching out his arms and being nailed to that cross so that, on the other side of the fire, we could raise our arms in victory.
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.