Many of you may remember that the Gospel passage for today contains one of my favorite verses. In fact, it seems I can not avoid preaching on this particular text anytime it comes up in our readings. For some reason I find amazing comfort in these words: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” Or as Eugene Peterson puts it: “How often I’ve longed to gather your children, gather your children like a hen, Her brood safe under her wings…” It makes me feel safe just saying the words. However the end of this verse is very sad “but you refused and turned away!”
You may have noticed that Jesus is using a feminine example in this story. Now this kind of thing does not always sit well with everyone.
Some of you may remember that our Presiding Bishop got into considerable trouble at her first sermon ever as Presiding Bishop at our last General Convention. In her sermon, she used the term “mother Jesus”. This term sent up howls of complaint regarding her theology. Of course, she did not coin that term. It has been used in the past, most notably by the mystic Julian of Norwich. But she took a lot of grief for using a feminine image of Jesus. And yet in this passage we have Jesus likewise using the image of the feminine in describing his desire to hold a people close to him as a hen gathers her chicks.
As a farm boy, I remember well the image of chicks out in the yard running to the mother hen at the first sign of danger and good mother hen managing to tuck an amazing number of chicks under her wings to protect them. Not that the hen had much of a chance against any predator, but she was willing to try. And it reminds me of an image we are blessed to see more and more often around St. Peter’s. That of a child getting hurt from a bump or scratch and running to the safety and warmth of mother’s arms for protection and solace.
Jesus is longing to have that same relationship with the world. Jesus wants to be the safety, warmth and protection for us. But how often to we respond the same way many responded to Jesus in his own time – the people “refused and turned away.” What is it that makes people want to turn away? What is it that makes us sometimes want to turn away from the invitation of Jesus?
I think that there are many causes. Some of these include pride, a feeling of self importance or the opposite the belief that we are undeserving, fear, hopelessness, the desire for self sufficiency, anger, or the cares of the world, to name just a few. The cares of the world is such an interesting phrase. It comes to us from Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Mark. The cares of the world is anything that distracts us from God. These cares can very easily become idols in our lives. An idol is anything less that God that we allow to take the place of God in our life. These things can drive wedges in our lives which can separate us from each other and can separate us from God. But the reality is that Jesus is always there, always waiting for us to return to his tender embrace.
Have you ever been through a difficult time in your life? I’m know we all have. Each and every one of us has struggles and battles some of which we fear to share with anyone. But Jesus is there.
To be honest, I like the idea of “mother Jesus”. With all the masculine references to God we are surrounded with in the Holy Scriptures and in the world around us it is well to be shocked back into reality once in a while. God the stern taskmaster or God the judge seems to come all to easily to our collective minds. We inherited this view from the long tradition of church history as well. While the Greek words for Jesus and God are male forms of words, the Greek word for the Holy Spirit is a female form. And yet when this sermon is over and we recite the Creed in the paragraph dealing with the Holy Spirit we will use all male pronouns. The use of language and image in the Church is see to be universally masculine images. Those brave enough to challenge this are often dismissed as heretics. God the mother is a good contrast for us to meditate on.
The image of Mother Jesus is very much misunderstood and wrongly maligned. But that should not surprise us – much about Jesus was and is misunderstood. I want to end with a thought from one of our church fathers (regretfully, church mothers don’t get near the exposure they deserve):
He began His ministry by being hungry, yet He is the Bread of Life.
Jesus ended His earthly ministry by being thirsty, yet He is the Living Water.
Jesus was weary, yet He is our rest. Jesus paid tribute, yet He is the King.
Jesus was accused of having a demon, yet He cast out demons.
Jesus wept, yet He wipes away our tears.
Jesus was sold for thirty pieces of silver, yet He redeemed the world.
Jesus was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, yet He is the Good Shepherd.
Jesus died, yet by His death He destroyed the power of death.
Gregory of Nazianzus, A.D. 381.
 Mark 4:19.