Under the Wings

Under the Wings
A Message on Luke 13:31-35
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 13, 2022
By Doug Wintermute

Luke 13:31-35 (NRSV)

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 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. 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.’ 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! 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.’”

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Today’s text from the lectionary reading in Luke transports us to a time when Jesus is coming to the end of his ministry and has slowly been traveling toward Jerusalem. We find it in the 13th chapter of Luke in the midst of a series of parables and teachings that Jesus is sharing with his disciples and the crowds that followed him.

This passage starts off with “some Pharisees” coming to Jesus and telling him that Herod is out to kill him. Now if you remember the Pharisees are the religious leaders of the Jews and most of them don’t like Jesus because they perceive him as a threat to the way they have always done things. Plus he calls them out for some of the things they do like being all about the letter of the law but not the intent. All rules, no love.

But this scripture indicates that not all the Pharisees were opposed to Jesus and his teachings. We even find out about a Pharisee named Nicodemus in the Gospel of John who comes to Jesus to learn more of his teachings and even makes himself “unclean” by assisting with the burial of Jesus’ body, which is a shocking thing for a Pharisee to do.

The Pharisees in the scripture today, which we hope are helpful ones, warn Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. But they have to be taken aback by his response in which he calls Herod a “fox.” Here is The Message paraphrase of what Jesus tells them:

“Tell that fox that I’ve no time for him right now. Today and tomorrow I’m busy clearing out the demons and healing the sick; the third day I’m wrapping things up. Besides, it’s not proper for a prophet to come to a bad end outside Jerusalem.”

Now it was probably not good for one’s physical health or longevity to refer to the leader of that part of the country at the time as a fox. It was not a compliment. But Jesus said it anyway. And we know from other scriptures that Herod was confused by Jesus and really didn’t know what to do with him. We know he had John the Baptist beheaded but that experience made him leery about having Jesus arrested or executed. And once word got back to him about what Jesus said about him it probably would have confused him even more.

But Jesus uses this statement as a segue into talking about Jerusalem.

Jerusalem was, and had been for a long, long time, the center of the religious world for the Jewish people. The main reason was that the temple was there, built to exacting specifications, and it was there the Jewish people of the day believed that God dwelled on earth.

It was also the place where people brought their sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins. Bulls, sheep, goats, and even birds were sacrificed at the temple, some every day, and on specific holidays thousands of animals would have been sacrificially slaughtered.

As the center of religious life it was also the location that prophets came to share their words with the people. This includes true prophets and false prophets. At the time the way to determine a true prophet from a false prophet was if their prophecies came true. If they did, they were a true prophet. If they didn’t, then they were stoned to death.

That being said, there were many true prophets that were killed simply because the religious leaders didn’t like what they were saying. John the Baptist is just one example.

So Jerusalem was the religious center and, because of that, a place where prophets came to prophecy and many were killed for doing so. And it had developed a reputation for doing so. That’s why Jesus said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!”

But then Jesus uses a metaphor. Jesus, being a country boy, knew a lot about agriculture and livestock. That’s why there are so many parables and metaphors in the New Testament that talk about agricultural things.

One of those things Jesus knew about were chickens. Experts don’t agree but contend that chickens were first domesticated as early as 6,000 BC, which is way before Jesus walked the earth. Chickens are a good source of protein, not only from their meat, but also from their eggs. Most communities had chickens and it would have been common to see them in almost every town and city, and around dwellings out in the country.

One of the characteristics chickens have is to protect their young. Roosters can be very aggressive and have spurs on their feet which are sharp and are used to attack any threats, including people if the rooster perceives them as so. (My father-in-law had one that was real aggressive that kept coming after me even though I had a stick and would hit it upside his head every time. He’d just shake it off and come back for more.)

Most varieties of hens, though, don’t have spurs. But they are still very protective of their baby chicks.

One of the ways they protect their chicks from rain, hail, and threats is to spread out their wings over their chicks.. Here is a photo showing how they do that.

Here’s the theological twist of this metaphor, though. Although the mother hen offers protection to the chicks under her wings, the chicks have to be smart enough to know to get under those wings. Under those wings they are protected. Outside of them, they are at much greater risk and pretty much on their own.

That’s what Jesus is saying in the scriptures today when he says, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you.”

As humans God has given us free will. We make choices. We are not animals in which instincts instruct them what to do. No. We have minds and free will that allows us to make choices in our lives.

Jesus, in talking about the Jewish religious leaders of Jerusalem, refers to himself as a mother hen who wants to gather all her chicks under her wings to protect them. He wants to gather the “children” of Jerusalem under him, to understand that indeed he was the messiah, and that in his coming God does come to earth and dwells among the people, not just at the temple.

Jesus comes not to abolish the 600-something laws that the Jewish people had, but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17) He is the new covenant between God and humans, sent by God himself to provide for humans of all time something they could not achieve by their own works: salvation.

The disciples understood this and thought Jesus was the messiah, even though they didn’t understand the details of how it all worked, especially the salvation part. But they had faith and believed that Jesus was the long-awaited messiah. We see that in the words of Peter in Matthew 16:16, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus wants to gather the children of Jerusalem under his wings, under his Lordship, not for personal gain or to boost his ego, but so that they could better understand God and just how much God loves them. He wants them to have a closer relationship to God, to understand God better, and to, as Paul writes in Ephesians 3:18-19, “comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Have you ever tried to convince someone that you are telling them something that is true but yet they won’t believe you? It’s frustrating, isn’t it.

That had to be what Jesus was feeling as most of the religious leaders again and again refuted that he was the messiah. They wouldn’t believe him. He did miracles like walking on water, turning water into wine, healing the sick and lame, giving sight to people who had been blind their entire lives, curing people of leprosy, and even bringing the dead back to life. But it wasn’t enough. Their hearts were hardened and they would not believe.

They chose to use their free will to ignore the love and protection under the wings of the mother hen and instead insisted on staying out on their own, being pelted by the rain and sleet, and making them vulnerable to the evil ones like the carnivorous animals looking to have a meal of baby chicken.

As Christians today we are often like those baby chicks that use our free will to choose not to come under the protective wings of Jesus. We think we can do everything on our own.

Our world whispers into our ear that we are more powerful than we really are, that we don’t need a savior, that we don’t need God because we have full control and power over our own lives. We make it all about us, about what we want, about how we can impress others. We chase after and peck at the elusive grasshoppers and bugs of fame and power and wealth, not knowing that in doing so we are out in the open without protection, making our souls vulnerable to the evil one.

We forget the words of Jesus in Matthew 26, “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?”

My challenge to you this Lent is to be the young chicks that seek shelter under the wings of Jesus. Let us use this time before Easter to draw closer to Jesus. Let us cast off those things that separate us from the love of God, those seductive sins that whisper into our ear that we don’t need Jesus, that we don’t need a savior.

Let us not be like the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Let us be like the disciples, who even though we may not know all the details and how it all works knew that Jesus was indeed the messiah, the son of God, who comes to pay the price we as sinful humans are unable to pay ourselves.

Let us seek shelter under the wings of Jesus.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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