As A Hen: Jesus and a Jack Russell

“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. ” Matthew 23:37b

Early Sunday morning I was awoken by a flash of light and then a loud deep crashing rumble. It was a thunderstorm. Not all too significant of an event in the grand scheme of things, and usually something that I might just hear and then fall right back to sleep. But to my Jack Russell, Gracie, this loud rumbling posed a very real threat. Our house was shaking, the sky was flashing, and for all Gracie knew, someone or something was trying to cause harm to her family. For the first few minutes she ran back and forth between the bedrooms, barking loudly, trying to scare off whatever it was that was threatening us. When the storm just wouldn’t stop she came back to my room and sat right on top of my feet, vigilant and on guard. There was nothing she could do about this loud booming and crashing, but it seems that she decided that whatever it was, it wasn’t getting to me without getting through her first.

It’s hard to explain the way God cares for us. When we are faced with the deep rumbles of injustice and sorrow we want our God to make things right. We want balance to be restored. We want the peace of the Kingdom of God to be realized on earth, right now, before any more hurt has a chance to happen. But that is not how God works.

My favorite preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor addresses this in “As A Hen Gathers Her Brood“:

If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world –wings spread, breast exposed — but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.

Given the number of animals available, it is curious that Jesus chooses a hen. Where is the biblical precedent for that? What about the mighty eagle of Exodus, or Hosea’s stealthy leopard? What about the proud lion of Judah, mowing down his enemies with a roar? Compared to any of those, a mother hen does not inspire much confidence. No wonder some of the chicks decided to go with the fox.

But a hen is what Jesus chooses, which — if you think about it –is pretty typical of him. He is always turning things upside down, so that children and peasants wind up on top while kings and scholars land on the bottom. He is always wrecking our expectations of how things should turn out by giving prizes to losers and paying the last first. So of course he chooses a chicken, which is about as far from a fox as you can get. That way the options become very clear: you can live by licking your chops or you can die protecting the chicks.

Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first.

Which he does, as it turns out. He slides up on her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep. When her cry wakens them, they scatter. She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her — wings spread, breast exposed — without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart, but it does not change a thing. If you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.

How do you stand when faced with injustice? Are you willing to become a mother hen for the sake of those who need protecting?

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