The Sadness of Jesus

Reference: Luke 13:28-35

As Jesus draws ever closer to Jerusalem during the years of his ministry, his relationship with this special city unfolds. The Gospel text referenced above reveals that Jesus has no illusions about his reception in the city. He is quite aware that he joins a long and distinguished line of prophets who have been rejected by Jerusalem. His comments show he already has the clear insight that he will also be rejected, but that his soteriological task will go forward regardless, and that he has a messianic obligation to present himself in Jerusalem.

What follows is one of the most plaintive statements in Scripture; “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (13:34). The essentially agricultural people of first century Palestine would immediately understand the reference. If the chicks are threatened by a hawk or some other predator, a mother hen hides them under her wing to protect them. It is a rare glimpse into the soul of the incarnate Lord, the great sadness of longing to protect God’s children from those who would prey on them. But the children run from that, reject the offered salvation and become victims. The mercy of God does not ultimately arise from a sense of duty, like a soldier doing his or her patriotic service, but from the loving, emotional longing and desire to shield his children from the dangers around them. It is possible in the Lenten journey to miss that point. We tend to dwell on the sufferings of Jesus, the way of the Cross, caused by our sinful rebellion and willful disobedience, all true. But behind all that is not some juridical process, rather the longing of a parent to care for his child, as the picture of the Prodigal’s Father portrays. The Lenten journey is not meant to mire us in doleful, if accurate, contemplation of our sin. It is to awaken in us the need to run to the Father for forgiveness, to gather under the wings of the loving, and also brave, mother hen who will not leave us to fend for ourselves as orphans. The physical pain of the Cross is something we can imagine. But the greater suffering is the knowledge of God that so many of his children will not gather, but will willfully scatter, rejecting his love and care. This holds true in Jerusalem, which should be the shining example of a loving response, a model of the perfect marriage of the Lord and his chosen ones. Yet because it is about love, he will not force it. Our relationship with God is always a mutual one, even if not an equal one. The Father did not forbid the Prodigal, the latter had a free choice. Neither does Jesus force, but rather, laments that Jerusalem was not willing to be gathered under the protective wings of the Lord.

But they are not. As a result, Jesus tells them they will regretfully see masses of people from all directions of the compass coming to the banquet of the Lord, from which they have purposefully excluded themselves. We already see in this passage not only the prediction that Jerusalem will spurn his love, but the outline of the Gentile church taking form. The new people of God do not stop the longing in Jesus’ heart for the people of the Old Covenant, but his love longs for all people, not just an elect few. As Jesus discusses (13:23-30), there are consequences to rejecting God’s love. The chicks will be snatched by the fox or hawk, the Prodigal will be in miserable circumstances. In both situations, the disasters are self-inflicted and real.

This passage is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. “La plus ca change, c’est la plus de la meme chose.” Jerusalem today rejects Jesus as much as the Jerusalem of 30AD. The consequences are still the same as well. The “city of peace” (the meaning of “jerusalem”)is embroiled in conflict, violence and oppression just as it was then. In between, for a very long time until the founding of the modern state of Israel, Jerusalem was a majority-Christian city. Today only a tiny minority remains, leaving Christian holy sites almost without a Christian community. While both Christian and Muslim Palestinians suffered under Israeli occupation, Christians had advantages. Because far more Christians than Muslims attended the mission schools which started over a century ago, they had better options for employment outside of Israel, and were able to emigrate in much greater numbers. Contemporary Jerusalem is a city not at all at peace, angrily divided about almost everything, united only in a massive rejection of her Lord. If only, even today, Jerusalem could know the things that make for peace (see Luke 19:41-44).

But Jerusalem has also always served as a prototype for all cities on earth. In God’s mercy, it is the city to be lifted to become the heavenly Jerusalem, a city finally of real peace. On earth, the story of Jerusalem is replicated in many locations throughout the world. We have no business judging Jerusalem’s population when Americans reject Jesus in such great numbers. America today is far from being a place of peace as well. We are divided, polarized, unable to even rationally discuss together how to move forward, unable to bring peace to each other or around the globe, unwilling to apply the gracious teachings of Jesus instead of anger and the sword.

From all that; “from all blindness of heart, from pride, vainglory and hypocrisy, from envy, hatred and malice and all uncharitableness, from battle and murder, from all sedition, conspiracy, and rebellion, from all false doctrine, heresy and schism, from hardness of heart and contempt of Word and Commandment, good Lord deliver us” (excerpts from the Litany, 1928 Book of Common Prayer).

The Lenten journey is one of finding love, of rushing to hide under the wing of the mother who cares for us, even suffers for us, who longs for her children to live in safety and peace. That love is, of course, hiding in plain sight.

[Footnote to the easily distracted: In the hyper-charged atmosphere of current gender politics, some are uncomfortable with Jesus using a feminine analogy for himself. Others use it to “prove” various notions that Jesus was feminine, or without gender at all. It is true that God indeed transcends gender. In creating us, however, he included gender in the product and chose one of the genders when presenting himself as one of us, to attempt to salvage our species, who are as usual preoccupied with every dumb thing except responding positively to that love. No one seems to notice that Jesus is quite comfortable comparing himself to a chicken, a hen, it can be added, who contrasts very favorably with the humans of Jerusalem in the story. You might want to think of that when you next want to eat a chicken. Or perhaps we can all relax and understand that the story is an analogy, and get the point of the story.]