As Jesus laments over Jerusalem, he describes his protective, nurturing, and sacrificial love as that of a mother hen who “gathers her brood under her wings.” (Luke 13:34)
31At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ 32He 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. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” 34Jerusalem, 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! 35See, 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.”’Luke 13:31–35
The voice you will hear in this recording is a fictional character. She represents the women in this passage who may have overheard Jesus’s conversation with the Pharisees. In the context of the gospel of Luke, this conversation with the Pharisees takes place before Jesus enters Jerusalem. We can imagine him staying with friends, followers, disciples who live in a village or on a small farm outside the city—a place where chickens were part everyday life and foxes built their dens in the hills nearby.
Luke does not mention a woman in this pericope, but the feminine imagery Jesus uses suggests he has spent time not only with women, but with the broods of chickens women often tended. He connects with motherhood’s instincts here. In this sense, Jesus acts as a representative for women’s voices.
In Jesus’s metaphor of Herod as a fox and Jesus as a mother hen, the expectation of the hen is that of a martyr. Chickens are natural prey of foxes, wielding no defense to the fox’s claws or teeth. Yet, Jesus’s metaphor suggests that the mother hen’s own life is powerful in protecting the the chicks she shelters.
Facts you need to know:
- This warning from the Pharisees comes after we hear that Herod Antipas ordered the execution of John the Baptist in Luke 9.
- Since Luke’s gospel parallels the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus in its introduction, the relationship between the two is woven through the rest of the gospel.
- Foxes are depicted in the Song of Solomon as “enemies” that “spoil the vine” (Song of Solomon 2:15) and seek to prevent the vineyard from maturing and blossoming.
Luke’s gospel connects the mothering, protective love of a hen for her chicks with the mothering, protective love of God made human in Jesus. Through the voice and observation of a woman who witnessed Jesus’s words, we hear a deeper connection to that love.
Questions for Reflection:
- Reflect on some of your own vulnerabilities. How have you tried to shelter them from the world? How have others sheltered them for you? What role does God play in your understanding of vulnerability?
- Who are the “invisible women” or the potential “martyr” women in your world? What person or persons are hurting, silenced and undervalued in your own faith?
- What kinds of “foxes” create martyr “hens” in our world? What expectations do we have for each of these roles? How do we protect the most vulnerable in our communities without silencing them? How do we recognize God’s grace in the midst of vulnerability?
Resources for Further Study:
- Chickens in Ancient Israelite and Jewish Practices.
- For more on Herod’s fox-like tendencies see Jewish Antiquities18.5.1–2.
About the writer:
Rev. Bradley Webster Chestnut (M.Div,’20), born in Myrtle Beach, SC, is a graduate of Wake Forest University School of Divinity and is serving as the Director of Contemporary Worship at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Salisbury, NC.