Jesus As A Hen?

Mother and Chick
Mother and Chick By Lynn Griffiths

This is going to be a different sermon today.  Today I am inviting you to join me on the journey I have followed this week while seeking what God would have me say about this passage, Luke 13:31-35.  I believe that we are called to seek new understanding, to open ourselves to new revelation, to let God disturb us so that God can astonish us.

The journey begins with the reading of the passage.  In the reading I was disturbed by Jesus referring to himself as a hen.  I understand that Jesus is protecting the chicks under his wings, in a blanket of love.  I understand that as a mother hen, Jesus is offering himself as sacrifice to slate the appetite of the fox, and yet I am still disturbed.  And so I read and I thought and I prayed and I asked myself, what it was that disturbed me.

I thought about the hens on my grandparents farm.  Little beady eyes darting about.  SIlly little walk with their head poking forward with each step.  Mindless wandering about scratching in the dirt.  Jesus as a hen?

There is a picture of a mosaic on the altar from the chapel that is built on the spot where it is thought that Jesus spoke these words.  (See the picture here) You will notice that this is not a hen spreading her wings, but a rooster.  As I looked at the picture, I wondered if the artist had also been disturbed and hence the hen was changed to a rooster.  I began to understand why Jesus as hen disturbed me.  A hen is pretty much defenceless.  Roosters are usually cocky and aggressive.  Even a rooster has something with which to protect himself.  He has  sharp spikes on his feet and a powerful beak to peck with and he is willing to peck first and ask questions later. I realized that I did not want Jesus to be a hen.  I wanted the one in whom I put my trust, the one whom I follow to come in power and glory.  I wanted the mighty eagle of Exodus, or the lion of Judah.  I want to believe that the God I pray to has the power to make things right. The God of mighty deeds.  Not a hen.

And I read and I thought and I prayed for understanding.  And I remembered a long forgotten conversation I had with a fellow I worked with.  We were talking about the pets we had when we were growing up. He told us that he had had a pet chicken. It seems that his parents had bought him and his brother each one of this died baby chicks for Easter.  You know, they used to sell around Easter when we were kids. This in itself was funny, because he was Jewish.  Anyway, his brother’s died but his grew into a hen.  So, in an apartment, in downtown Montreal, there was a family with a pet hen.  They paper trained the hen.  It would sit on the couch and eat popcorn and watch TV.  He said it really watched TV as her head and eyes would move.  Whenever anyone went to the fridge she would jump up and run to the fridge for a treat.  She slept on his bed.  All went well until she began clucking and the neighbours could no longer be put off by explanations of nature programming on TV.  In remembering this story that flies in the face of everything that I had thought about hens.  If my understanding of something as simple as a hen can be so wrong, what does that tell me about my ability to know God.  That is the way of Jesus.  He turns our ideas and conceptions about him upside down.  Jesus as a mother hen.  Having been disturbed, it was time to open my mind and heart.

I read, and I thought and I prayed.  I realized that It is from my fear that I look for a god that is powerful.  I am afraid of disease, of injury, of being overpowered by the unscrupulous and dangerous, of losing everything.  My fear diminishes me leaves me seeking for a god who is small.  I came across a story of Mahatma Ghandi. Ghandi claimed to have never made even a minor decision without prayer.  He told about traveling to South Africa to oppose a law there directed expressly against Indians.  His ship was met by a hostile mob and he was advised to stay on board. They had come, he was told, with the express intention of lynching him. Gandhi said of the incident: “I went ashore nevertheless. I was stoned and kicked and beaten a good deal; but I had not prayed for safety, but for the courage to face the mob, and that courage came and did not fail me.”

Gandhi preferred courage over safety. If accomplishing his goals put him in the way of danger, then he wanted to face that danger bravely. His prayer was to receive enough courage to do what needed to be done, not to live his life free from harm.

I began to realize the power of the hen.  I realized that I really don’t want a superhero God, who sweeps in and takes care of everything and we are nothing but passive pieces.  The God who offers us the metaphor of hen invites us into something astonishing.  Under those wings, the overarching wings of love we realize what God is offering.  Rabbi Harold Kushner, in his book “When Bad Things Happen To Good People” speaks of God offering courage, strength to bear the unbearable, grace to remember what we have left instead of what we have lost.  God offers us courage we did not know we possess.  God offers us strength that surprizes us.  We can stand in the place of danger created by injustice, created by those whose humanity have been consumed in the furnace of power.  We can be the roaring lion of Judah, the mighty eagle, the hen offering herself to protect the helpless equipped with the super human courage, strength, and determination given to us by a powerful and mighty God.

I stand here today rejoicing in the might and power of the hen.