“Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…”
This is one of those passages that makes for an excellent children’s story. I must confess, I do like getting a chance to share my chicken impression with a congregation. Not every day, eh? But it’s memorable as a message, too. Jesus subverting gender stereotypes and comparing himself to a nurturing mother. Jesus stretching out his arms to lovingly gather us in. And memorable, too, the glimpse of Palm Sunday ahead.
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.’”
Children will see and hold onto this kind of teaching. They will remember last year’s parade perhaps, with the palm branches and the hallelujahs. It’s a reminder of Christ’s love – deep and wide and ringing with hosannas.
But perhaps for adults different words jump out. We won’t focus on the chicken image but will start from the beginning of the passage. We’ll hear the Pharisees warning to Jesus about Herod’s plans, and we will also wonder about the Pharisees’ role. There is death here, and darkness. There’s something minacious; beyond the threat of the Pharisees, there is another threat here that Jesus sees and responds to with bold words and lament. Many commentators will divide this passage between verses 33 and 34. Reading this passage in Luke, it flows naturally from Jesus’ words to the Pharisees into his lament for Jerusalem, but this same material appears differently in Matthew’s gospel. Logically, these Gospel writers relied on a common source and ordered Jesus’ words to fit their own placing of them in the narrative. For Matthew, these are words spoken in Holy Week, after Palm Sunday, giving the final verse an eschatological tone. But Luke places these words much earlier in Jesus’ ministry, as he is visiting the villages, teaching and healing. Even if we are just reading Luke, there is a turning point between these two sections. Jesus turns from speaking to the Pharisees to speaking to all of Jerusalem. Perhaps a paragraph division is in order.
I feel that the first part of this reading speaks of Jesus’ bravery – not only to speak out to power, but also to step consistently towards Jerusalem. The second speaks of his heart. Jesus walks towards Jerusalem, not waving flags of defiance or discipline, but with a heart full of love. The kind of love that makes him lament as he sees this city’s inability to love and listen.
Around here, this week was a good one, full of good days. Except for Friday, which for one reason or another was a bad day for Beangirl. One of those days when you wake up grumpy and can’t really conceal it and end up being mean to everyone. Mix that with a moody, broody mother with foot cramps, and perhaps you can foresee the bumps ahead. In the afternoon, she went out on her bike and came home cold and hungry and demanding. I think that had she been smaller and less articulate, I might have been more understanding. As it was, well… it was unpleasant. I ended up asking for more listening and kindness than she could conjure, and the dinner table became hostile territory for everyone. Not what anyone wanted, not what anyone seemed able to change.
It was the Spouse who realized that the girl actually didn’t know what to do to make things better. She wasn’t just being unpleasant and obstinate – she wasn’t able to do anything else. She just didn’t know what to say to make things right. So he stopped asking questions about feelings and instead gave her some words to try out. He told her how to say sorry and helped her find her own way into being loving again. This was a moment of grace – not as a glowy, glory moment – but grace as light – small but sudden - in a heavy, dark place. Sometimes God gives good gifts at the dinner table, even to grumpy families.
That table-moment brings light to me in this Luke reading this morning. Jesus longs to shelter Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is unwilling. Maybe unable. Maybe engulfed in unpleasantness, hurt, and pride. Jesus longs to stretch out sheltering wings to show Jerusalem that there is refuge here, that there is comfort, and the solution for all her missteps and mistakes. Jerusalem may be broken and Jerusalem may be proud, but Jesus longs to give her the words she needs to begin again to see the light.
Jesus also sees Palm Sunday ahead. With it comes a new chance for Jerusalem. And Jesus, knowing Jerusalem, knows that Palm Sunday’s chance, though important, will also be insufficient. There will be praise, but that will not stop the dark days coming. There is so much yet ahead – Holy Week with its exodus resonances, its table-moments, its garden songs, its hardest prayers. And yet in this moment, when Jesus is still on the road and the days are still ahead, we are strongly reminded that what Jesus longs to offer us is love. Beyond fear and beyond threat, Jesus offers loving shelter and light, even when we are unable to see clearly. Even on the road to Palm Sunday and Good Friday. Even to us in all our proud Jerusalems.