Monday, March 05, 2007

Momma Jesus

The gospel reading for last Sunday (Lent 2C) featured the only Biblical reference that I know of where Jesus uses an animal metaphor for himself. Lamenting the wayward Jerusalem, he pictures himself as a mother hen who wishes to gather her brood of chicks under her wing. It is an endearing image. I myself have never had the privilege to witness this common barnyard sight, but I've read a few stories about hens of certain species that have an innate sense to gather chicks--whether they're their own offspring or another's--under the protective embrace of their wingspan.

Plenty of hymns use language that I suppose is borrowed from this image. "Thy Holy Wings, O Savior," by Caroline Sandell Berg (who also gave us the intricately worded "Children of the Heav'nly Father, safely in his bosom gather"), and "Now Rest Beneath Night's Shadow," by Paul Gerhardt are two favorites that come to mind which speak of Jesus' sheltering wings. But why, I wonder, is the image of a hen found so rarely in the symbolology of the church? The lamb gets featured quite a bit, most likely because of its obvious Passover connotations and the numerous times "Lamb of God" is referenced in the New Testament. But if Jesus himself uses the hen as a powerful visual comparison for the way he longs to gather his people close to him, why don't we see more images of a hen with chicks in our stained glass and woodwork in the way we see, say, the vine and the branches or the shepherd?

Is it because the Church is somehow uncomfortable with such an ordinary and dirty farm animal being associated with Jesus? Is it because the hen is just too feminine? Is the one biblical reference too thin upon which to build an elaborate metaphor? I don't know why, but it sure would be nice to be reminded as often as possible that Jesus longs to gather us together and pull us in to safety. I like the thought of a "momma Jesus," a warm figure who is chiefly concerned about protecting us from the dangers of the world and from the dangers we bring upon ourselves through our own flawed attempts at self-assertion. Those of us who have wandered off are probably more likely to run back if we are greeted with welcoming wings of mercy. The repentance and judgment and instruction can come later. At the first, I need the promise of shelter. The Prayer of the Day for last Sunday said it perfectly:

Heavenly Father, it is your glory always to have mercy. Bring back all who have erred and strayed from your ways; lead them again to embrace in faith the truth of your Word and hold it fast; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


1 comment:

Matthew said...


You asked why would people not like to think of Jesus as Jesus spoke of himself? I believe it's chiefly the context. Why?

Most people remember this line as part of a difficult passage to read, the Seven Woes. If they don't realize what it is that Jesus is up to in that passage, what they hear is condemnation even though the metaphor of a mother hen gathering her chicks together is a wonderful depiction of Jesus work on our behalf. It's probably the part where Jesus refers to the people there as a "brood of vipers". In fact, if we read that passage in Matthew (Chapter 23) we should see that in our daily walk we sin just like the pharisees and Priests that Jesus was talking to!

But, there's wonderful gospel in this passage too. You picked it up, but many don't.

Here's beautiful hymn about being under his wings.

1. Under His wings I am safely abiding;
Though the night deepens and tempests are wild,
Still I can trust Him; I know He will keep me;
he has redeemed me, and I am His child.

Under His wings, under His wings,
Who from His love can sever?
Under His wings, my soul shall abide,
Safely abide forever.

2. Under His wings, what a refuge in sorrow!
How the heart yearningly turns to its rest!
Often when earth has no balm for my healing,
There I find comfort, and there I am blest.

3. Under His wings, O what precious enjoyment!
There will I hide till life's trials are over;
Sheltered, protected, no evil can harm me;
Resting in Jesus I'm safe evermore.