In our gospel reading for this morning, we catch a glimpse of Jesus in a very sassy mood. The pharisees come to him with death threats from Herod, but Jesus basically just brushes them off. He calls Herod a “fox” and tells them to say, “Look Herod, I don’t have time for you right now. I’ve got work to do. But hey, I’ve got an opening in three days, so if you still want to kill me, you can come on down to Jerusalem and do it then – because we all know that no prophet can be killed outside of Jerusalem, amirite?”
But his snarky comments are immediately followed by a tender, heartbroken lament: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Despite his sarcastic remarks, we see in Jesus the image of God as a mother: a mother whose heart is breaking over the way her children have rejected her and turned away from her. God the mother has had it up to here with her wayward children, but she still loves them so much it hurts.
This gospel reading reminds me a lot of a dear friend of mine who lives in Omaha. Her oldest daughter is nine years old, and she’s a really great, smart, precocious kid, but she has started entering her teen angst years a little early. Everything her mom likes is suddenly now the lamest thing ever, and she hates her name and she hates her stuff and she’s angry that her parents won’t buy her another tablet computer after she lost the last one. Recently, the whole situation took an even worse turn when my friend’s daughter was caught shoplifting from a school book fair.
I’m sure you can imagine the emotional turmoil that this has left in its wake. My friend is fed up with her daughter’s bad behavior and hardly knows what to do with her some days. But at the same time, she loves her so much that her heart is breaking with it – and each time her daughter claims she hates her or says something else hurtful, it’s like a punch in the gut. And I don’t know what her daughter is feeling now, but I can imagine it’s some mix of frustration and hurt and shame over the way things have gone down.
I’m sure we can all think back to our own teenage and adolescent years and remember the ways that we gave our parents grief – or maybe even the ways that we give them grief now, haha. And I’m sure that families with kids at home now can sometimes feel this way too. There just seems to be some kind of deep-seated human urge in us to rebel and go our own way. We tend to push back against our parents, against God, against anyone who has authority over us or thinks they know what’s best for us.
I’m not sure why we do this. Maybe it’s because of a lack of trust in those authority figures. We think that we can do things better, and so we try to wrest back control from them so that we can have things our own way. But like my friend’s daughter, we soon find that we are in over our heads with the consequences that our actions bring. Or maybe it’s that we take God’s love and our parents’ love for granted – and we worry more about what others will think of us than about what they think of us. We want to make sure we can “keep up with the Joneses”: to watch all the latest videos on YouTube our friends are watching, or to have as nice a house or as big a TV as our neighbor does.
Whatever the reason, there is a tendency in us to set our minds on earthly things, as Paul writes, a tendency to let our “god be our belly” and even sometimes to live as “enemies of the cross.”
Jesus alludes to the long, long history of people rebelling against God’s will for them. He grieves over how God’s messengers have been treated in Jerusalem, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.” But it’s not just prophet-killing: think of the Israelites worshiping the golden calf or David going after Bathsheba or Jonah risking death-by-fish just to get out of doing what God wanted him to do!
Since the time of the covenant with Abraham that we read about in our first reading, God has been sending prophets and messengers to try to turn humanity around, to make God’s wayward children listen. And since the dawn of humanity, we have been finding inventive ways to wander away from God and to silence the people whom God has sent.
And so, given all this, I’m really struck by the poignancy of this moment captured in our gospel reading. I imagine Jesus standing on a hill, looking out over Jerusalem, the city that kills God’s prophets. He knows what’s coming next. He knows that at best he will be ignored and dismissed, and at worst, he will be tortured and killed. And still, he looks right into the murderous eyes of God’s beloved children – knowing full well what they will do to him – and he just loves them to death.
And I do quite literally mean that he loves them to death. Because we all know what happens when Jesus comes down that hill and into the city: he meets the same gruesome fate as all the prophets who came before him. And yet he is full of love for those who kill him, even to his last breath.
Jesus Christ – God made flesh – comes as a human prophet into Jerusalem and allows himself to be crucified. But, of course, this is the point where God interrupts the same old story the world knows so well. Because three days after being crucified, Jesus rises from the dead, triumphing once and for all over our sinfulness and rebellion. In his resurrection, he shows us that no measure of human stubbornness or resistance or pride is a match for God’s love and life.
This is the good news that we remind ourselves of every single year as we walk the journey of Lent toward the cross. Nothing we can do can ever separate us from God’s love. Nothing will ever stop God from working to redeem us and renew us and bring us back to life in God. We may be as stubborn as my friend’s daughter in rebelling against God, but that stubbornness is just no match for God’s motherly love. God our mother will never stop loving us or trying to lead us in the right way – not even if we literally kill her.
So this Lent, I invite you to consider: what ways do you feel yourself rebelling against God or even living as an “enemy of the cross”? And where do you feel God trying to lead you a different way? Where do you feel God trying to gather you under her wing like a mother hen gathering her chicks?