Our passage contains two contrasting images...
The first is the image of a jackal (some translations translate the Greek as ‘fox’). When Jesus is warned by some Pharisees that Herod is plotting to murder him, Jesus responds by calling Herod a jackal. It suggests a person who has a savage, ruthless personality, like a wild dog that feasts on dead men’s corpses.
Herod represents some of the worst aspects of humanity. Perhaps one could say that he represents the very worst in patriarchal figures. The tough strongman, who acts ruthlessly without any care or concern for others.
The second image in the passage is the image of a mother hen. As Jesus expresses deep sorrow over the city of Jerusalem where he knows he will go to meet his death, Jesus laments:
“Jerusalem, O Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you were not willing.” The first time I saw a hen gathering her chicks under her wings, I found it a very moving experience, seeing all these vulnerable little chicks disappearing under the soft feathers of their mother.
And so in contrast to Herod the scavenger and the ruthless jackal, Jesus is portrayed in this passage as a protective mother hen. There is a maternal protective instinct in Jesus. A heart moved with compassion for those he sees in danger. Jesus wishes to draw them all together under the protection of his wings. His heart is big enough that he wishes to hug, embrace and protect the entire city of Jerusalem.
To be a follower of Jesus and to become more Christlike, is to allow our hearts to grow and expand like Jesus, hearts that are able to create more and more space for others within our embrace.
A few years ago I heard about a women from India whose mission in life is to hug all of humanity. She is known by most people simply as Amma.
She was born into very humble beginnings in 1953. Her father was a fisherman. As part of her responsibilities, Amma gathered food scraps from neighbours to help feed her family's cows and goats. During this time she she came to see the intense poverty and suffering of others and in response began to spontaneously hug people to comfort them in their sorrow as well as share food and clothing from her own home. Her family who were themselves not wealthy, scolded and punished her, but she continued to hug anyone who she could see was struggling or suffering.
Amma is reported to have said, "I don't see if it is a man or a woman. I don't see anyone different from my own self. A continuous stream of love flows from me to all of creation. This is my inborn nature. The duty of a doctor is to treat patients. In the same way, my duty is to console those who are suffering."
Despite her humble beginnings, Amma now has people traveling to meet her from all over the world and she herself travels the world. A friend of ours went to see her in London when she was there a few years ago. She described how she lined up in a long line of people n a church who were waiting to be hugged by Amma. When it finally came to be her turn, she described the hug by Amma as was one of the most powerful and healing experiences of her life. In that moment, all the grief of losing her mom two years before came to the surface and she really felt a profound sense of love surrounding her and flowing through her.
As Amma travels around the world hugging people and sharing a profound sense God’s hug of divine love, she is seems to me to be expressing something of the spirit of Jesus in this passage where Jesus longs to hug and embrace and bring under his wings the entire city of Jerusalem who he sees are heading for disaster.
Brian Stoffregan points out that there is a Peanuts cartoon that also speaks to this text. He writes:
In the first frame, Lucy is standing next to a tree. Looking up, she shouts to Linus, "What are doing in that tree?"
Linus answers from the branches of the tree, "Looking for something." Then he adds, "Can you see Snoopy? We climbed up here together, but now I don't see him."
Lucy unsympathetically shouts back up the tree, "Beagles can't climb trees."
The next frame shows Snoopy falling out of the tree right on his head with a loud "klunk." "You're right!" Snoopy concludes.
Then Lucy lets Snoopy have it, "You stupid Beagle, what are you doing climbing around in a tree?" Snoopy's sore head is still spinning.
Linus interrupts from the tree, "Don't yell at him.... We're trying to find a strange creature in a nest...."
Lucy walks off saying, "You're both crazy! Go ahead and knock yourselves out! I couldn't care less!!"
Then Snoopy with his head still sore and spinning things, "Rats...I was hoping for a hug!"
Reflecting on this Peanuts cartoon, Brian Stoffregan asks the question: “Do similar scenes happen to us. We hurt ourselves -- perhaps physically or emotionally. A parent, friend, pastor, parishioner gives us a lecture about how stupid we were. "Rats," we may say to ourselves, "I was hoping for a hug!" There are those times when what we need most is to know that somebody still cares and loves us, because we already know we have acted like jerks.
And as Brian Stroffregan goes on to say, often one of the biggest failings of the Church has been that when people find themselves falling out of trees and hurting their heads like Snoopy in the cartoon, the church has been very quick to give lectures and preach on how foolish they have been, when all the while what people are really saying in their hearts is “Rats... I was hoping for a hug!”
May our hearts be opened and expanded like the heart of Christ in this passage, that we too might reach out with God’s love to hug those who feel lost and hurting in this world. Instead of saying “Rats...” may those who meet us say “Thanks... I was really hoping for a hug!”.