Today is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. In the days to come Christians everywhere will be reflecting on the events of the week that led up to Jesus’ crucifixion. In Matthew’s Gospel we find one of Jesus’ sayings from this week that contains a nature reference. It may not be as familiar to most people as his injunction to “consider the lilies” or “look at the birds” but it is just as powerful and moving. It is a passage that came to my mind this past Thursday while visiting the Iao Valley in Hawaii. On the way to one of the viewpoints of the Iao Needle I saw a mother hen shielding her chicks beneath her. The mother hen’s care for her little ones reminded me of Jesus’ words spoken about the city where he would shortly meet his death. He said, “O Jerusalem, 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.” (Mt. 23:37)
In this passage we see Christ’s frustration with the people of Jerusalem. He wanted them to accept him and his Father’s love but they were unwilling. Time and time again they had proven unreceptive to God’s overtures of love. Still, Christ reaches out to them. He longs to draw them to himself, just like a mother hen draws her chicks. He wanted to care for them, to protect them, to love them.
Jesus’ use of the mother hen image is a wonderful reminder of God’s love for all of us. Even though we traditionally speak of God as “Father,” it is a mother’s love that is revealed here. It is also a love that would seem unjustified. The people Christ was reaching out to were known to “kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.” We would say they were unworthy of Christ’s love, that they didn’t deserve it. And the truth be known, they didn’t deserve it. But neither do we.
All of the events of Holy Week compel us to acknowledge that none of us are worthy recipients of God’s love but He loves us nonetheless. This is why we refer to Jesus’ story as the “gospel” or “good news.” Despite all of our failures and shortcomings, God loves us still. He is like a mother hen who longs to draw us all close to her side. How foolish, how insane, we must be to not allow Him to do just that. A baby chick should be close to its mother. That is where he or she is safe. We, likewise, should be close to our Creator and Savior. That is where we will find safety. That is where we will find comfort. That is where we will find love.