In speaking to some Pharisees Jesus says, “How often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wing.”
Now, a hen might sound like a strange analogy. If Jesus wanted to compare himself to an animal, at least he could choose an impressive lion or an enraged she-bear or an adorable koala.
Or, if he wanted to stick with the bird imagery, at least he could choose a soaring mother eagle. A majestic, powerful, and fierce creature whose wings provide a place of shade from the sun, refuge from the storm, and protection from harm.
Any of those analogies might be easier to understand and perhaps even more comfortable to our ears.
But that’s not what we get. We get this image of a hen. Hens aren’t exactly the most majestic or elegant creatures in creation. They are squat and beady-eyed, nosy, and rowdy. They can’t fly to save their lives and they make weird noises.
But a hen can also be fierce and protective. Mother hens keep their chicks close with a series of special clucks that warn them of impending danger. A mother hen forces her way among the chicks making sure they know what is good to eat and what isn’t good to eat.
And when danger comes a mother hen adopts a particular stance with all her feathers fluffed out and her wings out to the side to make herself seem as big as she possibly can.
But when all else fails, a mother hen opens her wings and lets her chicks find refuge there. It’s as if she swells with some combination of anger, fear, and courage, but she stays there. And she is prepared to die with her chicks tucked securely beneath her wings.
Sure, the hen is a strange image. But it’s an image of a God who longs to gather God’s people under God’s wings, to provide a place of protection and rest for all of God’s people.
It’s the same idea the psalmist gets at in Psalm 27, “He will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent.”
Or as The Message puts it in modern terms, “That’s the only quiet, secure place in a noisy world. The perfect getaway, far from the buzz of traffic.”
The mother hen is the image of a God who is willing to give everything, even God’s own Son, for the sake of God’s children.
And maybe we need that image.
Grace and peace,