Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Luke 13.34
One of my youngest daughter’s favorite books is Llama Llama Red Pajama. In the book, Baby Llama does his nighttime routine and then his mother goes downstairs. Baby Llama cannot sleep and starts to whine for his Mama. Baby Llama gets more and more frustrated as Mama Llama does not respond.
Eventually, Baby Llama ends up screaming frantically, and Mama Llama comes sprinting up the stairs to see what calamity awaits. When she realizes Baby Llama is “crying wolf,” she immediately fusses at Baby Llama. But by the next page, she is reassuring and calming Baby Llama, helping him fall back asleep.
Every time I read the book with my daughter, I find the transition from panic, to scolding, to loving care too abrupt. No sooner have I harnessed my best scolding voice while reading when the words force me to return to my sugar-coated reading voice.
In real life, I am never that quick to change tone. Once I am annoyed or scolding, I find it difficult to change gears. My “serious voice” is hard to lose too quickly. Though I am a “mama” myself, I am not nearly as gracious about turning my anger or frustration so quickly to loving-kindness.
Luckily Jesus is much more like Mama Llama than me. In the same breath, he accuses Jerusalem of killing prophets, and then expresses his deep desire to gather Jerusalem’s people together under his wings like a mother hen.
Every time I read this verse of scripture, I can hear the heartache of Jesus. To be able to see the sinfulness of one’s child, and yet still long for reconciliation is unique to those whom we love unconditionally.
In Jesus’ aching words we hear the voice of every mom who has watched her teenage daughter rebel against her. In Jesus’ aching words we hear the voice of every father who has watching his son fall back into the grasp of addiction one more time. In Jesus’ aching words we hear the voices of every parent who wants to protectively care for their toddlers, but also knows that their toddlers have to learn independence and self-sufficiency, and that they will never achieve that if their parent keeps coddling them.
I remember when our first child entered the years of establishing her independence. Being a first-time parent, I had become accustomed to having a pliable baby that basically did what I wanted because she had no control over her body. Little did I realize what was coming.
When our daughter first started trying to do things on her own, she did not like help. Instead of stepping back and letting her try though, I tried to physically out-maneuver her. It is amazing how strong those little arms and legs can be. I remember feeling exhausted night after night trying to force her to do things the way I knew was easiest. I eventually learned to let go and let her learn how to do things through trial and error.
But oh, how I longed to gather her under my wings and just take care of her.
What I love about this text from Luke is although Jesus longs to gather Jerusalem under his wings like a mother hen, he does not. Although he laments the ways in which it would just be easier for everyone if Jerusalem just allowed Jesus to lovingly mother her, Jesus does not force Jerusalem. Unlike my physical wrestling matches with my firstborn, Jesus knows better than to try to out-wrestle Jerusalem.
He lets her sin. He lets her kill the prophets and stone the messengers. He even lets her kill him.
Because although a loving mother longs to safely protect and gather her little ones, the wise mother lets her little ones learn from their mistakes and actively choose to return to the mother. That is all any parent can do – set her children free in the hopes that they will return full of deeper appreciation of the unconditional love they already have. It does not mean that the parent – or God, for that matter – still doesn’t long to gather her children under her wings.
But the marker of true, steadfast love is the letting go. I am grateful for a Savior that longs to be in relationship with me, but allows me to come to him on my own terms. May my own loving kindness to others be equally free of restriction. Amen.
Jennifer Andrews-Weckerly is rector and pastor of the Episcopal Church of St. Margaret in Plainview, New York, and a contributor to Project Pomegranate’s book Though the Darkness Gather Round, Devotions about Infertility, Miscarriage, and Infant Loss. She blogs at Seeking and Serving.