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There is a Peanuts cartoon that has been around for years.(1) 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, "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!" Sigh.
Ever felt that way? We hurt ourselves - perhaps physically or emotionally. Someone near and dear - a parent, a friend, a pastor - gives us a lecture about how stupid we were. "Rats," we may say to ourselves, "I was hoping for a hug!" There are times when what we need most is to know that somebody still cares and loves us, because we already know we have acted like a jerk.
And then we encounter this snippet in the midst of our lesson. Jesus says: "How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings..." Interesting picture. Out of all the animals that Jesus could have chosen, a veritable Noah's ark of biblical metaphors, he chooses a chicken. He could have chosen the powerful eagle of the book of Exodus.(2) There is a cagey leopard prowling through the pages of Hosea.(3) Isaiah likens God to a lion.(4) But a chicken?
Somewhere or other I read of a chicken house that was right next to a large barn. After lightning hit the barn one evening, it erupted into flames. The little township volunteer fire department was not able to save either the barn or the chicken house. The next day, as the farmer dug through the ashes, he made an amazing discovery! Poking over the charred frame of a mother hen, he found underneath its blackened carcass six chicks that had survived the fire. In the heat of that inferno, the mother hen had clucked to those chicks to get under her body and wings for protection. She had burned and given her life that they might live.(5) Perhaps Jesus' chicken metaphor is more apt than we might first think.
I confess I like the way the chicken behaves more than the way Lucy does. Perhaps the contrast between the two is a good lesson for Lent. Like Lucy we are often awfully quick to open our mouths and give lectures. It is so easy for us good and righteous Christian folk to judge and condemn others for their stupid mistakes. What compounds the felony is that we think that we are doing the right thing by giving them all our good advice. "You should not have done that. You should have known better. You made your bed, now you will have to lie in it." And so on. People need good teaching. Jesus teaches. But sometimes, especially after someone has made a really stupid mistake, they need something other than a lesson. They feel like Snoopy: "Rats...I was hoping for a hug!"
One morning I was working in my study and a phone call came. A long-time church member who rarely participated, now in a nursing home, and now wanting to talk. We made an appointment for that afternoon. Small talk in her little room soon led to an admission that was as difficult as any she had ever made. More than 60 years ago, she had had an abortion. Back in the days before Roe vs. Wade, back in the days when abortion was not only illegal but often horribly dangerous. But she was unmarried at the time and felt totally alone in her predicament; she took the only way out that she felt she could. For more than 60 years what she had done had burdened her. Now she was nearing the end of her life and she was terrified. How could she undo what had been done? That was impossible, of course. But the word of the gospel for her that day was that it was not impossible for Jesus, and by the blood of the cross, she was forgiven. You could see by the joyfully astonished look on her face that the terrible weight had been lifted. I doubt that she had even dared to hope for a hug that day, but she got one.
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem...how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings..."
Go into a book store, listen to the daytime talk shows, read the advice columns. In the words of Sara Nelson, the editor of Publishers Weekly, "Nobody ever went broke overestimating the desperate unhappiness of the American Public."(6) So saying, I wish that we in the church remembered that when we are tempted to lecture rather than listen. I wish we would remember more frequently, as we are drawn into battles about sexuality or family values or social justice or even war that we are not in the morality business (despite what so many would wish) - we are in the forgiveness business, just like our boss. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem...how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings..."
Hoping for a hug. Listen to Richard Jensen, in his commentary on this passage:
Human sin dwells deep within each and every one of us. Will God have anything to do with sinners such as you and me? The answer is YES. Grace and sin met in Jerusalem long ago. Grace won! So it may be for us. Our sinfulness meets the crucified prophet. Grace wins again. Grace is God's final word on the sinful character of our human hearts.(7)Hoping for a hug? Come to the table and meet the one who long ago said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem...how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings..." Come.
1. Charles M. Schulz quoted by Brian Stoffregen, "Gospel Notes for Next Sunday," via Ecunet, Note #13617, 2/25/07
2. Exodus 19:4
3. Hosea 13:7
4. Isaiah 31:4
5. Doug Behm, "Bottom Drawer," via Ecunet, Note #5131, 2/26/07
6. Jerry Adler, "Decoding 'The Secret'," Newsweek, March 5, 2007, p. 53
7. Richard Jensen, Preaching Luke's Gospel, (Lima, OH : CSS Publishing, 1997), p. 156