In a recent staff meeting, a coworker talked about Matthew 23:37, the passage where Jesus says he longs to gather Jerusalem under his wings as a hen gathers her chicks. She said that a hen is pretty abrupt when she gathers her chicks, cramming them under her wings as quickly as she can to keep them safe.
I've often read that verse and thought of it as a soft and cozy sentiment—an "isn't-that-sweet" kind of verse. But her comments got me thinking about motherhood, and it occurred to me that it's not for sissies. In fact, it's hard to imagine a more take-charge person than a mother, which is often driven by protectiveness.
We can't build a theology around one verse where Jesus talks about himself as a mother because, of course, he wasn't. He was a man. However, he did display some mother-like qualities that draw us to him. The first we think of are things such as his compassion and tenderness. He referred to himself as the Good Shepherd who loves and knows us; he healed the sick; he cared for the unlovely and rejected. But he also displayed a fierce protectiveness declaring us his own and saying that no one can snatch us out of his hand.
Anyone who has been a mother knows that feeling above all others. I've heard many a woman say after she became a mother that if anyone tries to hurt her child, she'll tear them limb from limb. That's not what we think of when we think of the tenderness of motherhood, the way it's popularized in poems and the art world, but it's probably the most common denominator that all healthy mothers have. Even a mother who isn't particularly good at mothering can become fiercely protective of her child. She may give her own child grief, but don't let anyone else try!
When Jesus says he longs to gather Jerusalem under his wings, he's talking about protecting the people who reside there. In the verses just before Matthew 23:37, he's telling the people about the terrible suffering that is to come because they've rejected him, pointing to the destruction of Jerusalem that the Roman Empire would inflict upon its people in another generation. The knowledge of what is to come causes him great sorrow, and he longs to be able to force them under his protective wings since they won't gather there voluntarily.
So what does he do? He gives his life for them. That is so like a mother.