Mining the Metaphor: Jesus as a Mother Hen

Luke 13:31-35

It’s such an everyday metaphor Jesus offers now. And yet, while most of us know what a chicken is, the vast, vast majority of us (myself included) have little actual firsthand knowledge of chickens. So it was that early in the week I thought to reach out to a friend who began raising chickens just a couple of years ago. I wondered if this might just offer deeper insight into Jesus’ words today.

As Jenny tells it, raising chickens was something she had thought about for some time, but until then did not have the space nor the time to devote to it.  The purchase of a home outside the city limits and a pandemic which had her working from home meant that for the first time, she had both in abundance. And so, a coop was purchased along with chickens.

When I reached out to her, I asked what she knew about chickens that she did not know before. She quickly replied with a whole litany of insights. Ordinary things like:

  • They keep clean by flapping around in the dust.
  • They can fly, but not far and not that well.
  • They love snacks, especially blueberries and they know her as the giver of such treats.
  • They grieve when a companion dies.
  • They choose a ‘leader’ whose main job it is to watch out for predators, especially hawks, warning the others to take cover when one approaches.

And on and on…

She and I recorded a brief zoom conversation about chickens which you can find here if you wish. (Conversation about Chickens Video) Now mind you, this is not professionally done in any way, but maybe it gives you an entrance into wondering about chickens as well!

No metaphor is perfect, of course. And since my friend doesn’t have a rooster to fertilize the eggs, she hasn’t had the opportunity to observe a mother hen’s particular behavior. And yet, even what she offered helped me go deeper.

  • For the hen, like all of us who are human, apparently feels deeply, even grieves.
  • And a hen which is called to ‘lead,’ has its leadership especially defined by its care and protection of the rest.
  • And a hen is relatively defenseless in the face of predators: its claws and its wings will only take it so far.

And so it seems that the whole story of Good Friday is embedded in the four verses we are called to bring to life this weekend:

  • The collusion between the religious leaders and Herod and their intent to bring a violent end to the life-giving work Jesus is doing.
  • Jesus’ powerful, protective love for those he was sent to serve and to save.
  • And their/our continuous inclination to reject that love, to our own peril.

All of which comes home in the image of a mother hen.

And so with all of you in the days to come I will be bringing this earthy image to the front of mind as I look out at the world now:

Yes, first and foremost as I observe the suffering ones 5,000 miles away fleeing from the violence of war with a startlingly unknown future in front of them.

  • And I imagine Jesus as a mother hen opening wide his wings to shelter those on the run, those who stand in defense of their very homes, and yes, those who have been forced to attack and even those who have sent them to do so.
  • Oh, I imagine Jesus as that mother hen yearning to gather us all in as we all too much put our faith in powerful weaponry which always only brings death and not life.

And yes, as I prepare in these next days to officiate the funeral of a homeless man who was killed in a hit and run not far from the church where I serve:

  • I bring to mind the image of Jesus reaching out to gather close this one who died, and the one who drove off in a panic, and all of us who in these past few years who, because of frustration or rage, have so forgotten our human connection to one another that we drive more recklessly, too often leaving human suffering and death in our wake. (Tragically, if you put into your search engine ‘the pandemic and hit and runs,’ you will come up with dozens of such stories.)

And as I consider the stories of so many who, in the stress of these last years have struggled so:

  • the countless ones, especially young people whose mental health challenges have grown exponentially;
  • those with struggling relationships who simply couldn’t try anymore and who have filed for divorce;
  • those whose addictions have taken over and which now too much seem to be winning the day;
  • those who teach and those who heal and those who preach and all the rest who have had their worlds upended, their energies and identities eroded;
  • those who grieve and those who suffer the ongoing effects of long-covid…

Oh, don’t you think that Jesus as a mother hen with his wings open wide is just about perfect for all who struggle so now?

  • This one who grieves.
  • This one whose leadership is shown in his seeking the safety of those in his care.
  • This one who would and did give his life for those gathered under his protective love.

Now it is so that this week’s Gospel is descriptive and not prescriptive.  We do not hear directly that we are to be or do anything as a result of Jesus’ words today. And yet, how might the world changed if all of us:

  • Both those who wage war and those who suffer as a result;
  • Those who struggle to contain or direct our frustration, our anger and take it out on innocent ones, sometimes even strangers;
  • Those of all ages and circumstances who struggle from the ongoing effects of a pandemic;

And on and on…

How might we and all this broken world be changed if we simply turned to the one who would gather us close, recognizing, each one and all of us, our deep need for nurture and protection from all that would harm?

Don’t you suppose the humility of such as this also enable and impel us to also stand humbly before and with one another, acknowledging our call to watch out for one another and grieve with and for each other?

Not unlike those hens who make their home in my friend, Jenny’s, back yard.

And so very, very much like Jesus.

  • How do you find yourself thinking about Jesus’ comparison of himself to a mother hen in today’s reading?
  • Although these words in Luke’s Gospel are descriptive and not prescriptive, what sort of movement or change does it call up in you anyway?
  • What would it mean for you, for your community, for the world if more of us simply submitted to being gathered in close, protected and so very loved? How might this simple change of posture make a difference?



  1. Susan Trimby says:

    Great post!
    I especially enjoyed the interview with Jenny.
    I wonder what would happen if she put a hen in with new chicks.
    Would she accept them?
    Would she protect them?
    We all know that Jesus is not like that–no matter what.
    He loves us, protects us, comforts us, always!

    • Janet Hunt says:

      Susan, it’s good to hear from you! As you point out, every metaphor has its limits. I’m glad you enjoyed the interview. It was fun to do! I hope you’re doing well.

  2. Jan LaVake says:

    Oh, this reflection is music to my worried, fearful, insecure heart. Thank you for framing this text this way. As I resume preaching as a supply pastor, not knowing the people who will hear my sermons, it helps to be grounded in such a good proclamation of the gospel. Thank you.

    • Janet Hunt says:

      Jan, it’s good to hear from you! The people to whom you will be preaching will be blessed by the gifts you bring. And you’re welcome. I’m glad it’s helpful!

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