Like a hen gathers her brood
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!This image of a hen gathering a brood under her wings is one that recurs in scripture and it is one of a number of feminine images for God. While we readily affirm God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we also know that God is beyond gender and is not confined by male terms alone. In a sermon God Our Mother, I once wrote,
We gather to worship our creator who is beyond the limit of our vocabulary to describe. Yet our words can point to the deeper reality of God's love and care for us.
Our mothers are so formative for who we are, it is not surprising that the Bible uses the image of a mother to speak of God at times. For example:
- In Deuteronomy (32:18), God is described as “the God who gave you birth.”
- The Prophet Hosea described God as a parent who loves, teaches, holds, heals and feeds her child. God is not specifically described there as father or mother, though the actions are those most associated with a mother. Hosea also describes God as being like a mother bear protecting her cubs (Hosea 13:8).
- The Book of Job also referred to God’s womb bringing forth the world (Job 38:8,29).
- In five Psalms (Psalms 17:8, 36:7, 57:1, 91:1, 4) the Psalmist uses the image of God being like a mother bird protecting her chicks under her wing.
- In I Peter (2:2-3) Christians are described as newborns longing for pure spiritual milk from God.
- While Jesus did not use motherly language, he did compare God to a woman working leaven into bread (Luke 13:18-21) and a woman seeking a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10).
- In Isaiah (42:12) God is compared to a woman in labor. Also in Isaiah we get those words we sing here at King of Peace which say (Isaiah 49:14-15), “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even if these may forget, yet I will never forget you.”
This is an important distinction, for I know in speaking of mothers how complex that can be. Not everyone has had an ideal mother. This is the same problem we can run into when speaking of God as Father. In both instances, God is compared to an ideal mother and an ideal father. This is why Isaiah acknowledges that even if a woman does forget her own baby or the child within her womb, God will nonetheless be like that ideal mother who could never forget her own.
God also says through the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 66:13), “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.”
In our Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus says, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” In the King James Version, the verse is translated, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” This translation fits well with the verse as Jesus is speaking of sending the Holy Spirit, sometimes referred to as the Holy Comforter from the King James Version’s translation which speaks of Jesus as sending a comforter to be with us always.
The Holy Spirit as comforter is a very feminine image, which fits well enough as Spirit in both Hebrew and Greek is a feminine word. In those languages, the pronoun she is used of Spirit, including Holy Spirit. Of course, all of this is by way of analogy as God is neither male nor female. And certainly speaking of God the Father is orthodox Christian teaching. Yet, we should also hold on to some of that feminine imagery for God is not only like a man as God is like the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. But God is also like a mother who can not forget the child in her womb.
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor