Genesis 15:1-12,17-18; Luke 13:31-35
This week we are grateful to John Wurster for providing the lectionary reflection.
In this short passage from Luke, Jesus is lamenting over Jerusalem, foreshadowing the suffering that awaits him there in the days to come.
As he laments, he says, “How often I have desired to gather your children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” How often I have desired.Desired. That’s a strong word. And it’s a rare word in the Gospel of Luke, appearing only one other time when Jesus is the subject. I desire. This phrase is pointing us to something significant about Jesus’ character. Jesus yearns deeply to gather us. With great feeling, great longing, Jesus seeks to gather us to himself, to bring us close, hold us, shelter us, keep us. It is a desire for an intimate relation with us.
I’m not sure we very often think of God as desiring us, longing for us. We are more likely to see God as judging us or correcting us or punishing us or testing us or condemning us. Or maybe we see God as distant and disinterested. Up there, out there, far away from where we live. But this text shows that, in Jesus, God is close and God is desiring us, as if there is something in the very nature of God that is completed in us, something in God that is fulfilled by being in relationship with us.
God’s longing is not just seen in this single verse. It is a great theme of Scripture: God seeking us out. In the story of creation in Genesis 1, humans are created in the very image of God. From the beginning, we have been marked by God in an intimate way. Perhaps it is our identity as bearers of God’s own image that attracts God to us. A few pages later in Genesis, Adam and Eve are hiding in the garden, and the longing of God is voiced in a question that continues to echo: “Where are you?” This is God’s desire for us, and it rings throughout the Bible.
It is God seeking out the old man Abraham in today’s lesson from Genesis 15, making a covenant against all odds and directing Abraham to consider the stars of the heavens as indications of the fruitful results of this relationship. It’s the crazy shepherd leaving 99 sheep to go after one who is lost. It’s the love-struck father running out of the house to welcome home his prodigal child. It’s what baptism is about. It’s God looking for us, claiming us, desiring us, reaching out and gathering in.
We hide. We resist. We flee. We follow our way, embrace our own truth, live our own lives. Still God seeks us out. How often have I desired to gather you and you were not willing? Still God seeks us out. Still God longs for us. Why?
Maybe God yearns to show us who we truly are, how beautifully we’ve been made, how deep is our capacity for goodness and blessing. Maybe God’s desire is to uncover for us the love that is at the core of our being, which we tend to ignore even as we look and struggle for affirmation elsewhere. Maybe God longs for us to behold our true selves, intrinsically connected to the God whose image we bear.
One other time in the Gospel of Luke Jesus speaks of his desire for us. It is the night before his death. He sits with his disciples around a table. He says, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover meal with you” (22:15).I desire to eat with you.Later that night he will be betrayed and denied. The next day he will die. But in this moment, his desire is for connection with those at the table, sharing with them bread and wine, sharing with them abundant life.
From font to table to cross, the signs of God’s desire remain ever before us — a promised presence in all things, at all times. How deep is God’s longing for us. We can hide, resist or flee. We can fill our hearts with fear and anxiety. We can fill our lives with the message that we don’t have enough, that we don’t do enough, that we have failed. But God’s desire for us remains. We cannot deter it.
What if we could yield to it? What if we could claim the oneness with God planted deep within us — and nurture it and trust it? What if we were willing to admit our dependence and take shelter under God’s wings? What if we gathered amidst font, table and cross with joy and expectation? What if in yielding to God’s desire for us we awakened our own desire for God, realizing that what we’ve been looking for after all is the One who has been longing for us after all?
Maybe we would worship more mindfully or pray more fervently or serve more readily. Maybe we would be more faithful, more hopeful, more loving. Or maybe we would simply be more thankful.
- Is being the object of God’s desire a comforting or disturbing thought?
- What does the image of Jesus as a hen gathering a brood under her wings suggest to you in our age of heightened divisions?
- How does Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem foreshadow the results of his own ministry? Of the destination for our Lenten journeys?
- In Luke 13:35, Jesus quotes Psalm 118:26, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” In Luke’s account of Palm Sunday the same phrase is directed at Jesus by the “multitude of the disciples” as he rides into Jerusalem (Luke 19:37-38). How do these two scenes compare?
- Is your default image for God distant and disinterested or close and engaged? How does God’s interaction with Abraham in Genesis 15 contribute to your understanding of God’s transcendence and immanence?
- The psalm for today, Psalm 27, presents one who is seeking God ( see verses 4 and 9). How does the spiritual quest described in the psalm correspond to God’s activity in today’s passages from Genesis and Luke?
JOHN WURSTER is pastor of St. Philip Presbyterian Church in Houston.
Want to receive Looking into the Lectionary content in your inbox on Mondays? Click here to join our email list!