The Paradox of the Powerless God (Luke 13:31-35)

It has been said that the clearest realization of a person’s own lack of strength and power comes when that person has his or her first child. You can do all you can to prepare for the birth. You can buy the baby books and read up about what to expect. You can deck out the nursery to insure that all is ready. Moms and Dads can do everything “right” to insure that the delivery is safe and performed according to their doctor’s orders. But then the child comes and they realize how truly powerless they are. They can’t keep that first major illness away. They can’t take away the hurt from that first fall. They learn early on that they can’t protect their children from all of the threats of life (both real and imagined) that they wish they could. So being a parent involves a strange paradox. It means bringing this other life into the world and becoming responsible…loving and cherishing and caring for your child…but realizing, in the end, that you do not have ultimate control over that person. Though a parent may only find himself as happy as his least happy child…that child will grow up to be an independent adult with his or her own dreams, desires, and vocations. As an adult who was once a child myself, I know there were times I delighted my parents as well as times that I broke their hearts. Parents know what it means to love in a vulnerable way. You can only open your arms. There is no guarantee that your children will always walk into them.

Jesus is, of course, a member of the Holy Trinity, a God whom we confess to be “Almighty.” Yet He uses the picture of a parent with arms open wide in his lament over Jerusalem in our text today (you can read the passage here). He does not invoke the image of a roaring lion or talon-baring eagle to demonstrate his power at work in the world. He chooses instead the humble image of a hen who does all in her power to gather and protect her precious brood. His is, paradoxically, a power that extends only so far: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! The city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers its brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” There is life and there is death. There is salvation and there is destruction. God does not choose some and reject others. God is our Savior and “desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). But the love of God, as patient and courageous as it is, allows his children to reject His embrace. At Jesus’ death there were no chicks gathered under his wings. He died with arms open wide…and empty.

There is nothing in us…sinners that we are…that desires to claim Jesus as our Savior. We are the Jerusalem of His lament. Yet Jesus’ final words in this lament concern a future day that Jerusalem would receive Him and bless Him as the One “coming in the Name of the Lord.” The day Jesus was greeted that way on the first Palm Sunday pointed ahead to the final day of His return, as crucified yet resurrected King of Glory! Until the coming of that day His love welcomes all who find themselves forsaken.

In Jesus the “soldiers’ psalm” is fulfilled: “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge” (Psalm 91:4). And for all who find refuge under His wings, Jesus’ lament for those who reject His love becomes their lament too. We repent of our sins anew this week. We pray for and await (together with Jesus) others whom our Savior longs to gather and rescue with open arms.