I have never actually seen a hen do that. But I am told that hens do gather their chicks under their wings. When it rains, for example, the mother hen wants to keep her little ones warm and dry, so she calls them to her and fluffs up her wings. Jesus’ love for the people of Jerusalem, and, by extension, for all of us, is like that.
That is good news. But the real power of divine love on display in this passage comes from the context. At that very moment, Jesus is heading to Jerusalem where, as he well knows, he will die horribly. Many of the very people Jesus longs to gather under his arms will pressure Pilate to kill Jesus and will cheer as Jesus dies.
Jesus knows exactly what the people of Jerusalem will do. And still Jesus views them with compassion. This is not cheap sentiment. This is indomitable love, love that will not be denied, love for the enemy, love for the very people who will soon hate and exclude and revile and defame Christ himself.
Despite all that they will do to him, Jesus longs to gather the people of Jerusalem into his arms of love and to protect them from the harm that he knows will come upon them just a few decades after his own death, when Romans destroy their city.
That is the love of God which is the heart of the gospel. Despite our obstinate resistance, God loves us enough to suffer and die in order that we may be gathered together under Christ’s wings as God’s redeemed and beloved children.
That is also the love Christ commands us to imitate as best we can, with God’s help. We are supposed to extend the compassion and love that we receive from God to our neighbors, all our neighbors.
Unfortunately, we seem to be getting worse and worse at that. The great recent example is the mass murder at the Mosque in New Zealand on Friday. But analogous problems afflict us much closer to home. In a recent editorial called “Our Culture of Contempt,” Arthur Brooks makes several disheartening observations about America today. Political scientists who measure this sort of thing say that we are more polarized as a nation now than we have been at any time since the Civil War, that is to say any time since we were literally killing each other over our differences.
Our polarization stems in part from what Brooks calls “motive attribution asymmetry.” It’s a big phrase for a simple point. We all assume that our side—whatever side that is—is motivated by love and the other side is motivated by hate. According to Brooks, the average Democrat and the average Republican now believe that about each other at rates comparable to how Israelis and Palestinians feel about each other. That is shocking.
As it happens, I know plenty of Democrats and plenty of Republicans. That has to be true for all of us. The people I know are not all equally good, and they are not all equally informed. But NONE of the people I know from either party are motivated primarily by hate. ALL of the people I know from both parties want what is best for this country, even if they differ on what that looks like. I bet all of us can say the same.
And yet when like-minded people get together, it is easy to slip into outrage and contempt for the good people with whom we happen to disagree.
Brooks compares our outrage and contempt to an addiction, and I think he is right. It feels good in the moment. But it harms us in measureable ways—Brooks talks about the release of stress hormones. And we know that it is self-destructive, both for us individually and for society more generally. Apparently 93% of Americans are tired of how divided we have become. And yet somehow we can’t stop acting in divisive ways.
Brooks proposes three solutions. One is to turn away from what he calls “the rhetorical dope peddlers,” that is the powerful people on your own side who foment outrage. A second is to commit not to treat other people with contempt, even when we think they deserve it. Either of those would be a good Lenten practice.
But the third brings me back to our Gospel reading. Brooks says that when we are treated with contempt, we should respond with warmheartedness and good humor. A more Christian way of saying the same thing is that we should respond to even to enemies with blessing.
I think again about Christ facing the murderous contempt and outrage of many people in Jerusalem with compassion and love, with a longing to bring them together under his protective wing, with an absolute refusal to demonize the people who will kill him.
Our theme for this week is blessing. That is what we see in action in our Gospel reading. Jesus is doing what he tells us to do: “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you” (Luke 6:27-28).
As Christians, we are called to loving compassion for all people, no matter how wrong-headed they may be. We can still disagree. Jesus never backed off of his convictions! But we should disagree in love.
But how do we get there? When we live in a culture of contempt, how can we bless?
The key is to remember that we have first been blessed.
When Carrie and I were dating, we visited her hometown. I needed a haircut, so we went to the only salon we could find. In what I quickly came to recognize was a mistake, I sat down in the chair without asking how much it would cost. The person working on me put warm towels on my face and rubbed my cheeks and did all sorts of other things that felt really good. It was like no haircut I had ever received.
Sitting there in the chair soaking in all the wonderfulness, I had two strong feelings. One was pleasure about just how good this felt. The other was dismay at how much it was likely to cost.
When it was over, Carrie insisted on paying because she saw how much I had enjoyed the experience, and she wanted to do something nice for me. I was glad not to have to pay. But what made Carrie’s gift special was not the money. It was the love that motivated it. And that day her love filled me up. For the rest of the day, I was ready to bless everyone I saw.
As Christian people, that should be true of us all the time. Especially in this season, as we focus our attention on what Christ suffered for us, on just how much God loves us, on the incredible blessing of God’s forgiveness and grace and love for us, especially in this season, we should be walking around in a daze of love all the time.
Of course, that is not going to happen. But we could at least start with not being contemptuous of the good people around us simply because we disagree with them. It is certainly difficult to imagine Jesus sharing that contempt.
And we could aim for doing what Jesus tells us to do, what Jesus himself does in our Gospel reading. We could bless those who we might think of as our enemies. What a difference that would make in our lives and in our world.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Arthur Brooks, “Our Culture of Contempt,” New York Times Week in Review, Sunday, March 3, 2019.