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Matthew 23:37-39

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (verse 37)


In the whole of the preceding chapter, Jesus has spoken “woe” to the religious leaders of his day, making pronouncements that are severe, harsh, and completely in-your-face. He pulls no punches. Woe. Woe. Woe. Woe. Woe. Woe. Woe. Seven times over he speaks stark words of condemnation.

But now we see the context. In these closing verses, we see the heart that is behind the words. It’s a heart of love. Clearly, Jesus loves the very ones about whom he has spoken so harshly. The words were not simply of judgement, but truly of lament. He grieves deeply and passionately for the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, together with all others who are resident in Jerusalem, the city itself being representative of all God’s people, Israel. Jesus grieves for them because he truly loves them. He longs “to gather (Jerusalem’s) children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” It is a statement of passionate love.

Does it surprise us? Yes and no. Yes, because we have grown accustomed to seeing these religious leaders of Jerusalem as the villains. It is easy to wish God’s judgement to fall on them. They were so stuck in their ways, so blinded by their pride, so assured of their own self-righteousness, and so poisoned by jealousy of Jesus’ growing popularity and influence, that they could excuse themselves in plotting to put him to death. They were his enemies from day one. We are surprised that he could love them.

But then, of course, he has loved us, too. We also were his enemies, and yet he chose to lay down his life to save us all. When we come to our senses and remember it was love that motivated Jesus to enter human experience in the first place, the surprise goes away.

Of course he would love them. He loves us. He loves the world.

So this image of the hen gathering her chicks reminds me powerfully of two things:

(1) He loves me – yes, me. He wants to gather me close, just like a mother-hen. I know the image of him as a shepherd, so I know that he watches over me, leads me to places of nurture, guards me when travelling difficult ways, and brings me to times of refreshment. But all of this is intensified by the image of a mother-hen gathering her chicks about her. I am embraced by his love. Of course, if I am to experience the depth of his care, the image implies that I need to submit, for he laments that Jerusalem’s people “were not willing.” I choose to submit, to rejoice in his love.

(2) He loves even those most hostile. Even the most opposed, skeptical, irascible, obnoxious. Even those who are most “full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (verse 28). Even those most like the Pharisees of his day. He longs to gather them to himself, for he loves each and every one and has chosen to give his life that each might be redeemed.

I choose to remember this reality, to not give up on any, to pray for a softening of heart that they, too, might be “willing” to receive Jesus’ love.


Lord Jesus, thank you that your love extends to all, even to those who stubbornly resist. Thank you that all are in your sights. Thank you for your ongoing patience. Please soften hearts that they might respond to you while there is still time.


Pray: Think of those you know who have a firm resistance to Jesus. On the basis of his love, pray that their hearts might be softened, that they may turn to him, receive his salvation, and live in his love.


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