Stanley Spencer, ‘The Hen’ (detail), Christ in the Wilderness, 1939.

‘O people of religious zeal!’

Andrew Collis
Lent 2, Year C
Luke 13:31-35

I love the gospel image of Jesus as a devoted hen gathering her chicks; protection by way of courage and commitment.

The artwork by Stanley Spencer (I especially love the open space at the bottom right of the image – the baby chickens and the baby sparrow!) portrays sweetly what Franciscan writer Richard Rohr says about salvation/divinisation (theosis): “God is the ultimate nonviolent one … we dare not accept any theory of salvation that is based on violence, exclusion, social pressure or moral coercion … God saves by loving and including …”

Our gospel sees Jesus – Mother Hen, Wisdom/Sophia – lamenting violence. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets [of peace, reform, resistance and reconciliation] and stone those who are sent to you!” We might well hear it said in our time: “O people of religious zeal, people of ideological zeal! You celebrate and perpetrate violence, rejecting the wisdom of peace, reform, resistance and reconciliation.”

On February 21, 2012, five young women entered the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. In neon-coloured dresses, tights and balaclavas, they performed a “punk prayer” beseeching the “Mother of God” to “get rid of Putin”.

They were quickly shut down by security, and in the weeks and months that followed, three of the women were arrested and tried, and two were sentenced to a remote prison colony.

But the incident captured international headlines and footage of it went viral. People across the globe recognised not only a fierce act of political confrontation but also an inspired work of art, that in a time and place saturated with lies, found a new way to speak the truth (see Masha Gessen, Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot, 2014).

“Today on many levels,” writes Rohr, “we are witnessing an immense longing [for wisdom, the prophetic-feminine] at every level of our society – from our politics, to our economics, in our psyche, our cultures, our patterns of leadership, and our theologies, all of which have become far too warlike, competitive, mechanistic, and non-contemplative.”

Journalist Laurie Penny writes: “Transforming a culture of coercion into a culture of consent can reshape what it means to be human … In the century to come, only one of two things will survive: the fragile self-conception and comfort of white masculinity, or human society as we would like to know it. There is everything to fight for” (Sexual Revolution, 2022).

As Christ-bearers we, too, lament: “O people of religious zeal, people of ideological zeal! You celebrate and perpetrate violence, rejecting the wisdom of peace, reform, resistance and reconciliation.”

With the prophets and radical traditionalists we affirm peace, reform (critique/change from within), resistance and reconciliation.

As Christ-bearers we stop denying our own shadows (our sins, as we say), we stop projecting those shadows elsewhere (targeting and scapegoating “sinners”), and we agree to own our deepest identity in solidarity with the world.

As Christ-bearers we carry the hopes of one another. We hold the contradictions – love and fear, graciousness and greed, faith and disloyalty – and resolve them in prayerful practice.

Muscogee Creek Nation poet Joy Harjo writes: “[P]ut down your papers, your tools of coercion, your false promises, your posture of superiority and sit with us before the fire. We will share food, songs and stories. We will gather beneath starlight and dance, and rise together at sunrise (Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, 2015)”.

On Thursday, Act for Peace reported $130,000 raised to send to ACT Alliance partners supporting Ukrainian refugees in Hungary.

In Poland, parents are leaving prams at Przemysl railway station for Ukrainian mothers and children who have been making the perilous journey to cross the border.

In Germany, crowds of people are waiting at Berlin station holding up homemade signs offering a safe place to stay to the men, women and children refugees arriving from Ukraine.

In Lismore, 45 Fijian men are stepping up to rescue people from raging floods, while Sikh volunteers drove 22 hours from Melbourne to deliver 1,500 free vegetarian meals, bottled water and supplies to flood-affected communities.

“Those who agree to carry and love what God loves … and to pay the price for its reconciliation within themselves, these are the followers of Jesus Christ” (Richard Rohr). Amen.