Near the end of His mortal ministry, Jesus lamented the recalcitrance of the people He had come to save—the people He had lived with, served, and loved. He said, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not” (Matthew 23:37). Being the Son of God, He knew the way to eternal security and joy—and the prophets that preceded Him taught that way and pointed the people to His coming. However, the people of Jerusalem at that time failed to recognize the authority of the prophets and the divinity of the Christ, choosing instead to reject them, cast them out, and kill them. Essentially, Jesus’ lament was for their unwillingness to accept the salvation that He offered them. Similarly, Jesus Christ expressed sorrow over the wickedness and rebellion of the peoples of the ancient Americas after His resurrection. The Book of Mormon recounts that, when Jesus visited the ancient Americans, He said:
O ye people of these great cities which have fallen, who are descendants of Jacob, yea, who are of the house of Israel, how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you. And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, who have fallen; yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, ye that dwell at Jerusalem, as ye that have fallen; yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not. O ye house of Israel whom I have spared, how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart. (3 Nephi 10)
While reading these verses recently, I recognized that the Book of Mormon provides deeper insight into the Savior’s desire to gather His children—all of us—under His wings as a mother hen gathers her chicks. In addressing the people of the Americas, Christ’s was a three-part invitation: He reminded them of the numerous times that He had saved them and their predecessors before, He invited them to reflect on the times that they had lost His blessing—not because He was absent but because they were unwilling to receive it, and He promised them that He would continue to save them in the future.
[H]ow oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you
In the first part of Christ’s invitation, He spoke of the many times that He had already acted in order to deliver His people. Surely, He spoke of the deliverance that the people enjoyed from the calamities and destruction that rocked the Americas following His crucifixion (3 Nephi 8), but I imagine He also meant to call the people’s minds back to the miracles He had done among the Children of Israel historically. I suppose He meant to remind them of the way that He had guided Noah to build an ark, led Moses and the Children of Israel across the Red Sea on dry ground, and toppled the walls of Jericho. I think He meant to remind them that He was and continued to be a God of Miracles—a God who had always been benevolent to His people, eager to bless them in their obedience.
Recognizing the good that the Lord has done in my life has helped me to trust Him—to see Him as kind and good and invested in my well-being. I’m sure that being reminded of all the times that Christ had gathered them helped the people of the ancient Americas to recognize the goodness of the Savior who had come to visit them: there’s a power in remembering His goodness. That act of remembering helps us to see the Lord as an ally, a friend dedicated to our success. In describing a years-long exercise in writing down the blessings of the Lord in his life, President Henry B. Eyring said:
I wrote down a few lines every day for years. I never missed a day no matter how tired I was or how early I would have to start the next day. Before I would write, I would ponder this question: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?” As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done.
When we decide to remember the good that God has done in our lives and in the lives of others, we will, as President Eyring explained, be able to see that good more clearly. That recognition, then, will help us to feel the love that God has for us, to know how much He has cared and can yet care for us.
[H]ow oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not
Of course, the Savior’s visit to the Americas came right after calamitous earthquakes, fires, and floods. Perhaps there were some in the gathering of survivors who were eager to question the goodness of a God who had allowed such catastrophes to befall them. Perhaps, sometimes, we wonder why sorrows—or even catastrophes—befall us. In Christ’s words, we see that those misofortunes and sorrows do not come to us because our Savior has abandoned us or gotten busy with something else. Rather, they come about because we fail to seek our refuge in His arms.
While serving as a missionary in Brazil, I ran into several chickens on the unpaved roads of the rural cities I served in. Sometimes, dozens of little chicks accompanied those hens, and, when the two giant missionaries came tramping down the street, the mother hens spread out their wings like awnings against the ground in order to give their chicks a place to hide. Of course, we meant no harm, but the chicks didn’t know that. They only saw our size, our heavy feet, and the potential that we had to do them lasting harm. Those little birds were so frightened by our presence that they could only think to run away—as far and as fast as they could. They were so frightened by the danger they saw in us that they forgot all about the safety of their mother’s sheltering wings. The hens ran after them, trying to collect their chicks under their wings, but the chicks were off and away, alone and vulnerable. In my experience, the mother hens did all that they could to gather and shelter their chicks. It was the chicks, however, that were too afraid to trust in that shelter.
Similarly, I believe that our Savior Jesus Christ does all that He can to safeguard and to shelter us from the troubles of life. However, I think we are sometimes like those chicks—so frightened by the looming danger that we abandon the safety of our Savior’s arms and flee as far and as fast as we can, often further exposing ourselves to danger and isolating ourselves from help. We should never do that. His arm of mercy is always extended, and we can always turn to Him and find refuge under His care. In another part of the Book of Mormon, we see that, while turning to the Savior may not remove the storms from our lives, turning to the Savior will give us access to His power to stand against those storms. Interestingly, that passage begins also with an injunction to remember:
And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:12).
Surely, Christ is always willing to gather us and to protect us. When that protection fails, we should resist the inclination towards feeling abandoned and instead examine ourselves to see whether we haven’t—like the chicks in Brazil—let our fear overcome our trust and drive us away from the loving embrace of the One who can protect us.
[H]ow oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart
Finally, the Savior invited that gathered people to repent of their sins and to turn unto Him with full purpose of heart. To them, He promised that He would continue to gather them and to shelter them. There is not one of us that the Savior doesn’t love or that He is uninterested in saving. Thus, all of us can enjoy the blessing of His care as long as we are willing to receive it. The promise and invitation here in the Book of Mormon reminds of one the Lord made through the prophet Isaiah when he wrote, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land” (Isaiah 1:18-19). Our Savior isn’t a God interested in punishment, chastisement, or oppression. Rather, a little like the hens I saw in Brazil, He wants us to come near, to reason with Him, to trust in Him, to accept and follow His teachings, and to enjoy His blessings. If we are willing and obedient, we can rest in the assurance that He will bless us with all the good that we seek.
“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him,” the Apostle Paul wrote of the great blessings that come to those who choose to be gathered under the wings of the Lord (1 Corinthians 2:9). I know that Christ has great things in store both now and in the future for all those who assert their faith over their fears and turn unto Him with unwavering hearts and real intent. I know that He wants to gather us as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and I know that we will find in Him the shelter and confidence we need to face the storms and struggles of life. Jesus Christ is our Savior, and He loves us unfailingly. There is no reason to turn from Him—even when our circumstances frighten us so much that we stop believing that He can help. Though struggles abound, we should run not from but to His sheltering arm, for “his hand is stretched out still” (Isaiah 5:25).