My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.
All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that [Tabitha] Dorcas had made…
Peter said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up.
Acts 9:39, 40
Today is Mother’s Day in the secular calendar. We can’t go into a shop or watch commercial television without being bombarded with ideas to buy something for our mothers. But is we strip away the commercialism there is plenty for us to reflect on and celebrate.
My parents in law celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary on the 9th of May. It was naturally a time for celebrating, giving thanks to God. It was easy for their children to say thank you to them for providing all their needs: warmth and love as well as the physical needs etc. It seems to me that we appreciate our parents more and more as we get older providing for our own house hold and for many of us raising our own children. As we recognise our own faults and failings it is easier to let go of the hurts and angers we felt, probably especially when we were teenagers.
As we celebrate Mother’s day it is good to pause and give thanks for our mums. They went through the risks and pain of child birth, mopped up our vomit when we were sick, cooked meals and got us to eat our veggies. They took us to school on our first day and came and picked us up with afternoon tea ready at home. They gave us freedom to climb the trees and explore while giving us boundaries for safety. The list goes on and on. Your memories won’t match mine, but I trust most of us have plenty to give thanks for. We all know of some mums who weren’t the best and some who were terrible. On the whole most mums deserve all the love and spoiling they get on Mother’s Day. Hopefully we don’t only say thank you on Mother’s Day. I was in the que last night to get petrol. The young mum in front of me diligently took her little baby out of the capsule when she went into pay. Just before she put the little baby in the car again it vomited all over her. Normally by this time I would have been thinking come on hurry up. But on the eve of Mother’s day it was a good reminded of self-sacrificing love. I waited patiently. So thank you to all our mums for the love and warmth and for meeting the many many needs we all have.
Reading the psalm and the Gospel for today it is easy to have a sense that a Good Shepherd is a good metaphor for a good mother. And when we turn that around, a good mother is a great metaphor for God. Perhaps we don’t think of God as a mother cleaning up the vomit on the baby first and then cleaning up oneself. But that is what the incarnation is all about, God coming into the messy world embracing us vomit and all. The image of the Good shepherd speaks of providing food, shelter and safety, being there in the darkness of our fears, and making us feel at home. These images resonate well with motherhood at its best. The people of Israel had that image already and Jesus crystallised it for us. My hope is that we can all develop an image of God as a loving mother with all the love and laughter, the care and servant-hood, and the capacity to be in the presence of our chaos.
Hopefully a feminine image of God will balance up the often patriarchal powerful but harsh image of God we tend to have. In the end all our metaphors are only metaphors that give us a glimpse of God: male or female, King or shepherd, judge or comforter. They balance a view that ultimately is unhealthy. I suspect we all become healthier disciples of Jesus when we have a dozen different metaphors for God. A good metaphor will draw upon an aspect found in the Scriptures and will resonate with our experience. Usually then it will closely align with ideas expressed during the history of God’s people. When we explore the metaphors we cherish and the ones we dislike we often discover invitations form the Holy Spirit to grow or mature in a particular area of our lives. Most of Jesus’ parables are metaphors for God, or God’s reign, or the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I invite you to sit with the metaphor of God the mother.
One of the important issues to reflect before we finish is the connection with the image of the Shepherd, especially with psalm 23, is eternal life. Because we most often hear the 23rd Psalm at funerals we tend to think of the psalm as pointing to the green pastures in the presence of God after death. Eternal life after death. Perhaps the image of a mother can remind us of God who is there with us from the cradle to the grave and then yes beyond but with the main emphasis on the here and now. I watched a mother today/yesterday pushing a pram with her two little ones and her mother beside her using a walker. The mother’s care, her love and laughter, sacrifice and servant-hood are to nourish life here and now. Yes there comes a time when that mum will help her mum prepare for death and dying. And the warmth and love will continue to grow long after death. But the main focus of the mother is to make life wonderful today.
The eternal life that the Gospel of John is keen for us to embrace is essentially the abundance of life today in the presence of God today. In his commentary on John chapter Professor Osvaldo Vena decries the over spiritualisation of the message of eternal life. He says:
With the promise that what really counts is eternal, heavenly life, people have been deprived of enjoying life on earth fully. Many have accepted this as a God imposed necessity and have suffered incredible hardships with the hope of a future reward.
People too readily speak of the “cross I bear” speaking of their suffering without discerning if it is the cross of Christ or just some suffering they have unwittingly chosen. The Good Mother wants those she cares for to have a life rich with laughter, good food and sustenance, she wants them to reach their full potential, and to grow to be a blessing to others. God wants all of that for us, let’s not unwittingly choose unnecessary suffering.