If Jesus Were a Mother
James C. Denison
This week I saw a “mother’s dictionary,” and thought several of the terms worth passing along this morning:
•Family planning: the art of spacing your children the proper distance apart to keep you on the edge of financial disaster.
•Feedback: the inevitable result when the baby doesn’t appreciate strained carrots.
•Hearsay: what toddlers do when anyone mutters a dirty word.
•Look out: what it’s too late for your child to do by the time your scream it.
•Show off: a child who is more talented than yours.
•Sterilize: what you do to your first baby’s pacifier by boiling it and to your last baby’s pacifier by blowing on it.
On this Mother’s Day, we are grateful for all the ways our mothers love us in spite of ourselves.
As you may know, a woman in Philadelphia named Anna Jarvis began a campaign in 1907 to honor mothers, for the sake of her mother. President Woodrow Wilson made the second Sunday in May an official national holiday in 1914.
And so the holiday is not found in the Bible or on the church calendar. But it is appropriate that we celebrate it on a Sunday. It is interesting that you have come to church for Mother’s Day. Many of you would be here anyway, but most of you see worship as a part of your Mother’s Day observance. Some of you are our guests today as you have come to worship with your mothers. Most of you wouldn’t feel it was truly Mother’s Day without such worship.
Our sentiment is more correct theologically than we may know. We are all familiar with God as our Father. Jesus taught us to pray to “Our Father, which art in heaven.” But the original readers of Scripture were very familiar with the fact that God is our mother as well. When we explore that concept for just a few moments, we will quickly see why it is so transforming and practical for every mother and for every child today.
God our Mother
Isaiah 49 is best understood in the context of the Babylonian captivity, those 70 years five centuries before Christ when God’s people were enslaved in a foreign, pagan land. Our chapter contains one of the Messianic passages of the Old Testament, predicting the coming of a Chosen One who would save and help God’s people.
He will come “in the day of salvation” (v. 8a); he will “restore the land and . . . reassign its desolate inheritances” (v. 8b). He will free the captives (v. 9), feed those who are hungry and thirsty (v. 10), and bring people from the north and the west to the Kingdom of God (v. 12). In short, “the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones” (v. 13).
But how can this be true in Babylon? How can this be true where you live, in the hurting and fallen world you and I inhabit? Many of us know how to say, “The Lord has forsaken me; the Lord has forgotten me” (v. 14). But he has not: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?” (v. 15a). Every mother knows the answer to that question. Even if your mother forgets you, the Lord says, “I will not forget you!” (v. 15b).
In fact, the God of the universe promises, “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (v. 16a). “Engraved” in the Hebrew means to tattoo or otherwise fix permanently. God has written your name on the palm of his hand, where he can see it every moment of every day. It is there right now.
In other words, God the Father does for us what a mother does for her children.
He comforts us when we are hurting and lonely: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (Isaiah 40:1); “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (Isaiah 66:13).
He protects and guides us when we are lost or in danger: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (Isaiah 40:11).
Christian readers of the Hebrew Bible understood clearly that God the Spirit does for us what a mother does for her children as well.
The Hebrew word for Spirit is ruach, a term which is feminine in nature. We find the word in Genesis 1, where “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:2). “Hovering” translates a Hebrew word used in Scripture for a hen “hovering” over her chicks or her eggs. At the very beginning of creation, God the Spirit was “mothering” the universe.
The Spirit gives us life. Many people do not know this, but the Bible teaches that our physical life is due to the presence of the Spirit (Job 27:3; Ezekiel 37:14; 39:29). And our eternal life is the result of the Spirit’s work. When we “ask Jesus into our heart,” it is actually the Holy Spirit who comes to dwell in us. We are now the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 3:16). The Spirit regenerates us and makes us the children of God. Using our mothers to give us life, it is actually the Spirit of God who gives us physical and eternal life.
And God the Son acts in our lives as a loving mother as well.
Jesus is our “advocate” in heaven, standing with us no matter what (Hebrews 9:24). As a mother with her child, he is always with us.
He weeps with us when we hurt, as he wept at the grave of Lazarus (John 11:35) and the onlookers said, “See how he loved him!” (v. 36).
He longs to gather us together as his children: “O 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, but you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37).