Jul 6, 2013

14th Sunday: The maternal God

"As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you . . ."

Is 66: 10-14
Gal 6: 14 – 18
Lk 10: 1-9

The words comfort, security, love and joy are often associated with motherhood.  What is more comforting and secure than a child embraced by a nursing mother who sits calmly as the child takes his/her time drinking in the nourishment that gives them life.  What an incredible privilege for a woman and the very nature of her vocation – to give life and to protect life. 

Mothers are often command central for a family. Around them circles the activities of family life and children. In partnership with her husband, they join in the ideal of marriage and family life and through them life is embraced and continues to flourish.

That is of course the ideal but in sometimes less than ideal form, the position of a mother and her maternal presence provides a focus for the family and a source from which they draw. It is not often that God is pictured as a mother in the scriptures but now and then she is presented.  Even Jesus referred to his love as maternal (Mt. 23:37).

From the book of the prophet Isaiah 66 this Sunday we hear a distinctly female image of God who expresses love for his people: “Oh, that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort, that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts . . . as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you . . ."

In one sense, we may see this as a God who wishes to never let go of his beloved children.  “Keep them at home close to me; safe and sound and away from many dangers that could harm them.”

While we do believe that our God indeed is a protector and nurturer we also know that there is a time that we set out on our own.  As we mature we develop more and more that sense of independence and we make our own judgments; sometimes we judge wisely and other times we go astray.

Maybe the greatest fear of any parent is that their child will fall into harms way. I know the panic of any parent who loses their child and even Mary and Joseph experienced such an emotion when they feared Jesus was lost in Jerusalem for three days at the age of 12. 

Such a warning about harms way is given by Jesus to his own disciples, 72 of them, who he sent out on mission to surrounding villages.  It is clear that Jesus knew his mission would and must continue.  But he warns them, “I am sending you like lambs among wolves . . .” Not the most comforting message indeed.  However, there is no indication that any of them had cold feet or second thoughts. There is every indication of their success. 

Yet, in ancient times there was no more insecure position to be in than that of leaving the security of your family and protective village.  No police escort, no armored cars, no lit highways and safe shelters along the way.  Their ultimate reliance in this case was on the word of Jesus alone.  He advises them on how to deal with rejection and how to accept hospitality along the way and entrusts his mission to them: “The kingdom of God is at hand for you!”

The kingdom of God, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI mentions in his work: Jesus of Nazareth, is Jesus himself. In his coming among us, he brings a new dimension of life; the good news of God’s love and forgiveness, and the call to conversion and a new hope; a new kind of citizenship and reconciliation between God and humanity.

Where can we find that today?  As the secular world around us continues to preach a Gospel of self-fulfillment and a life centered around the individual and his/her rights and personal morals, the Gospel brings us an alternative way – a higher way of living that cares for the common good of all from a God who “mothers us” and calls us to share abundantly in his life. In our Church and in our parishes we should find this new way of life.  To create a safe haven, a place to encounter the living out of the good news.  Our parishes, I believe, should be a place where those who come, encounter the living Christ in word, sacrament, and in the hospitality of those who welcome. There is a distinctly "catholic" way to be Christian and I think it has a great deal to do with being inclusive. Do you?

Not everyone welcomes such good news, however. But, our baptismal mission is no less.  Our celebration of the Eucharist is the time we gather, are fed, nourished, and sent out to be witnesses in a world that is both receptive and deaf to the “kingdom of God.”

It’s always an invitation, a proposal from our Mother/Father God.  How am I responding to his nurturing and protective advance? 
O God, who in the abasement of your Son
have raised up a fallen world,
fill your faithful with holy joy,
for on those you have rescued from slavery to sin
you bestow eternal gladness. 
(Collect for Mass)