Barbara S. Blaisdell – Tacoma FCC
May 10, 2015
Living Toward Wholeness:
Recognizing the Wholeness of God
31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ 33And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’
27 While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!’ 28But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!’
Some of you have heard me say before that the things Jesus said about families are not likely to show up on a Mother’s Day card or worked into a needlepoint that you could purchase on Etsy. To the announcement that his mother and brothers have arrived, Jesus says, “Who are my mother and my brothers? These are my mother and brothers and sisters. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” And when a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you,” he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!’ Happy Mother’s Day! How do you suppose Mary felt about those comments? What’s going on here? And why would I choose these, of all possible scriptures for this of all days, Mother’s Day, a quaint and not simple holiday that celebrates the parental work of mothers.
Barbara Bush and my mother-in-law, Hazel, both used to decry it as a greeting card construct. And women who cannot be or choose not to be mothers feel left out, alienated by the day. Those who have lost their mothers or whose mothers were less than loving can experience this day as more sad than glad. But also, I’m noticing that we have not quite extended the metaphor of mother, the symbol of mother, the rich language and mystery that is mother, to the divine, even though scripture and Jesus himself used both father and mother images for both himself and for God.
But mother bears attending to, and how we mean and understand and hold the maternal I suspect discloses how we mean and understand and hold God. And likewise, how we are understood and held, too.
So what is Jesus getting at in this two-line encounter in Mark? The woman cried out to him, identifying the source of his gifts, his very self, with the maternal, with those primary, primitive, essential maternal tasks. This woman must have recognized in him those very traits with which she now blesses him: receptivity, nurturance, and protective care.
But Jesus does not want to be the focus of her praise, nor does he want even those compelling traits of motherhood to be regarded as solely ascendant. Jesus knows that we need both mothers and fathers in our lives, church mothers and fathers, mothers and fathers of choice as well as our biological mothers and fathers. He knows that there is something in us that needs father God, strong and caring. And he knows that there is something in us that needs mother God, nurturing and welcoming. The prophet Hosea calls God a mother bear deprived of her cubs when Hosea wants to talk about God’s fury at injustice. This is strength and nurture all in one image for God. We need to worship the whole goodness of God with a variety of images. But it isn’t just God who we are invited to see as more complete, as more whole.
When Jesus invites the insightful and brave woman out of the crowd to learn something more, something fully integrating, something even more life changing than bearing life itself. Something more than motherhood is required of her. He tells her that hearing God’s word, and after hearing, then obeying what she has heard. And, given the clarity of the interchange, I suspect Jesus knew the woman would know what that might entail.
Like the spiritual path to which Jesus invites the insightful and clear-thinking woman of today’s story to travel, we are likewise called to a wholeness, to thrive and come to be ourselves in combinations and in ways we cannot now imagine, if we but continue to listen and to hear. We are called to be more than even our best maternal selves, even more than our bearing wombs and our suckling breasts. We are called to be more than our paternal selves, more than deep voice and strength. After hearing the word of God, obedience lies in becoming women and men of justice, women and men of peace, women and men marked by their mercy-filled love.