‘Even should she forget, I will never forget you.’ What a spectacular word from God! How did Isaiah come up with such a moving analogy for God’s love? Especially in the ancient Near East, with its male-dominated outlook, comparing almighty God to a loving, tender mother must have sounded revolutionary. When we hear of a mother’s love for her newborn child, we immediately think of a warm, encompassing, and nurturing love. We think of a woman who will go to great lengths to protect her child, even if it means sacrificing her own life.
There was once a poor woman who had a son who was ruining her life. He wouldn’t work. He was drinking and hanging around with troublemakers. He robbed everything of value she had in the house. Again and again, she pleaded with him to change his life, but he refused to do so. He broke her heart and made her life a misery. Eventually, he ended up in prison. Surely now she would leave him to his fate! Not at all, she would visit him every week without fail carrying cigarettes and other little things in her carrier bag.
One day one of the priests in her parish met her as she was on her way to the prison. ‘This son has ruined your life,’ the priest said. ‘He’ll never change. Why don’t you just forget about him?’ ‘How can I?’ she replied. ‘I don’t like what he has done, but he’s still my child.’ Her story is not unique. Whenever I celebrate mass in Modderbee prison on Sunday there is usually a large group of visitors there and the vast majority of them are mothers visiting their sons.
You could say that the mother was foolish. Yet she was only doing what any mother worthy of the name can’t help doing, that is, loving her child through thick and thin. A mother never gives up. For most of us the love of a mother is the most reliable kind of human love we will experience. It’s no wonder that Isaiah uses a mother’s love as an image of God’s love for us.
If a mother, who after all is a mere human being, is capable of such steadfast love, then how much greater is God’s love for us who are his children. No matter how much we are steeped in sin, God does not cease to love us. The musical ‘Showboat’ comes to mind where Julie sings, “Tell me he’s lazy, tell me he’s slow, tell me I’m crazy, maybe I know. Can’t help loving that man of mine. “God simply can’t help loving each and every one of us!
Initially, this prophetic word was intended to bring comfort to the Jews who had been defeated in battle and then exiled from their homes. Captives of war, living in a foreign country far from their home and Temple, they could have thought that God had abandoned them. But Isaiah’s words rang out with comfort and assurance: “I am with you.”
At the same time, this prophecy is meant for all of us. Just as the Israelites needed hope and encouragement, so do we. No matter what our lives look like right now, the Lord wants to tell us, “I will never forget you.” We all know that our world is a mixture of good and bad, of joy and sorrow, of love and hatred. How wonderful it is to know that amid all the ups and downs of life, we have one constant: almighty God loves us just as intensely as a mother loves her child.
Coming to grips with God as a loving mother can be a challenge. We are accustomed to fatherly images which, for many of us, leans towards a God who is strict and distant. Would it not make a difference if we were to invite a motherly God into our lives as we struggle with the ups and downs of everyday living? Life has a way of hitting us from every side, and no matter how hard we try to keep our balance the ground gives way from under your feet. I wonder how often, in these circumstances, do we think of God as a loving mother always worrying about us!
Jesus knows our struggles. He is aware of the many of us who battle to pay the bills and even more so those who don’t know where the next meal is coming from. And yet Jesus too is into motherly images. “How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Mt 23:27).
That last phrase, ‘and you were unwilling’ is telling. Why so? Why are we unwilling? Perhaps because we live in a world where many have chosen mammon before God and have made an idol out of money. Of course, if only for financial reasons, money comes in handy, but for Jesus idolising money is the great enemy. It only leads to greed and selfishness — qualities that have no place in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus, therefore, is asking us to make a choice between God and Mammon. There are no half-measures here. It’s either one or the other. Furthermore, he wants us, his little flock, to dedicate ourselves to God in a world where money seems for many to be the absolute measure of value. Jesus also wants us to be witnesses to his love in the face of populist political leaders who appeal to people’s fear; fear of the other, fear of foreigners, of cultures and religions that differ from us.
No one is saying this is going to be easy. Yet Jesus promises us that once we dedicate ourselves to God we will no longer be anxious about life or afraid, for our heavenly Father will always take care of us. To live the Beatitudes is to build our lives on the solid rock of Jesus’ teaching. It is to trust in God, knowing that we are in the safe hands of a loving mother. As Julian of Norwich said so wisely long ago, ‘all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.’
Sunday, 26 February 2017