Mary’s Sword on Mother’s Day
The Bible is rather short on blissful scenes of motherhood. The birth of a child to Boaz and Ruth is perhaps one of the rare examples. Rachel’s birth of Joseph was a short interval of motherly bliss, but then she died in childbirth delivering Benjamin. Hannah gave up her young son to the priesthood after which she saw him only once a year. Is Job’s wife an example of happy motherhood? Remember she had ten children, lost them all, and then had ten more! She would be the mother of the millennium.
The Psalms and Proverbs devote a few lines to blessed motherhood, but no names are mentioned. Deborah was known as a Mother in Israel with no details. Was she an only wife? How many children did she have? Were they grown when she was a judge or did they run around the palm tree as she judged? The named mothers in the Old Testament are mostly barren women rejoicing in a pregnancy against all odds.
In the New Testament, her community rejoices with Elizabeth upon the birth of John the Baptist. One can only hope she was no longer living when her son was beheaded by Herod. Mary, the mother of Jesus, received Simeon’s warning eight days after his birth that a sword would pierce her heart. Indeed, she did live to see the day her son was crucified. A mother’s heart is a pierced heart.
After that, motherhood is not particularly extolled, or according to Jesus, even desirable. In the OT motherhood is a mixed blessing at best. In Luke, Jesus does not put mothers on a pedestal: “As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, ‘Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.’ He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it’ (11:27-28).” No longer is a woman's worth totally dependent on reproduction.
On approaching the cross, he becomes even more severe: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ (23:28-29).” These are not likely to be sermon texts on Mother’s Day!
We in middle-class America must be aware that motherhood remains an unbelievable hardship for most women. I only mention briefly the horrors we know from the news. Women give birth as a result of rape, they are forced into pregnancy at too young an age, deliveries occur with no medical help, abortions and infanticide is forced upon them, and finally many of their babies die of starvation and illness.
My proposal for mother’s day is that we put aside some of the flowers and follow whatever call and resources we have to educate, heal, and empower women in our neighborhood and in the continent far away. We need to do what we can to encourage them to rise above the oppression that the bullies in government, religion, and society place upon them.
In addition to modestly acknowledging our mothers, or allowing our families to spoil us a little on this day, we must put effort into encouraging ALL women in practicing ALL their gifts. Some experience motherhood, but many do not. Motherhood may take over a part of our life, but it is not our whole life. Reproduction is not our total identity, fertility may a blessing, but we are blessed in many ways.
I have found that the churches that liberally throw verbal bouquets on Mother’s Day are also the ones that are not interested in women’s voices the remainder of the year. If Motherhood is the so-called greatest call for women, then we are reduced to biology. Motherhood is a call not more or no less than any other call for women.