Loving and Faithful – A Mother’s Story

photo-oct-14-9-06-26-amMy last post was a first person telling of two of Jesus’ parables.  This is the second part of that message on the Brief Statement of Faith, exploring the parable of the prodigal son using inclusive language.

As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. – Isaiah 66:13 (NRSV)

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb. – Isaiah 46:3 (NRSV)

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. – Isaiah 49:14-15 (NRSV)

 

Loving us still,

God makes us heirs with Christ of the covenant.

Like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child,

like a father who runs to welcome the prodigal home,

God is faithful still.

Lines 47-51 of the Brief Statement of Faith

 

When Judaism began to take more of form in God’s covenant with Abraham, it was unique for many reasons. One of the most significant was that it was a monotheistic religion – there was only one God. In cultures before and after, polytheism was the standard. There were different gods for different things: acts of nature, fertility, harvest, just to name a few. These gods also took on different forms – human (masculine and feminine), animal, and otherwise.

One consequence of monotheism was expressing the divine in masculine terms. Even though God is not expressly named “male” in Scripture, the pronouns are exclusively male. Part of the reason for this is that Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek have “gendered” nouns. Whereas English uses the generic “it” when referring to non-human nouns, these languages assign male and female “genders” to non-humans. One example in Greek is the word for “church.” It is a feminine noun and therefore, is referred to as “she.” Almost every word for God is “male.”

While Jesus told us that God is Spirit,[1] we still use human terms to understand God because that’s what we understand best.   Therefore, even if the biblical languages weren’t gendered, they were written in a time patriarchy, and God would still be “male” in Scripture. In the Ancient Near East, if you only had one god, you were going to understand this god in masculine terms.

But traditional masculine terms can’t contain God. It didn’t take long for our biblical narrative to attribute feminine characteristics of God. While Scripture doesn’t explicitly call God Mother, our understanding of God extends beyond the name of Father. We see this in the words of the prophets and also the words of Jesus:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem…. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” – Luke 13:34 (NRSV)

The feminine attributes of God are usually in terms of child-bearing, mid-wiving, and nurturing. Our relationship with God is an intimate as a nursing child with its mother; the child of God’s own womb.

Let us consider another way of hearing the parable of the prodigal son: The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown

 

 

 

[1] John 4:23

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