The Rev. Jeremiah Williamson
Such a Mom
Jesus: he is such a mom. There has been a death in the family. And he is worried about food. He's got to feed all these people; they're hungry. And, of course, just like a mom, he makes way too much.
When he first heard about John the Baptist’s death, he tried to get away, to find place to be alone. With his thoughts. To pray. To cry. To grieve. To remember. Jesus is human too, don't forget; he is broken-hearted. Of course he is. John the Baptist, whom Herod killed, was special to him. And the death was sudden and terrible.
But the fantasy of alone-time didn't last long. The people followed him. Like a toddler following his mother into the bathroom, not a moment of solitude or silence, they follow Jesus. Emptying out the towns and the villages, they go after him.
That quiet shore for which he longed became a living thing. As his boat approached the deserted place, that place where he would think and pray and grieve, he could see that it was not deserted at all. Instead of sand, there were people – thousands of people – there to greet him, touch him, swallow him whole. Men and women and children instead of desert. They suffocated the open space – needy and desperate. For him. He needed some time alone. And they needed him.
Alone time would be easy if it wasn't for the other people. As I wrote this part of the sermon there was a toddler climbing my leg to hug my arm and a baby shrieking on the floor. Kindly my wife took them out for ice cream so that I could have some time alone. But for a few moments I kinda feel like I was in the story: I needed some time alone and they needed me. And my wife, who knows this Bible story well, asked me if I felt compassion for those two little sweeties stealing my much-needed alone time.
It's a good question – because that is exactly what happened for Jesus. He sees them – all those people – those interruptions, those distractions – interlopers making his space their space. He sees them turning his desert into a temporary city. The opposite of solitude. He sees them and he has compassion on them. He just lost a loved one; they should have compassion on him. But that is never how this works. We think about us. And Jesus thinks about us too. We love us. And Jesus loves us too.
It has always been this way. These people were the Israelites wandering in the desert, coming out of Egypt – separated only by centuries. Lost and desperate. Desperate for attention – for God's attention. And hungry. Always hungry – for the bread of heaven. Infants crying for their mother's milk – scared and impatient.
There is a vulnerability that comes with feeding another human being. It is as if the offering comes straight from the heart. And it is present in all stages of life. It starts with a vulnerable naked breast. And then eventually the opinions and the refusal to eat and that slow discharge as the tongue pushes food back out of the mouth. And then, later, it is a dinner party with prospective friends or a meal meant to woo a new love. When it is done right, there is always some heart on the plate.
It was love that fed the Israelites as they wandered the desert – sour children fed the stuff of God. God's heart in their discontent mouths. And it was love that fed the crowds on the shore – the children of desert wanderers, desert wanderers themselves. Waiting for Jesus to feed them. There were good reasons to send them away: there wasn't enough food, Jesus needed some time alone, the logistics were impossible. But while the food was in short supply, the love of God never is. And so, even in the desert, there is more than enough – always more than enough.
I find the sacrifice required to be a mother staggering. It begins when a mother gives her body to pregnancy. And then risks her life in childbirth. It means sacrifice at every turn: time, body, energy. The pouring out the stuff of life to give life to another. It requires the offering of self. A labor of love. A gift given but rarely rewarded with a “thank you.”
Jesus: he is such a mom. Giving to us life. Feeding us from his own body. Patient with us as we throw our tantrums. Waiting for us when we wander. Loving us much more than we deserve. For sake of the children, he offers himself.
Almost 1000 years ago Anselm of Canterbury, recognized this and wrote this prayer:
Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you;
you are gentle with us as a mother with her children.
Often you weep over our sins and our pride,
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgment.
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds,
in sickness you nurse us and with pure milk you feed us.
Jesus, by your dying, we are born to new life;
by your anguish and labor we come forth in joy.
Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness;
through your gentleness, we find comfort in fear.
Your warmth gives life to the dead,
your touch makes sinners righteous.
Lord Jesus, in your mercy, heal us;
in your love and tenderness, remake us.
In your compassion, bring grace and forgiveness,
for the beauty of heaven, may your love prepare us.
We are the children of desert wanderers, desert wanderers ourselves. Helpless, desperate, and hungry. And Jesus sees us through his eyes of compassion – like a mother adoring a helpless infant. And he cradles us and feeds us from his body – on our lips and in our mouths, the stuff of life. Poured out for us. Poured out for the world. More than enough, always more than enough. Of course, it is.
Jesus: he is such a mom.