Jesus may have said, “I will ask the Father” , but my own father usually said, “Go ask your mother.” My father said, “Do as I say, not as I do”, but Mom would invariably say, “If you loved me, you would do what I ask.” That’s how we begin tonight’s Gospel, with Jesus telling his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commands.” This is why God really is like a mother.
Of course, there are times when all of us think our mothers are the “meanest” in the world, but for many of us, we realize that that is because she didn’t give us everything we asked for. She wasn’t as indulgent as we would have preferred when we were children. For some of us, our memories of our mother are sentimental, but for others, there is only pain. Some of us feel nurtured by our mother’s care of us, and some of us feel resentment because of the nurture we never experienced. Some of remember feeling safe and loved, others remember only insecurity and personal danger.
Whether we have a mother we remember fondly, or one whose memory evokes pain or conflicted feelings, we have all had experiences of nurture and love from someone who mothered us when we needed it most. We have come to learn, as adults perhaps, that mothering has almost nothing to with biology and almost everything to do with a loving, committed heart. And so, on this Mother’s Day, we celebrate all those who have mothered us, all who have nurtured us, dried our tears, saved us when we were in danger, and given us the inner confidence we needed to move forward. These are our mothers in the truest sense of the name.
God gives us Mothers to help us feel safe and secure in a world that is sometimes frightening, and this sense of trust helps us all through our lives. A lot of children are raised without that sense of security and they have to wait for their mothering. When they find the courage to open their hearts, and accept the mothering offered them by a loving and healing God, they find themselves transformed by the mothering presence of God.
The mothers in our lives love us no matter what: for them it’s not a matter of our always following their advice or adopting every one of their attitudes and beliefs. Mothers allow us to become our own person while trying gently to guide us. If you love me, Jesus said, you will keep my commandments. Both Jesus and the mothers in our lives know that living by example is the best kind of teaching and guiding. When I was a young boy, wanting to make or buy something nice for my mother on Mother’s Day, I would ask what it is she wanted. She never once indicated any kind of material gift. Usually it was something impossibly ridiculous, like “Be nice to your brothers and sisters.” I think that’s what Jesus meant, and sometimes that request is just as challenging for me today as it was when I was 10.
So, yes, mothers are teachers and guides, but they are also comforters. Mothers are the ones to care for us when we are hurting or sick; they seem to know the right remedies for whatever is wrong. Sometimes it’s Tylenol or Vick’s Vaporub, and other times it’s just a hug or a smile. Of course, then as now, a big cookie never hurts either.
The mothers in my life knew when to ask questions to gain more information and when to remain silent and just let me rant and rave. They knew how to comfort and challenge, how to help me pick myself up and try again. When I became a biological parent myself, I realized how difficult it was to be “everything” to a child who idolized everything I did and said. Whatever illusions we have about ourselves are laid absolutely bare when reflected in the adoring eyes of a child who thinks we are infallible and at the center of his universe.
God is the ultimate mother in our lives. God allows us to move forward and even to fall down a few times on our own, rather than stepping in and just doing things for us. If that weren’t the case, how would we ever have learned that thoughts and actions have consequences? How would we have come to the knowledge that our choices are completely our responsibility? How else would we have come to understand what real love is all about?
Life gives us magic and glory, tragedy and hard lessons; but God knows how to use them to make us better women and men. When Jesus was getting ready to leave this world and knew that he would be leaving his anxious disciples on their own, he reassured them saying: “Don’t worry, you will be sent the Comforter, to be with you forever.” And because neither Jesus nor our mothers can be visible to us always, God sends the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is Christ with us. That word “Comforter” is “Paracletos” in Greek, meaning “another one just like myself” – it means “one who will go along beside you.” In the Roman custom, a wealthy family bought a slave to be a “paraclete” for their children, like a nanny. The Paraclete was a constant presence, employed to help and guide the child. Sometimes that Paraclete would serve as an advocate for the child. He would report to the family of the child’s progress. If the child got into trouble, the Paraclete would stand before the parents and defend and be a champion for the child, pleading his or her case, sometimes even taking the child’s punishment!
Jesus reassures us, “I will not leave you orphaned. I will be with you in the Spirit. I will not leave you orphaned.” – “I will not leave you desolate. I will come to you.”
When he says “I will come to you” he isn’t just saying he will come to get us on our last day, he is promising that the Spirit IS his presence. God will not abandon us. God will always be beside, behind, over and under us, in front of, within us. This is the same Spirit who inspires all the mothers in our lives, all the people who have, by their loving example, shown us a glimpse of what God is really like. And we are blest and made whole. And we accept the role of mothering others, just as the Spirit within directs us.