A MOTHER’S LOVE, A SHEPHERD’S CARE
Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection
4th Sunday of Easter (B)
May 3, 2009
Tenderness and caring seem to be the hallmarks of today’s liturgy. Selflessness and unconditional love appear to ooze out of every line in today’s gospel. “I am the Good Shepherd…I will lay down my life for the sheep.”
An apt matter for reflection on Mother’s Day…
In the Philippines, most mothers are the real unsung heroes. Whilst it is true that most fathers are the material providers for the family, it is mothers who really come closest to the provident nature of a personal and loving God. Biblically, God’s providence is portrayed in the sacred book as a solicitous, caring type of love, frequently compared to the love of a mother. “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” (Isa 49:15) God’s providence is pictured as a perpetual loving presence to His beloved people. Psalm 136 extols this God, who for a multiplicity of reasons, is worthy of being acclaimed as one “whose love endures forever!” This love of solicitude shone out most clearly in the shepherding role He assumed on behalf of His people, the Israelites of old: "The LORD, the God of Israel, says: I led you up from Egypt; I brought you out of the place of slavery.” (Judges 6:8)
Biblical evidence is never wanting when it comes to the “motherly” love of the God of Jesus Christ our Lord. No less than Jesus re-echoes the tenderness of this love which he himself showed to his disciples and fellow Israelites, to the point of comparing himself to a mother hen lovingly addressing her brood: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling!” (MT 23:37)
Mothers… good mothers… they must have been sent direct from heaven to show us a glimpse of who and what God is for us! They are the epitome, as close as earthly creatures can be, of the compassionate and loving God as revealed in Scripture and in salvation history. Let us look at a few examples from our own lives…
Fathers work eight hours a day. Most mothers do not have official work that lasts eight hours daily, but they do “full-time” work as primary caregivers and nurturers twenty four hours a day. Fathers can get out of their offices, go home and forget about work for 16 hours daily. Mothers can never get “time-out” from their mothering work at home. When the baby cries in the middle of the night, who gets up to change the baby’s diapers? Who gets up to prepare the bottled infant formula? Mothers – at least most of them -- become experts at multi-tasking. They take care of their husbands. They take care of their children. They do a daily balancing act, trying to give full attention to everyone, including their husbands – all at the same time. When money is in short supply, it is mothers who do creative and proactive budgeting. It is mothers who, more often than not, make up for what is lacking. It is mothers who tend to give up things and who would scrimp and scrounge just to give the best for their children. And more often than not, no one would even know what she has given up so that “others may live,” - often not even their husbands, who often think they have done what they should. When families go out for an outing, notice who thinks of the minutest details of what to bring. Why they even think of what possibly their husbands would need!
Today, Good Shepherd Sunday, I have no qualms about thinking of the good Lord, who talks of himself as the good shepherd, ready and willing to lay down his life for his sheep, in terms of the best mothers there are in this world. In the Philippine context, where misguided and selfish machismo seems to be the run of the day, the picture of the ideal mother, for me, comes closest to what the Lord is saying about himself in relation to us. He is the best of what a shepherd can be or ought to be – and more! “I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”
This is why I have nothing but respect and awe for the thoughts of Rosemary Radford Ruether, who prefers to think of her God as mother. In place of “God as paternal superego,” she speaks of “God as the empowering matrix.” The Good Shepherd image encompasses our own liberating experience of God’s tenderness, goodness and loving support for us His children. When we think of this God as matrix, images of a seedbed come rushing through our minds. We are the seeds, and we are embedded – grounded, if you will – and rooted in God. God, in and through Jesus Christ, His Son, is the empowering source of our growth and development.
St. John must not only have understood this conceptually. He must have felt it and seen it and touched it fully. Only this can explain the tenderness and the conviction in which he couches his convincing language in today’s second reading: “Beloved: see what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God.” For that is what and who we are… children… confident and serene… who, like gamboling sheep, are never far from the watchful and caring eyes of the supreme shepherd-caregiver-servant who says: “I will lay down my life for my sheep.”
Mothers of the world, stand up and be acknowledged! Fathers of the world, stand up and claim that which you all are called to become, shepherds after God’s – and Christ’s own – hearts!