Do Mothers know Mother Love?
Ninety percent of the illustrations I've read about mother love are by men. That makes me wonder if mothers are ever on the receiving end of it. That's important because mother love is an illustration of God's love for us. Isaiah 66:13 says, "As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you." If women can't relate to mother love they might have a difficult time relating to Christ's love for them, and that will leave them mired in guilt. This is where Freud found women at the turn of the last century, and this is where St. Paul found them in the first century. He spoke of women, not men, being "weighed down by sins." I think the concept of mother love can help mothers in particular and women in general.
You've heard the expression "A face that only a mother could love." It means that a person is not much to look at, so plain, ugly even, that only their mother could love them. And their mothers do, don't they? Their own baby is precious, special, beautiful to them. Now some moms will say, I know because I've heard them, "But my baby really WAS ugly when he/she was born." But even when they're saying that you can still see mother love shining through. That can't be said for many fathers. When most fathers remark on the lack of beauty of their baby, they don't say it with the same twinkle and adoration that remains in the eyes of mothers. That's why the expression isn't "a face that only a FATHER could love."
True mother love is unconditional. Why is it that men and therefore fathers have a clearer sense of that than women and therefore mothers? I'm not sure. But I know this sense of unconditional love from mothers is what moves men to tattoo "Mother" on their brawny arms and to be mushy about their fathers when they're not about anything else. Men being touched by unconditional mother love makes it easier to touch them with Christ's love because that's how He loves: unconditionally. He didn't love St. John because he was so gentle; he wasn't. He was a "Son of Thunder" who would just as soon burn Samaritans as preach to them. He didn't love St. Peter because Peter was so loyal; he wasn't. He gave Jesus up like a bad habit. He didn't love St. Thomas for his strong faith; he was a doubter. But Jesus loved all the disciples just as they were without even one plea. He loved them as the wretches they were. He loved them as a mother loves her knocked-kneed, uncoordinated, son.
But mother love doesn't mean never having to say "you sinned." Mom's point out the sins of their kids, don't they? But no child, touched by mother love, ever thought their mom was thereby rejecting them. Do mothers know this about Christ? Do mothers know that Christ points out their sins not to hurt but to heal, not to reject them but to repent them, not to bring guilt on them but to bring forgiveness to them?
Once while at New Mexico Military Institute I got myself in trouble. I called home. My mother didn't defend me; she agreed with the judgement that I was wrong and should be punished. Did I think my mother stopped loving me? Did I think my mother was trying to hurt me? Of course not. Her condemning of my very real sins was not inconsistent with her love for me. Do mothers and women in general understand that this is the way of Christ? He doesn't love by ignoring sins. He doesn't love like the "mirror, mirror on the wall" always telling us we're the most beautiful of them all. No, He loves us as IF we were the most beautiful of them all but He tells us the truth too. He exposes our sins, our blemishes, our warts, our imperfections.
And Christ does that to get payment for them, right? He does that to get satisfaction for them, right? Not anymore than a mother does. When a child breaks a lamp, he's not disciplined so the mother can feel better. He's not disciplined so the mother can be paid back for the lamp. He's disciplined for his sake not the mothers. Mother love doesn't go around delighting in pointing out mistakes and sins, and neither does it go around seeking a pound of flesh. Mother love sees sins and shortcomings and knows that for the well-being of the child the error must be pointed out and addressed.
Do mothers know this about Christ? Do they know that their relationship with Him is based on His unconditional love for them not on what they do or don't do? Do they know that for this reason He can confront them with their sins without shaking their relationship? Do they know Christ's last word to them is the same as a mother's: "I love you?"
Most of the men know what I'm talking about; I'm not sure most or even many of the women do. Therefore, most of the men and not many of the women will be able to identify with this line from a 1993 country music song, "Jesus and Mom would always love me even when the devil took control." (It's not surprising that it's sung by an all male group, is it?) But that song strikes some of you as being too bold. O, not the part about how mom would always love even when the devil takes control because that's typical of mother love. No, what strikes some of you as being too bold, too wonderful is the part about JESUS always loving even when the devil takes control. This just can't be. Although most moms have no point at which their love will stop for their kids, many think there is a point where Jesus' love for them stops. They think if Jesus sees too much ugliness in their thoughts, words, or deeds, He's going to declare that they're so ugly not even He can love them anymore.
But wait. Look at Jesus. When Judas comes to betray Him in Gethsemane, does He call Judas "devil" or "enemy?" No, Jesus still calls Him "friend" even when the devil is in control. Doesn't Jesus say He does NOT pay us back, reward us, or punish us according to our sins? Did not He say to the Jerusalem whom He admitted had killed every prophet ever sent to her that as a MOTHER hen gathers her chicks so He longed to gather them? And when they threw the woman before Him who had been found in adultery, did He turn away from her in disgust because obviously the devil was in control of her? No, He forgave her. Will He do anything less for you?
No, He won't because your Jesus willingly paid for your sins even as mother love would pay for those of her children. When I was 17, I got into trouble with the police. If I told you one parent was in back of the court and one was in front with me, you know who stood where, don't you? If I told you one parent went to the district attorney and pleaded for me, while one stayed in the car, you know where my mother was and where my father was, don't you? If I told you one parent was willing to do anything to spare the son, while the other thought the full weight of the law ought to fall on him, you know which parent took what view, don't you?
And do you know? To this day, I don't know which parent was right. I really was guilty. I really did deserve to be punished. As a father, I now agree with my father, but as a son I will always be thankful for that mother love which was willing to go to such humiliating depths on behalf of an undeserving son.
But are women in general and mothers in particular ever on the receiving end of such love in this life? Is that how come many don't seem to know the depths of God's love for them in Christ? Yes, you really are guilty of all manner of sins. You're not the wife, mother, daughter, or sister you ought to be. Yes, the Law hauls you into court and the judgement of the Law does really say, "Throw the book at her."
Go ahead and see this, but don't miss Jesus in the court room with you. He's not embarrassed or ashamed to be standing side by side with a guilty sinner like you. He'll even humble himself to go in with you before the unbending district attorney and plead for your future. But UNLIKE my mother, your Jesus bases His plea on the fact that He has already been punished in your place. He holds up His hands and says, "See. These nail marks prove that I bore her sins and carried her sorrows. They prove that I have already been punished for all the things you are charging her with. You can't punish her sins twice; you must let her go."
And guess what moms, daughters, sisters, wives? The district attorney lets you go. He says, "case dismissed" and you are a free woman. That having taken place, don't walk back into the prison of your guilt locking yourself up behind all the things you are not or you are. Be comforted daily by the love of your Savior. When we left the district attorney's office, do you think I thought that at any moment my mother would toss me out, that she was just waiting for an excuse to let go of me? Of course not, she who had so poignantly pleaded for me before the Law would not cast me out now. And so it is with your Jesus.
But don't think I don't know how it is with many of you mothers, daughters, sisters, wives. This thing called guilt hovers so close to you that you only get brief spaces to breathe and then you do something, think something, say something wrong and boom you're in the prison of guilt. That's because you're a stranger to the fact that not only does Jesus point out sins and pay for them, He also HIDES them. Yes, it's true. He purposely doesn't see all that we do wrong. You'll find the Lord winking at the sins of the likes of Sarah, Rebekah, and the midwives in Egypt. If you've ever been on the receiving end of mother love you'll understand this better.
Mother love sees a platoon of soldiers marching by and concludes they're all out of step but her son. Mother love is like Dwight Eisenhower's mother who when asked if she was proud of the tremendous accomplishments of her son asked, "Which son?" Mother love is what makes moms believe the best about their children. Once President Johnson was introduced at Baylor University; he was given a glowing introduction. Taking the podium, Johnson said, "I dearly wish my mother and father had been alive to hear your wonderful words about me. My father would have enjoyed them, and my mother would have believed them!"
Why is that most mothers do tend to believe the best about their children, while most fathers tend to be more skeptical? I don't know why fathers mainly see errors while mother love sweeps those away leaving what is praiseworthy. But that's how our Jesus is with us, even mothers. He doesn't peek under the beds looking for dust balls. He doesn't taste the burnt part of the supper. He doesn't compare you with all the other mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives and find you lacking in this way and that. Your Jesus doesn't even see those very real sins of temper lost, lack of love shown, or selfish interest. All of that is gone in the flood of your baptism by which He gave birth to you and so loves you as only a mother can.
Jesus is like the mother who offers to play darts with her little boy. The boy says, "No, I'll throw; you say, "Wonderful." And that's how it is between you and Jesus. Since He bore your sins and shortcomings, in His eyes your feeble works and faltering following of Him are wonderful. Your darts hit here and there but even when they hit Him Jesus still says, "Wonderful!"
Isn't that a comforting picture? But some of you are feeling guilt rise in your heart because your love as a mother, father, brother, sister is not THAT loving. Okay. But Christ Jesus IS that loving toward you; long ago He paid for any imagined or even real lack of love on your part! Hear Him saying, "Wonderful!" in your Baptism, Absolution, or communing. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Easter V (5-13-01, Mothers' Day) John 13:34