The Motherly Christ

Luke 13:31-35

I love Scripture that takes our traditional views and turns them upside down. Good guy Pharisees, God as mother, stuff like that.

Jesus was headed for Jerusalem—in Luke, his final destination always seems clear—and some Pharisees stopped him to warn him not to go there. The king wants you dead, they said.

Jesus spent so much time chastising the Pharisees that we forget there were good men among this religious group, some who wanted to follow him, if only in secret. In fact, the Jews have a collection of wisdom writings known as the Talmud, and in these writings there are descriptions of seven types of Pharisees, one positive, six negative.

The negative ones had nicknames. In one way or another, Jesus went after every type in his discourses, much to the delight of his audiences. And frankly, they may call themselves Christians and not Pharisees, but it is not hard to find these same types among our churches today:

  • The Shoulder Pharisees. These men wore their good deeds “on their shoulders” to be seen by others.
  • The Wait-a-little Pharisees. They always found a good excuse to put off a good deed until tomorrow.
  • The Bruised or Bleeding Pharisees. No rabbi (a scholarly Jewish teacher) was supposed to be seen talking to a woman on the street. Some would not even look at a woman, closing their eyes and consequently slamming into walls, doors, trees, or whatever else was in the path. They thought their wounds were evidence of extraordinary piety.
  • The Hump-backed Pharisees. They cringed and pretended to be humble, but were generally faking it. Who knew you could take pride in humility?
  • The Ever-Reckoning Pharisees. They were always adding up their good deeds as if keeping a balance sheet for God.
  • The Timid or Fearing Pharisees. They were terrified of the wrath of God. The poet Robert Burns once wrote of people not helped but haunted by their religion, and these men would fall into that category of believer.

And finally, there were the God-loving Pharisees, who tried to live like their ancestor Abraham, exhibiting faith and charity. Nicodemus in the Gospel of John comes to mind, drawn to Jesus (if only at night) and eventually helping with Jesus’ burial. Some of these good Pharisees must have been the ones who wanted to warn Jesus.

Jesus would not be dissuaded from continuing, though. I would condense his answer to, “Watch me work.” And yet, a tone of despair—motherly despair—crept in. Jerusalem was the child gone bad, the one the Christ so desperately wanted to protect, covering and sheltering the city’s people from what was to come. (We can never forget the destruction to come four decades later, destruction Jesus foresaw.)

Normally, we use masculine language for God, and divinity clearly resided in the male form of Jesus. We use such language with good reason. One of the great metaphors running through Scripture is that of the husband God pursuing the unfaithful, undeserving bride, humanity. It’s a metaphor worth preserving in our use of language.

God is not exclusively male, however. We are reminded that what is best in both men and women—particularly, our ability to love—exists fully and perfectly in God. Yes, God is capable of providing everything our imperfect fathers cannot, but God equally can mother us more perfectly than any woman. There are numerous examples of God as mother in the Old Testament, too.

That motherly instinct seems to have been shining through in Jesus as he looked toward Jerusalem, a place in which he clearly delighted. He was not a city boy, but he loved the city and all it represented. It was, after all, the center of God’s promises to the Jewish people, its temple more of a home to Jesus than anyplace he had lived. And yet, he knew the city and its residents would bring about his death.

Unable to protect the recalcitrant city in the great plan that was unfolding, he instead used that coming death to spread his arms out on the cross and shelter us all, making eternal life possible. If we choose to stay under Christ’s protection, death cannot truly swoop in and take us—eternal life is ours.