Christianity 201

May 8, 2022

Our Motherly Father

NIV.Matt.12.46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

NLT.Luke.14.26 “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.

I tried to think of something that would tie-in with Mother’s Day, and it occurred to me that a passage I had read just a few days ago, where Jesus introduces what we call “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father” contains some references to family which had intrigued me at the time.

This is an excerpt from the book Thy Will Be Done, an excellent commentary on the prayer by author Stephen Cherry, published last year in the UK as “The 2021 Lent Book,” and broken up into six sections of six short readings each.

…It would be wrong to imagine that Jesus was here inviting people to think of their own relationship with their male parent and then extend that to their relationship with God. There is no evidence that he had a particularly high regard for his earthly father and he certainly took the opportunity from time to time to distance himself from the idea that the domestic or genetic unit was especially important (Matthew 12.48-50). For Jesus and his Jewish followers the duty to respect parents, and to care for them when they became needy, was enshrined in the Commandment: ‘Honour thy father and thy mother.’ But for Jesus our duty of care is far more extensive than an exclusive focus on the family.

When Jesus used the word ‘Father’ as the mode of address with which to begin this prayer, he was shifting the focus of our relationship with God from one based on power and deference to one based on care and support. When we pray to the ‘Father’ we pray to the one who caused us to be and sustains us in life, not to one who owns us as a subject or who has power over us that we fear will be exercised harshly, or who matters primarily because it is by them that we are held to account for our thoughts, words and deeds. The ‘Father’ whom Jesus addresses is not a potentate who terrifies, but a progenitor who is deeply benevolent.

It’s also important to appreciate that when Jesus used the word that we translate as ‘Father,’ he was not making a definitive statement to the effect that God is more like your father than any other person you can think of or imagine. Nor was he saying that your earthly father is the best model of God that can ever be suggested And he was certainly not saying that ‘your father is more important than your mother.’

On the contrary, he was deliberately moving people’s understanding of God from the institutional to the relational. That, as time has gone by, it is the father of the household who has been taken to embody and represent a more formal, discipline-oriented figure than has the mother is, given Jesus’ choice of words, the source of significant confusion. The biblical scholar Joachim Jeremias understood this point well and addressed it by writing that ‘the word “Father,” as applied to God, thus encompasses, from earliest times, something of what the word “Mother” signifies among us…’