Old Testament Lectionary March 15th Mothering Sunday Exodus 2:1-10/1 Samuel 1:20-28

Regular thoughts on the oft-neglected Old Testament Lectionary passages.

I’m assuming that most churches will want to celebrate Mothering Sunday this week, but when I looked up the OT lectionary passages I have to say that I couldn’t make up my mind between them, so I’m actually going to do a bit of both. Mothering Sunday is, of course, fraught with difficulties for so many reasons, but I believe that there is much here which can speak to all sorts and conditions of women.

One of the big debates of recent years, although I sense we’ve all got a bit bored with it now, is whether God is male or female, or, more specifically, whether we should use male or female language about him or her. I too am bored with this sterile debate, but what I can affirm is that God often exhibits traits which, in our particular stereotyped culture, we would tend to call female ones. I am in no doubt that God ‘mothers’ us. I want to suggest that both the mothers in today’s OT stories are in fact behaving in some very God-like ways, and by looking at these women we can learn much about what it is God’s job to do with regard to children, and how parents may reflect this. You will get it as we go on, honest!

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Jochebed, Moses’ mum, begins, obviously, by giving birth. Hannah, in 1 Samuel 1, does the same, although not until after a significant struggle and much prayer. Both of them reveal God as the life-giver, and affirm that when we create new life we are doing what God intended the human race to do, although the Bible also recognises, in several places, the heartache and grief of women who find it difficult or impossible to conceive. In a Jewish culture where this would have been a sign of being cursed by God the Scriptures take a different view, and give dignity and particular care to those agonising over childlessness.

Jochebed then has to protect her child, due to the particular circumstances in which they lived, in a hostile nation with a cruel and violent ruler. She is wise and resourceful in this protection, and reveals to us God as the giver of life but also as its sustainer and protector. She also has to provide for her baby, and does so by finding a caring surrogate mother who will even pay her to bring up her own child. Like God she is life-giver, protector, sustainer and provider.

This isn’t made explicit in the Exodus passage, but Hannah in 1 Samuel dedicates the life of her son to God. Many couples, even those with a very tenuous faith, feel the weight of responsibility on becoming parents and want in some way to ‘dedicate’ their child, through whatever ceremony the church offers them. And of course Christian parents who actually get it will want nothing more than to see their children continuing in the faith into which they were born, and eventually making the shift from family faith to personal faith and discipleship.

But perhaps the most difficult part comes, again from the Hannah story, when she has to let go. God gives us our children not as possessions to hang on to forever, but as gifts in trust. Our children are ours to bear, protect, nurture, care for, but also to dedicate to him for his service. The time times when they must make their own way in life, and a very difficult and painful parting this can be, particularly when the path they choose might not be that which we would have chosen for them, or when that parting involves them being suddenly snatched away from us. But just as they will always be in our hearts, so we, as God’s children, will always be in his caring, loving attention, even during those times when we choose to go our own way for a while.

God gives parenting, and particularly mothering, significance and dignity, because when we do it we are doing what he does. But his heart is also broken for the childless, the anxious, the lonely and, perhaps most painful of all, those bereaved of their children. Mothering Sunday is not just for nice happy nuclear families: all the joy and grief which come bundled together with children can be brought into our worship and intercession today.

OT Lectionary Mar 30th Mothering Sunday Ex 2:1-10

A double whammy this week, what with it being Mothers’ Day and all, but if you’d rather use the Lent 4 readings, click here: http://wp.me/p3W7Kc-4F

At first sight this story seems more like child abuse than a model of good motherhood: Jochebed bungs her baby in a basket, floats him in a river, and then gives him up for adoption to a foreigner. This sounds like something the Daily Mail would do an exposé on! But of course we know more than this, and her risky actions were designed to save her baby, not to endanger him. In fact he was already in quite enough danger: a people in slavery were quite deliberately being culled by a paranoid Pharaoh as means of controlling the population explosion. I won’t dwell on the seven million children slaughtered in the name of ideology and freedom since the 1967 Abortion Act, but even when children do survive birth there are many parts of the world where they are unlikely to last very much longer.

So what does this story tell us about motherhood? There is something deeply wired in to human parents which seeks to protect their vulnerable children, at least into the vast majority of parents. It still shocks us to hear about mothers who sell their toddlers to sex traders in order to fund their drug habits, and long may it continue to do so. But Jochebed is a good mother, and takes considerable risks first of all to hide her baby, not an easy job as most babies I know like to have their say! Then in committing him to the waters she is talking another risk: who will find him first, a human or a crocodile? And if a human, one who is moved to compassion by his innocent vulnerability, or a nasty one? It could all have gone horribly wrong, but she had no choice.

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But underneath this story is a deeper one about a mother trusting God. To the Egyptians the Nile was a sacred river, almost a god itself. It was this god who once a year flooded and gave them the rich water for their crops. So it could be that Jochebed had lost her faith in Yahweh, and had lost the plot and gone native. Maybe she was trusting the Egyptian gods to preserve her son’s life. I don’t think so. I reckon she knew that her God, the true God, was able to save her son, and by placing him in the Nile she was almost making a statement that, in the words of the song, ‘our God is greater’. And of course not only did God use this greatest of leaders to free his people from the slavery which had been their lot for so long, but he even arranged it so that Jochebed got paid for it.

Jesus himself was later to be protected from the death-threats of a paranoid monarch. Today we might give thanks for that protective care wired into us by a loving God, pray for those who are under threat, and for those sad mothers whose circumstances have taken from them the ability to care and protect as our Father does us.