We need mothering throughout our lives from the cradle to the grave. We have not all given birth to physical babies but we are all called to be like Jesus and mother others.
There are times when we need more mothering than others, particularly when we are babies and young children and for most of us as we age and move towards our deaths.
Some are able to accept the dying process more easily than others, whilst others rage against their lack of independence. Some enjoy the support of having their family around them, whilst others cannot bear to have them taking over their personal care and prefer to die in hospital or a care home.
Most of those who have reached the end of their lives from St Leonard’s have done so with loving families around them, slipping peacefully into the life of the world to come trusting that when loved ones can no longer hold them they will be continued to be loved and held by God.
My own parents preferred to be in hospital and fade away without us present. I think that was sad because mothering a loved one at the end of their lives brings out the best in us. It gives us an opportunity to say loving words, to forgive, to bless, kiss, hold and finally release.
Eventually we move beyond the need for physical gifts. The consolation or comfort we need can only come through nurses, doctors, friends and family and ultimately from God.
Paul writing to the Corinthians was suffering physical persecution. He couldn’t be with the church he loved which was also suffering. He could only console those he loved with the same comfort he received from God. Christ suffered for us. We will therefore move through our sufferings to eternal life.
One of our Eucharistic prayers compares God to a mother. “As a mother tenderly gathers her children, you embraced a people as your own. When they turned away and rebelled your love remained steadfast. From them you raised up Jesus our Saviour, born of Mary, to be the living bread, in whom all our hungers are satisfied.”
Many scriptures compare God to a mother. He is the one who groans in childbirth, gives birth to us, who never forgets us, who like a mother has our names written on the palms of his hands and the one who provides all our needs
Whilst only a mother can physically carry, give birth and feed the baby from her own milk, all of us are called to share in the other roles traditionally associated with motherhood.
In John’s gospel a group of women stand near the cross as Jesus dies. All but one of the men has run away. The men must have felt as helpless as we all do when faced with the death of someone we love. There was nothing they could do to stop Jesus being crucified and they couldn’t bear to watch his suffering.
The women were in danger. Foul mouthed, violent soldiers and those who came to mock those they hated surrounded them. Instead of comforting them, even their religious leaders were mocking Jesus.
Grief- stricken and exhausted; they had probably had little sleep or food for days, the women waited. They suffered together with Jesus. I expect they held each other physically in love. Jesus was beyond their touch but he knew they were there and that they loved him.
Mothering involves suffering. Jesus was painfully aware of the distress of his family standing by, particularly his mother’s. At times she must have felt confused and rejected by Jesus as he pursued his calling.
There was nothing more that Mary could do for her Son. The one she bore in her womb, cuddled, fed, nurtured and raised was dying and she could not reach, hold him or wipe away the blood or alleviate his suffering in any way. It is dreadful for parents when their child dies before them.
With Mary was the disciple who he loved (who the gospel reveals in the last chapter is John), his mother’s sister (identified as Salome in Matthew, the mother of James and John the beloved disciple), Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. All had walked closely with Jesus for a long while.
Mothering means being there for your children when they are little, and for your parents and whoever you are called to serve at the end of their lives, waiting, watching and weeping with them.
Jesus, from the cross mothered these brave, courageous women and the disciples he loves in a practical way ensuring that for the rest of their time on earth they would be cared for.
Jesus, the eldest Son of Mary would not be able to care and provide in the way eldest Sons were expected to do. Joseph had died and Mary’s other children did not believe in him yet. Life would not be easy for her.
So he gave the care of his mother to the disciple he loves, who was also his cousin, and the care of his disciple to his mother. Mothering means taking responsibility. Other sources tell us that John did care for Mary in his home in Ephesus where a community of believers grew.
We are all loved disciples and called to be family. I believe that when John uses the phrase beloved disciple he is not just speaking about himself but of all faithful followers of Christ. Mary is one of our mothers in the faith and John is one of our fathers.
This passage is about more than what happened to John and Mary. This is about the beloved or ideal disciple treating an older woman who is not his natural mother as part of his family
Jesus doesn’t address Mary as Mother but as “woman” and the Greek doesn’t actually say the beloved disciple took her home but that he took her to himself.
He took her as his mother and cared for her and Mary took him as her Son to mother and tend.
Jesus shows us that in God’s community we love and nurture one another as mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children of God
One in which we receive the love of God who is both our Father and Mother and one in which we also receive his love through the love we show for each other
Mary and John did not choose their new relationship. It came because about they stood close to the cross of Jesus and Jesus died for them so that we might be born of God, cleansed from our sin, and filled with the Holy Spirit and God’s love.
Like a mother giving birth, Jesus shed his blood and water gushed from his side. Like a mother he laboured. Dying on the cross was the culmination and focus of the work he had been called to do
It was painful, just as giving birth is painful but joy was to come with a new community of Spirit filled believers coming to birth who would bear the family resemblance, and be like him so his work on earth would continue.
God of love,
passionate and strong,
tender and careful:
watch over us and hold us
all the days of our life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen