Greetings, SBT Readers!
The "Mother Archetype" represents the creative energy that conceives, gives birth, cradles, nurtures and protects; each of these functions is essential to good mothering. Merely conceiving does not make one a mother; nor does the act of giving birth. Without cradling, nurturing and protecting, there is no mothering, but sometimes the most "motherly" people are those who have no biological offspring of their own. In today's Gospel, for example, the Good Shepherd "mothers" his disciples, while in our first reading, Paul and Barnabas "mother" the fledgling faith community in Antioch.
Julian of Norwich, the C14th anchorite, was way ahead of her time when she commented on the "motherliness" of Jesus: "In our Mother, Christ, we grow and develop; in his mercy he reforms and restores us; through his passion, death and resurrection he has united us to our being. So does our Mother work in mercy for all his children who respond to him and obey him" (Revelations of Divine Love, 166). Even more poignant is Julian's description of Jesus in labor: "And he is in labour until the time has fully come for him to suffer the sharpest pangs and most appalling pain possible -- and in the end he dies. And not even when this is over, and we ourselves have been born to eternal bliss, is his marvellous love completely satisfied" (169).
To "mother," then is to love as Christ loves. This goes beyond ferrying children to playdates and after school enrichment programs; it means more than trips to Disney or hosting birthday parties at the most "rad" venues; and it involves more than pushing young adults to excel in their studies or chosen career paths. Of course, it can include all of the above, but the essential ingredient is unconditional love. Without this, all else is futile.
On this "Mothering Sunday," let us remember all those who have mothered us, whether physically, spiritually or intellectually; and let us remember all those who continue to "mother" us, no matter how old we happen to be!
“My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.
The Father and I are one.”
It is ironic that this much-loved "Good Shepherd" passage occurs in the heart of discord, rejection and even physical threat. Far from being uttered in a peaceful pastoral setting, Jesus' words are a rebuke to all those who discredited his healing of the man born blind in the previous chapter (Jn 9:1-40); it is also his answer to their demand that he tell them "plainly" if he is the Messiah. Of course, he doesn't speak plainly and instead makes an even bolder claim: "The Father and I are one." At this, his opponents pick up stones to hurl at him and unsuccessfully attempt to arrest him.
This context is crucial for understanding today's Gospel. Please note that in this reflection I have consciously chosen to use the term "opponents" rather than "Jews" for two reasons: 1) It is sad but true that the enemies of Christ and Christianity often identify as "Christian"; and 2) To cast the Jewish people as the "bad guys" simply promotes antisemitism and ignores the reality that Jesus was addressing a mind-set rather than a race or religion.
Brief as it is, today's Gospel has much to say about "sheep" and "non sheep." The "sheep" are those who listen to the truth, see clearly, and hear the call to live a full, purposeful, faith-filled life of love. Hearing themselves called by name, they follow Jesus because they see Him as the Way to God's heart. He, in turn, assures these sheep that nothing -- and no one-- can separate them from Him. Not only that, but He promises them "eternal life" -- that well-spring within that is limitless both now and in the world to come.
In contrast, the "non sheep" are those who behold miracles and deny what they have seen, who observe healings and claim they never happened, who hear words of Spirit but denounce them as signs of demonic possession. The "non sheep" neither see with their eyes nor with their hearts. They hear with their ears but do not listen, even when they are invited by name to a different reality.
When we distinguish between "sheep" and "non sheep" on the basis of mindset, we can see that we can be professed "believers" and yet fall into either category. As sheep, we are content to be in the sheepfold; as "non sheep," we prefer to wander away. As "sheep," we follow the Shepherd; as "non sheep," we insist on charting our own course. As "sheep," we listen to the Shepherd call us by name; as "non sheep," we stuff our ears to block the sound of His voice. As "sheep," we respond in awe to God's wonders; as "non sheep," we are indifferent to anything beyond our comprehension. As "sheep," we flee from robbers and marauders; as "non sheep," we are taken in by religious "posers" and those who make false promises. Finally, as "sheep" we desire life in abundance; as "non sheep," we settle for "dry bones" and spiritual famine...