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Jaime L. WatersJune 28, 2022
Photo from Unsplash.

Language matters. The words we use to describe God can shape our thinking and inform our beliefs. In the first reading from Isaiah, we encounter God as Mother, an image that can help us to broaden our ideas and language associated with God. 

It is commonplace to speak of God as Father. Biblical tradition and church teachings often employ male or masculine imagery to speak of God. Jesus prays to the Father in heaven. In the Trinity, God is revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The image of God as Father can have many benefits, such as making our relationship with God feel more personal and familial. It can influence views of God as a protector, provider and punisher, which are some attributes that can be associated with fathers. There are of course pitfalls to such imagery as well, as it creates an opportunity to gender God and promote male-dominant or male-centric ideas of God. 

“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (Is 66:13).

Liturgical day
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Readings
Is 66:10-14; Ps 66; Gal 6:14-18; Lk 10:1-20
Prayer

What language do you use to pray to God?

How do you react to conflict and hostility in the world?

What can you do to be more hospitable?

People deal with these tendencies in different ways. Many continue to use male pronouns and images when speaking of God, and some acknowledge potential problems and limitations. Some people opt to use gender-neutral or gender-balanced language when possible, such as “God/Godself” instead of “God/himself.” 

Scripture offers us a plethora of images and language for reflecting on God and divine attributes, and we might want to embrace the diversity within the tradition. God is called a fortress, rock, shield, storm, lover and shepherd, among many other epithets. The image of God as mother is also found in the Bible, although it does not always garner as much attention as it should. 

Scripture offers us a plethora of images and language for reflecting on God and divine attributes, and we might want to embrace the diversity within the tradition.

In the first reading on the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Isaiah describes a vision of a restored and vindicated city of Zion (Jerusalem). As with many cities in ancient texts, Zion is referred to as a woman, and the conditions the people have endured are compared to a woman in labor. The vision describes a time after the Babylonian exile, and those who have suffered now receive comfort and sustenance. This time of renewal is compared to a mother nursing her child. God is intimately involved, as the text affirms: “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” A child suckling at her mother’s breast is a beautiful reflection and image of the intimacy and care that comes from God. The city of Zion represents a maternal divine comfort, as it offers protection and sustenance that sustains life. 

Reflecting on God’s love and care as that of a mother for her children can help us to draw new insights, nuances and meanings in our personal relationship with God. The language of God the Mother is evocative and helps us to expand our vision of who God is and how we relate to our creator.

The language of God the Mother is evocative and helps us to expand our vision of who God is and how we relate to our creator.

In the Gospel reading from Luke, we shift gears to hear about challenges that the disciples faced while proclaiming the good news. Jesus tells his followers to anticipate hostility and adapt to it by finding safe havens of hospitality throughout the course of their ministry. Jesus reveals that discipleship is not easy and not everyone would be open to accepting the message the disciples were bringing.

The Gospel calls to mind past and present challenges that many people, especially Black people, face. Like Jesus’ early followers, people of color often contend with hostility and must seek out hospitable people and pathways as a means of survival. The Green Book published from the 1930s-1960s comes to mind as an example of how Black people have contended with the dangers of racism in America, documenting experiences and sharing suggestions for the community on how to stay safe. The murder of Ahmaud Arbery in 2020 also comes to mind, as a painful reminder that the racism that made the Green Book necessary is not in the distant past.

Today’s Gospel and our collective history remind us that we must acknowledge the threats that exist in the world, just as Jesus did.

Today’s Gospel and our collective history remind us that we must acknowledge the threats that exist in the world, just as Jesus did. Jesus does not say that all will be well along the journey. Instead, he speaks plainly of hostile conditions: “I am sending you like lambs among wolves.” He calls on his followers to enter communities peacefully, despite the hostility they would face. This sentiment is important, as it affirms that we should not answer hostility with more hostility. Yet refusing to return hostility is not enough by itself; we must also work to decrease hostility and increase safety for all people. The Gospel inspires us to work as a community to address—not  avoid—the issues of racism and injustice that persist in our world.

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