The Mothering God
Father Hanly’s beautiful homily for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, is entitled “The Mothering God.”
Readings for Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
- First Reading: Isaiah 66:10-14
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
- Second Reading: Galatians 6:14-18
- Gospel: Luke 10:1-12, 17-20 or 10:1-9
This reading from Isaiah the prophet has got to be one of the nicest readings in the whole Old Testament. Isaiah is the Christmas prophet and, as you know, he writes the most beautiful imagery of what is to come in the future. And today we begin with one of those prophecies.
And it’s his vision of what is going to happen to these poor people who are very beleaguered at this time (and they’ve already been …half their country has been taken from them by the Assyrian armies) and under great, great strain, and who are wondering what is going to happen to Jerusalem: will the temple be destroyed and will the people be destroyed?
And in this chaos, Isaiah, who is a temple prophet, he is one of the leaders of Israel at the time, he begins to tell them. And what he describes is very lovely.
He describes a mother nursing her child.
Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her,
all you who love her;
exult, exult with her,
all you who were mourning over her!
(meaning the disaster that took place)
Oh, that you may suck fully
of the milk of her comfort,
And how he describes God is a nursing mother. He nurses the child. He takes Israel to His heart, to His breast, and nurses him.
And then He does a lovely thing. Did you ever hear of dandling? He takes the child, He sits the child down, this is the mother, and she dandles her child on her knee.
Now, I remember when I was a boy, my mother didn’t dandle too well, but my father did. Dandling is when you take the child and you put them on your knee and you bounce them up and down and you sing jingles to them.
Like I still remember my father singing to us:
“Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
And she shall have music wherever she goes.”
And this is the image that Isaiah says is the way you must look at God. All the other images of God, the raging one who comes out of heaven to take vengeance on people and to make their life miserable, this is not the God, the real God. The real God is the one who takes us to His breast, dandles us like a child and sings us songs.
You can understand the kind of atmosphere. It’s nobody giving you lectures on the love of God. This is God and how He loves, reaching out, creating an atmosphere where only one word is possible and that is love. It doesn’t matter what you think or what you’ve been, you’re just a child in His arms and He dandles you on his knee, telling you how much He loves you.
Now when I was… my father used to do this, of course, he would flip us up in the air and catch us again. And you had this feeling of great security, that the Great Depression, which was on at the time, all these things didn’t matter. What mattered was that the one most important in your life was saying to you: “As long as the world exists, I will love you.” And you could say, sitting there, “And as long as I exist, I will love you, too.”
And it’s a very important concept, because this is at the centre of everything we believe. We are not the adults of God, marching around, very intelligent, making wonderful decisions or poor decisions. We are the children of God and our God dandles us on His knees and is with us this way.
And the wonderful thing about this prophecy is that what happens is that Isaiah is thinking of the future and he sees this relationship with God, this outpouring, not of rules and regulations, of sin and salvation, but this outpouring of a love that will be everlasting and always with us, this outpouring of a new way, because this is the peace, this is the peace that has been promised to these people down through the centuries. The Messiah will bring peace.
And lo, He comes, the Messiah. Many, many hundreds of years later, Jesus is born in Bethlehem. He’s a baby, not a warrior. He’s a child and Mary dandles Him on her knee.
Think about that. If you think about it long enough you will know when Jesus says, “Unless you become a child, you’ll never know what God is all about.” Because here is Jesus, the Son of God Himself, and He comes as a child and He grows like a little boy.
And He preaches what? Does He preach victory for everybody, does He give these kind of speeches that politicians give, promising the world and giving us nothing. No. He tells us what it means to be a human being.
And He talks like a child, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who know their need for God. Blessed are the meek, you are the ones that will conquer the whole world. Blessed are those who are pure of heart, because if you open your heart you will see God.” And on he goes.
And this is a child’s dream. But this, in God’s hands, is the hope for the salvation of the whole world. For He says Himself, “Follow me, because I am meek and humble of heart, and my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Follow me where?
Now we come to the second part today.
Jesus summons the seventy-two disciples, yes? Seventy-two is a catch-all number for the whole world, so he’s really sending the seventy-two out to maybe certain tribes in the local area, but He has in mind that the whole world is sent out.
And what are they to bring? Forgiveness. They’re not to bring anything special. In fact, He sends them out and says, “Don’t bring extra clothing, don’t bring anything.” No thing, you see, nothing, no thing. You don’t need things, you don’t need anything except one thing and that is yourself.
And who are you? You are the one that God dandles on His knee and promises He will love you forever, be with you forever, protect you forever, care for you forever, and all you have to do is love Him back as a child loves a father.
There is a very famous theologian who has said in recent years, he said that the heart of all Christianity is recognising that we are children in love with the Father and the Father’s Son is Jesus. So we are the children, the brothers and sisters of Jesus, becoming His sons and daughters, in a love that will change our lives and change the whole world.
It’s an awful lot to take on, on a very hot day, but it is the hope that drives this world forward. We do not want to be victorious champions of some doctrine.
What we want is what Jesus has promised. He says go out and say one thing, “The kingdom of heaven is here. The kingdom of heaven is now. The kingdom of heaven is with you. My Father is here.” Because the kingdom of heaven is not a place, the kingdom of heaven is God Himself.
It is God who loves us. It is God who cares for us. It is the presence of God we turn to in our trouble. It is the presence of God that can give us this peace, this peace that no one else can give, because the peace is the gift of God Himself, one with the Son, children of God loving the Father.
And this is what makes the whole of the church a very special place, because we come, not as adults, not as knowing everything, not as solving all the world’s problems, but with only one thing.
We are sitting on the knee of God Himself, who dandles us like a little child, full of love, full of caring, never letting go, singing us songs. And that is what it means.
In loving Him back we discover the Kingdom of God is God.
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Father Hanly's sermon for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, "The Mothering God" was delivered on 4th July 2010. It is sometimes hard to accurately transcribe Father Hanly's reflections, so please let us know if you think we have made a mistake in any of our transcripts, and let us have your suggestions.
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