Getting Pregnant: A Reflection on the Barrenness of “Mother’s Day” and the Labour Pains of Discipleship

Mother’s Day. A day where many church communities, reflect, celebrate and honor those we are indebted to for our very biological existence. Yet the day we have come to name “mother’s day” is often celebrated in a fashion that, in the light of the Gospel, is rather barren. Mother’s day ends up creating yet more walls of division in the human community, celebrating and honoring only those mothers who fall into certain biological and cultural categories we define as “fertile” and appropriate for “the task of motherhood”. The barrenness of “Mother’s Day” should not come as a surprise to the Christian community. After all, Mother’s Day is nowhere on the church calendar and neither does the day hold any theological significance on its own. Indeed, if Mother’s day is to produce any form of Gospel proclamation, if it is to be theologically fertile, it must at the outset find its justification in this one fact: “All followers of the risen Christ are all called to be mothers.”

In Matthew 12:46-50 we are told that  “While [Jesus] was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him.  Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Clearly Jesus is not debating a biological fact. When Jesus says, “for whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother,” he is quite obviously not denying that Mary was the woman to give him birth and that his brothers were also biologically related to him. And neither was he claiming that one of his twelve male disciples had literally birthed him. That was obvious enough to everyone who would have heard Jesus say this. What he was denying is that within the Kingdom of God a “mother” or a “brother” or a “sister” is a relationship defined by biology. What Jesus was teaching was that we become so intimately linked to each other when we become part of God’s family that these terms no longer apply solely to any biological reality. By living the life that God has intended us to live we actually become a part of a community where we act in the nurturing role of mother (and brother, and sister) to each other. This is especially the case when for one reason or other regular biological relationships have become barriers to our flourishing. Effectively, Jesus is saying, our ability to play these uniquely productive and nurturing roles is simply not limited by biology. But if this really is the case, that is, if we all must be open to the possibility of being mothers to each other, an even more profound implication is the fact that discipleship can be, in a very real sense, about getting pregnant.

Paul teaches as much in his letter to the Church of Galatia when he said to them: “I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you (Galatians 4:19).” Being a mother, for Paul, is not defined by the biological events named conception, development, and birth. Rather, it is defined by the spiritual event of apocalypse, the conception, development, and birth experienced through an encounter with the risen Christ. One might say Paul was conceived on the road to Damascus when, as Saul, he encountered the risen Christ. While in Damascus for three days (or, to carry the analogy to its torturous limits, trimesters) Saul developed further until he was finally birthed in the waters of Baptism after a visit from the midwife Ananias (Acts 9:18). His further missionary life would itself be a life of holy promiscuity, patiently enduring many different Christ-births. Paul sought to place himself at the service of the Christ who had overcome the world in order that the world might be populated with the fruitfulness of the Gospel. The original Genesis mandate to be “fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28) takes on a whole new significance following Christ’s resurrection as, not only the disciples of Jesus, but the creation itself begins to show the signs of pregnancy.

As Paul states in Romans 8:19-23:

“the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”

While the barren creation longs for the birth of the children of God, we too long, waiting and groaning inwardly for the redemption of our bodies. If Mother’s Day is to be theologically fertile, it must find its justification in the hope of “the revealing [apokalupsis] of the children of God”. On this Mother’s Day may we all open ourselves to the labour pains of discipleship that precede this apocalypse.

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