4th Sunday of Easter (April 11 • 2014)

‘God, Our Mother’




Psalm 23

Acts 2: 37-47

John 10:1-10



I know you probably are bored right now with me telling you about my favourite television programs, but I really need to tell this one. So, let me start again:

One of my favourite television programs nowadays is My Wild Affair on SBS. I happened upon this program when I was browsing the television channels one night and my eyes were glued to the screen ever since at every episode of the programme that I watched.

One episode told the story of a family who adopted a baby elephant that had been abandoned by its mother. The baby elephant was taken to the family’s property, which was also a sanctuary for other orphaned animals. It was named, Aisha, which means princess in the local language.

Daphne Sheldrick was the mother of the family who ran the animal orphanage. She was the main carer of all the animals in her property, including Aisha. She bottle-fed Aisha herself and, soon enough, Daphne and Aisha formed a deep mother-daughter bond. Aisha would follow Daphne wherever she went. Daphne even had to trick Aisha, by covering it’s eyes with her apron, to be able to go somewhere else without being followed by Aisha.

Little did Daphne know at the time that elephant forms a deep emotional bond, which would last for a lifetime, with whomever it perceives as its mother. When that bond is severed, the elephant, especially baby elephant, would go into deep depression.

That was what happened to Aisha. When Daphne decided to leave Aisha for days to attend her daughter’s wedding in a distant city, Aisha refused to eat the food given to it by another carer. Her condition deteriorated rapidly that, when Daphne arrived back, there was nothing that she could do to save Aisha’s life.

A similar thing happened to another family, in another episode, who adopted, this time, a baby rhinoceros. They named the rhino, Rupert. Like Aisha, Rupert immediately formed a deep familial bond with its human family, especially with its human mother.

Rupert rapidly grew in size and, even though it was friendly to humans, its sheer strength was considered as a danger. So the decision was made that Rupert would be returned to the wild, far away from its human family’s home, as soon as it was possible.

But the decision devastated both Rupert and its human mother. Rupert only survived in the wild for some years. It died at an age considered young for a rhino. The autopsy on its body found no sign of attacks or self-inflicted starvation. It was believed that Rupert died out of grief because it was separated from its human family with no opportunity to visit them.

Like elephants, rhinos form deep emotional bond with their human carers. For those rhinos that are raised in an orphanage, the presence of humans gives them a sense of security. Those rhinos often visit their human carers after they have been released back to the wild.

This relationship between those human carers, especially the mothers, and their baby animals reminds me of the image of God as the shepherd and we as the sheep. Like those mothers, God, the Good Shepherd, also provides us with a sense of security and comfort in our life.

Our reading today from Psalm 23 starts by taking us to an open pasture with green grass and flowing water, but it ends by taking us back to our home. But the home was no ordinary home; the home was the temple, the place where the God of Israel believed to dwell; the house of God. For the Jews, the temple provided them with a sense of security and peace, just like an open pasture with grass and flowing water give sheep a sense of security, knowing that their well-being will be nurtured in such a place. Indeed, the temple was like a house where the Israelites, as God’s children, could find comfort and security in the presence of God, their parent.

But in the middle part of the Psalm, we are taken away from those places of comfort to dangerous places: a dark valley and a battlefield. Yet, even in these two places, God is present to give us the assurance of His protection. The shepherd’s rod and staff were a comfort for any sheep traversing a dark valley teeming with unpredictable dangers; while the anointment of oil, the symbol of one’s identity as being chosen and loved, was a comfort for those facing their enemy's battle lines.

We have heard stories of soldiers crying for their mothers in their dying agony in the battlefields. The image of their mothers must have brought back to them the memory of being comforted and secured in their mother’s arms. That is why I almost always used Psalm 23 when I visited someone on his/her deathbed. The psalm evoked a sense of peace and security that other words simply could not achieve.

It is not a surprise then that early Christians used to scratch the image of the Good Shepherd on their catacomb walls. They carved the image of the Good Shepherd in their tombs to mark the end. [1] The image of the Good Shepherd must have also reminded these Christians, hiding from persecution, that regardless of the situation they were in, God would look after them, just like a good shepherd would look after his sheep, or a good mother would look after her children, or a good teacher would protect her students.

When the deadly twister hit Oklahoma in 2013, many witnesses described the tornado like the blade of a lawn mower, spanning more than a mile, shredding through their town. It stayed on the ground for 40 minutes, hitting the Plaza Tower elementary school in Oklahoma where many teachers and children were trapped inside.

In the aftermath of the twister; arising from the rubble, were stories of tremendous heroism. One teacher said that she had to lie on top of her six children to protect them. All of the children survived the tornado. One first responder said that he and the other first responders had to pull a car off another teacher and discovered that she had three little children underneath her. (In tears, the first responder said to the heroic teacher, through a media interview, “Good job, teach.”){C}{C}[2]

God is like those teachers who were ready not only to nurture and protect their students, but also to give their own lives for the children under their care. We witness this self-sacrifice of God in the death of Jesus, God incarnate, on the cross.

In our reading from the book of Acts, some say that the description, of the life of the early Christians, proves that the early Christians were communists. That argument is simply a way of reading an ancient story through our modern ideological perspective. The believers were not trying to create a communist society; by sharing what they had with one another, they tried to emulate God’s quality as a nurturer.

Indeed, everyone in the church, male or female, young or old, rich or poor, has the capacity to become a mother because everyone has the capacity to nurture, love, and care for others. Motherly qualities are not restricted to females; motherly qualities are not restricted to our biological mother; motherly qualities are qualities that can be possessed by anyone, regardless.

Indeed, we are to be like God, the Good Mother, to one another. The church has to be the place where people can find motherly love, nurture, and protection. That is why, in the history of the Christian church, the church has often been depicted as the Mother Church. The church has to be the place where people can find love and protection in the midst of life’s turmoil. The church has to mirror God, our heavenly Mother, who always nurtures and protects us.

Indeed, the church has to become like the sheep pen, in our reading from John’s Gospel, where the sheep inside it felt safe and secure. In ancient Palestine, the shepherds would take their sheep into a common sheep pen where their sheep would stay the night. In the morning, the shepherd would come to collect their sheep to take them out for grazing.{C}{C}[3]

To become such a safe and secure pen, the church must have Jesus as its gate. In other words, the church must have Jesus’ life, love, and compassion, as the model for its life. (Those who do not follow his model are ‘thieves and bandits’, who come only to bring destruction.) But those who follow him will give life, love, and protection to others; those who follow him will be like God, our Mother, who protects and loves us no matter what.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Let us pray.

Welcoming God, we know you as Shepherd, Host, Mother, Friend: you are all of these and more to us. Help us to recognise your generosity and all-embracing love, so that we may also be generous and compassionate to others. Amen. [4]


[1] From an article, How to Love Like a Mother (John 10:1-10), by Rev. Anne Sutherland Howard, on (accessed: May 8, 2014)

[2] From an article, Terrified children, teachers' heroics, no shelter: Inside a tornado-ravaged school, by Josh Levs, on (posted on May 22, 2013 -- Updated 1319 GMT)

[3] From an article, How to Love Like a Mother (John 10:1-10), by Rev. Anne Sutherland Howard, on (accessed: May 8, 2014)

[4] Burt, Susan and Friends (Eds.), Seasons Fusion for Congregational Life -Lent Easter 2014, New Zealand: Wood Lake Publishing Inc. (2013), p.146.