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Published Date: March 5, 2022

Published Date: March 5, 2022

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My Body, Broken for You: Motherhood, Jesus, and Julian of Norwich

My third daughter came quickly. Not many hours ago I had been at the zoo with my older girls, and suddenly here I was with this tiny, new girl nestled in my arms. My body still ached from the fast and furious labor, but the pain was swallowed up by joy as she snuggled into me for her first meal. I kissed her slimy, unwashed head and whispered, “My body broken for you, my blood poured out for you. Drink, my darling girl.”

A few weeks later, I was sitting in the back row at church. The hardness of the pew reminded me of my recently broken body and the scars I would always have. My baby was drinking again, and I held the broken cracker and the tiny cup of juice in one hand. I had just yelled at my older girls on the way to church, and I didn’t feel very clean inside. But suddenly Jesus was there with the scars he would always have, holding me, kissing my slimy head, and whispering, “This is my body, broken for you, my blood poured out for you. You are the joy that swallowed up my pain. Drink, my darling girl.”

Jesus As A Mother

Julian of Norwich wrote, “Our Saviour is our Very Mother in whom we be endlessly borne, and never shall come out of Him.”1 Although Jesus came to earth as a man, he refused to be defined by the gender expectations of the patriarchal culture in which he lived, and he was not afraid to do things that were more culturally appropriate for a mother than a rabbi. Like a mother, he invited his daughters to freely participate alongside his sons (Luke 8:1–3, 10:38–42), and he talked to women as equals when it would have been more culturally appropriate for him to ignore or rebuke them (John 4:4–26).

Jesus consistently and repeatedly did things that would have been unusual for first-century Palestinian men, things that were considered “women’s work.” He cooked food and fed people (John 21:9, 6:26). He held small children (Mark 10:13–16). He washed people with his own spit (Mark 7:33, John 9:6). He stopped in the road to publicly talk to a woman about her never-ending period (Luke 8:43–48), and he praised her for stepping out in faith to touch him (an event that made him ceremonially unclean according to Leviticus 15:19, 25–27). These are not things that a male Jew (or Roman) was supposed to do! They were things that a mother would do for her child, but certainly not a rabbi, let alone the long-awaited Messiah.

Yes, Jesus was very comfortable going around doing motherly things, and he even used motherly language to talk about himself!

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (Matt. 23:37)

Jesus Gives His Body For Our Life

Of course, many of the gender expectations that Jesus defied were merely cultural stereotypes—there’s nothing inherently motherly or womanly about holding children, cooking, or washing people. But God has designed unique differences between men and women, and one of the most concrete, striking differences is women’s ability to provide nourishment and to protect and sustain life with their own bodies. Yet even as “the mother may give her child suck of her milk, but our precious Mother, Jesus, He may feed us with Himself.”2 Perhaps the most motherly thing that God did through the person of Jesus, something that transcends cultural stereotypes, was to give his body for our life and nourishment.

During a silent retreat, my friend Kristin was meditating on the depth of the love Jesus expressed for her when he literally gave his own body to bring her into relationship with God. Filled with awe she prayed, “Thank you, Jesus. Nobody else has loved me that way.” Instantly God replied, “Except your mother.”

And it’s true. For most of us, our mother is the only human who has literally sacrificed her own body so that we could live—the only human except Jesus. While most men never have the opportunity to literally sacrifice any part of their body so that somebody else can live, mothers around the world do so every single day. So did Jesus. And not only did Jesus give up his body in the sense of enduring pain and gaining scars but, like a mother who died in childbirth, he gave his very life so that we could live.

Jesus Gives His Body For Our Nourishment

Not only did Jesus endure pain and give up his body and even his life so that we could live, like a mother he also continually offers us his body for our spiritual nourishment. In John 6:51, 54 he says:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. . . . Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

Assuming that Jesus was not referring to cannibalism, there is only one context in which a person is nourished by the flesh and blood of another human: motherhood. A baby in the womb draws her life from the flesh and blood of her mother, at times literally consuming the mother’s flesh if the mother does not take in enough calories. There is no other food babies can eat before birth.

Perhaps this is one reason that Jesus compares being in relationship with him to being born again (John 3:3–8). When we recognize who Jesus is and enter a relationship with him, we find ourselves depending on him as completely as an unborn child on her mother. Julian of Norwich described it as “fall[ing] into our Lord’s breast . . . knowing our feebleness and great need.”3 Apart from Jesus’s flesh and blood, there is no other food that can keep our souls alive.

When we allow our souls to be held and nurtured within the womb of God, we become connected to the source of life itself. When we come to drink the living water that Jesus offers, we will never be thirsty again (John 4:10–14), not because we will never need to drink again, but because we will never stop drinking! We will be permanently connected to the source of the spring, like a branch connected to a vine (John 15:5), like an unborn child connected to her mother. As only a mother can, Jesus offers us the chance to drink and be nourished from his body. As a baby in the womb is never thirsty because a constant supply of fresh water is continually flowing from the mother’s body, we will never be thirsty when we remain in Jesus, because a constant supply of living water flows from his body.

What Jesus’s Motherhood Means For Mothers (And Fathers!)

As a human man, Jesus forged a path for other men to follow, showing by example that men can and should be successfully involved in things that his (and our) patriarchal culture often define as “women’s work.” Men, do you want to be like Jesus? Then pick up a little child (Mark 9:36) and cook somebody breakfast (John 21:9). Give someone a bath (John 13:4–9) and do some laundry (Eph. 5:26–27).

But cultural stereotypes aside, Jesus did something even more significant for women. Jesus, “the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us” (John 1:18, NLT). And he has revealed God as not only a father, but a mother as well. Only a mother can conceive, sustain, and nourish new life within her body, as Jesus did and continues to do for us. Women are created in the image of God, and as mothers (whether biological, adoptive, or spiritual) we reflect God’s motherly nature to the world around us. As egalitarian mothers, we don’t need to downplay or minimize our motherly role in order to take our full and equal place in the kingdom of God. As we mother, we are being like God in a uniquely beautiful way.

Throughout much of world history, women have been treated as second to men, and motherhood has been viewed as a menial and insignificant task relegated to the “less capable” members of society. First-wave feminists exposed the lie that women are “less capable,” and offered women equality with men. Second-wave feminism continued to make progress, but at a price: they felt that to be equal with men, they needed to become more like men and leave their femininity behind. Even today, as we are immersed in what many term the fourth wave, women who choose motherhood as a full-time career are viewed with suspicion, and we often feel that we have to justify or explain ourselves even to our Christian egalitarian friends.

But women do not have to become more like men in order to accurately represent God. God’s motherhood can be clearly seen through the life and death of Jesus, who came “Himself to do the service and the office of Motherhood in all things.”4 When we pour ourselves into motherhood, we are pouring out the love of our heavenly Mother, living out the image of the God who is both Father and Mother to us all. As we give our bodies and souls for the life and nourishment of our biological, adoptive, and spiritual children, we are showing the world who Jesus is and what Jesus has to offer. What a beautiful and powerful gift!

This article is from “Motherhood,” the Spring 2022 issue of Mutuality magazine. Read the full issue here.

Notes

  1. Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2002), 68.
  2. Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, 71.
  3. Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, 86.
  4. Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, 71.