Reflections on an Eschatology of Motherhood

Insight into an Often Misunderstood Saying of Our Lord

The Standard 66 (May 1976): 6–7

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The word "eschatology" comes from the Greek words eschatos meaning "last," or eschaton meaning "the end," and logos meaning "word," thought," or "reason." Therefore, "eschatology" in the broadest sense refers to what one thinks or how one reasons about the end of the world. How will the present age of human history come to an end and what will this climax bring are the questions eschatology attempts to answer.

The heart of the New Testament eschatology is that the final reality, to which all of history is flowing, has arrived. Whatever the New Testament calls it—the age to come, the kingdom of God, the new creation—in the person and work of Jesus it has come. Not as expected with cataclysmic disturbances of this world order, nor with political upheaval. Nothing big and showy. More like a mustard seed, a hidden treasure, a tiny pearl of great price, leaven in a lump of dough. And blessed is the man who does not take offense at such lowliness. For there is hidden in this lowliness, in this obscure itinerant preacher named Jesus, the power of the age to come. For those outside, everything He says is a riddle, a mystery, but "to you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God." Like children, His disciples have entered the kingdom with Him and see it now from the inside. "I thank Thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes."

The Future, Now

New Testament eschatology has to do not only with the future consummation of the promised age to come but also, and more essentially, with the powers, blessings and demands of that age which have already entered this age by the coming of Jesus. Jesus Christ is the line of demarcation between this age and the age to come. He is the door of the sheep: to enter through Him is to find already the green pastures of the new world to come.

For us who enter this "present eschaton" through Jesus, nothing, absolutely nothing, can ever be the same again: We are "a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come." "He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son." We have "died" and our lives are "hid with Christ in God." Every tie is cut. Every attachment severed. "Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. . . " "Not peace, but a sword. . ." with which to cut asunder every cord that binds you to this age. You cannot serve two masters. If you love the one, you will hate the other. There is no compromise. No one who puts his hand to the kingdom's plow and looks back with yearning for this age is fit for the kingdom of God. The way that leads to life is narrow; it is better to pluck out your eye and throw it away than to look to the right hand or to the left; and there is no returning, not even to bury your dead—not even if it is your mother.

Sunday is Mother's Day. A time for reflection upon motherhood—perhaps even upon an eschatology of motherhood. In order to view motherhood in a uniquely Christian way, it must be seen against the backdrop of the eschatological situation that Jesus has brought.

Motherhood and the Kingdom of God

One essential feature of this Christian view of motherhood is this: With the inbreaking of the kingdom of God into this world in the person and work of Jesus, every human institution including motherhood is about to pass away, and every esteem of or allegiance to those institutions in themselves stands under the judgment of god. Or to put it more personally, Jesus, who has come that we might be set free from this age, calls our love for mother radically into question.

"If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own…mother…he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26). Not a frequent Mother's Day text. Yet unless there is a serious coming to terms with this saying of Jesus, motherhood will probably never have its proper place in the eschatological community of believers, the church.

Jesus refuses to be one among many on a list of loved ones. He will share our love with no one. He will have it all, or we are not his. It is this exclusive claim upon our love that prompts Jesus to use the word "hate" in describing how we should respond to the claims of motherhood.

Love and Hate in the Teachings of Jesus

The hate which Jesus demands us to have for our mothers has nothing to do with selfish ill will or desire for their hurt. That would be a bondage to this age, not a freedom from it. That would reflect an unsatisfied craving for some fulfillment that we think we can have by abusing an institution of this age. Jesus is not demanding this kind of craving, because His intention is clearly that we find our fulfillment in undivided love for Him. The word "hate" drives home the necessity of this undivided love for Jesus.

But there is, I think, another reason why the word "hate" may have been chosen. When Jesus summoned people to repentance, to discipleship, to the kingdom of God, it was like wielding a sword among human relationships, cutting son from father and daughter from mother. Jesus says in Matthew 10:36, "A man's foes will be those of his own household." It is necessary to stress this today, I think, because a widespread popular form of relational theology may have caused some to forget that Jesus not only heals relationships, He also cuts them asunder. He is a divider of mother and daughter, mother and son—not because He ultimately wills disharmony, but because the merciful offer of the kingdom must be made, and one accepts and another does not.

A converted daughter may find that her mother has become her enemy. This was probably true more often in Jesus' day than in our wishy-washy pluralistic society. But it's true often enough today, as I'm sure many Christian young people could testify. And there is something about this situation that makes the word "hate" in Jesus' saying apt.

Love for Jesus and Love for Mom

The total allegiance and undivided love a son or daughter may have for Jesus, especially where this comes into conflict with the desires and goals of the unbelieving mother, can be and often is interpreted by that mother as a kind of hate. She probably won't call it that; she may call it ingratitude, or lack of respect for her opinions. And as long as she does not believe, she will probably defend herself by impugning the motives of her son or daughter. But while she may not fully understand the motives, she does sense something correctly: She has become less important to her son or daughter than a Person she does not even know this Jesus.

All her influence has been relativized because it has to pass through the sieve of her child's allegiance to Him. They have rejected her view of life; they have rejected her worldly goals for them; and her own lifestyle is called into question by the very transformation of theirs. She is deeply hurt, and the world will view this hurtful behavior by the believer as hate. This kind of "hate" Jesus demands.

A mother's claims upon her sons and daughters, like the claims of every human institution, are abolished in the kingdom of God. And this is not due to a craving for autonomy or self-determination. We are enslaved to the One who loved us and gave Himself for us. We are bought with a price; it is impossible that we be enslaved to anyone else, including our own mother (cf. 1 Cor. 7:23).

When Love Leads to Leaving

For some, this absolute allegiance to Jesus may mean leaving father and mother altogether. But you never really lose anything when you follow Jesus. "He who loses his life for my sake will find it." "He who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." So it may also be said that he who loses or hates his mother in this age for Jesus' sake will have more mothers in return than he would have ever imagined.

That is what Jesus says in Mark 10:29-30: "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life." Whatever we lose in one society will be regained a hundredfold in the new society created by Jesus.

Notice that everything and everyone left behind for Jesus' sake is restored a hundredfold except one—the father. This suggests that Jesus is thinking here of the new spiritual family of which God is the one Father and in which the followers of Jesus become for each other brother, sister, son, daughter, and mother.

Examples from the Life of Paul

Two illustrations from Paul's life come to mind. Paul loved the family of God. More than once he viewed himself as mother to God's other children. In anguish over the fickle Galatians, Paul writes to them: "My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you!" And only a little different in 1 Thessalonians 2: "We were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children." And Paul saw his motherly behavior as exemplary for others to follow, which means he meant for every convert to enter a new family where he would have mothers a hundredfold.

When the absoluteness of Jesus' lordship demands from us, in one way or the other, that we be severed from our earthly mothers, there remains for us mothers a hundredfold in the eschatological family of God.

With regard to our attitude toward motherhood, Jesus demands of us no more, but no less, than He experienced Himself. His mother did not understand the nature of His mission, so that when she made an ill-timed request at the wedding in Cana, He responded, "O woman, what have you to do with Me?" In other words, I am free from all your motherly claims upon Me when you are not aligned with My divine mission.

The True Family of Jesus

On another occasion, recorded in Mark 3, Jesus' mother and brothers thought He was beside Himself. So they came, "and standing outside they sent to Him and called Him. And a crowd was sitting about Him and they said to him, 'Your mother and Your brothers are outside, asking for You.' And Jesus replied, 'Who are My mothers and My brothers?' And looking around on those who sat about Him, He said, 'Here are My mother and My brother! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.'" They thought he was beside himself and thus ceased to be the mother and brothers of Jesus. And He does not heed their call; He remains with His brothers and sisters and mothers. Jesus knew what it meant both to be divided from His mother and to receive back mothers a hundredfold.

Everything said up to this point has been said in view of the inbreaking of the kingdom of God into this age in the person and work of Jesus Christ, with its demand for absolute allegiance and undivided love which frees a person from all the claims of the institution of motherhood (as well as all the other human institutions). I have stressed this because it is the heart of New Testament eschatology. It is here that the uniquely Christian view of motherhood comes into sharpest focus. But the whole story has not been told.

Saved Sojourners

We have been delivered from this present evil age and transferred into the kingdom of Christ where this is no marriage, no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, mother or child. But only in one sense. While our citizenship is in heaven, nevertheless we are still strangers and sojourners in this world. Our Lord prayed that we might not be taken out of the world but that we be kept free from the evil one.

In other words, Christ calls us from our conformity to this age into His transforming kingdom, and having freed us from every competing worldly allegiance—like motherhood—He then, in freedom, sends us back into these very institutions to maintain and to honor them; for He created them and ordained them for the preservation of orderly human life in this age.

But no longer do we honor them for their own sake or for ours; we honor them for God's sake and for His alone. The Christian will obey the commandment, "Honor your mother," but in his obedience there will always be the implicit Pauline footnote: "as serving the Lord and not men." Every act of honor, obedience or submission in the institutions of this world order is to be an act of honor, obedience, and submission to the Lord Christ.