Longing for the Divine

God’s Compassion like a Mother’s

We celebrate the role of mothers—how their homemaking skills and the aromas of their homecooked meals make our homes feel warm and safe. Moms wash pots and pans and fold laundry. They have a nurturing and compassionate touch when bandaging skinned knees and elbows. They kiss away tears and knit hearts together.

Sometimes, it is a mother’s feistiness we cherish most—the mom who shouts down the crowd at the soccer game when her child has the ball or the mom who rolls up her sleeves when her cubs are in danger. One such mother showed great courage and tenacity by approaching Jesus as He traveled through a foreign area. Matthew 15 describes the Canaanite mother who cried out to Jesus, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly” (22, NIV). This was not a soft voice that whispers sweet lullabies to babies drifting to sleep; it was the persistent voice of a mother intently stating her case.

Jesus helps us understand what kind of mother this woman was. Though she poured out her heart with deep emotion, Jesus did not immediately answer her desperate pleas. At first glance, His silence and His disciples’ annoyance may have appeared puzzling, if not downright rude. Then Jesus finally answered, saying, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26). In response, this Gentile mother challenged Jewish tradition and prejudice: “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (27, NIV).  

Jesus’ heart must have been bursting with compassion as this mother demonstrated her determination and reliability. Even in the face of insults, she bravely and confidently continued to exude hope for her child, seeking only crumbs for herself and her daughter. Here’s a mother who understood the sign of the loaves performed by Jesus and why He insisted that all the leftover pieces be gathered up (Matthew 14:13-21; 15:35-37). It was this foreign mother’s extraordinary faith that insisted on extending kingdom food so that others might receive God’s embrace, touching Jesus’ heart and compelling Him to respond. Her faith was irresistible to Jesus, who exclaimed, “Great is your faith!” Such faith contrasts with the “little faith” of the men in His discipleship (Matthew 14:31; 16:8–9). Jesus cherished the persistence of this mother’s love for her child. 

Jesus recognizes the compassion, courage, and dignity of women and mothers everywhere. Little is more powerful or tender than a mother’s caring love, yet being a mother brings painful challenges, as mothers’ hearts are sometimes deeply pierced with sorrow. We find Jesus filled with profound compassion for the weeping widow of Nain, who lost her only son (Luke 7:11-17). Jesus’ compassion was like that of a mother for her infant (Exodus 34:6). Jesus saw the tears running down this mother’s cheeks and told her not to weep. The heart of divine comfort and nurturing love answered this mother’s anguished heart by bringing the boy back to life. Jesus similarly listened to the Canaanite mother pleading for Him to push aside old assumptions and cultural indifference and to fill the earth with a mother’s tenderest love. Even in His great agony on the cross, Jesus remembers His own mother, whose heart was pierced with great anguish over losing her child (John 19:25-27). It was on the cross that Jesus entered most fully into our suffering and experienced the ultimate burden and pain of a compassionate God. Perhaps only a mother’s experience can reveal the deep truth about the extent of God’s empathy and compassion.

God understands the deep spiritual bonds of nurturing love that He has placed within the hearts of women—a theology about God’s nurturing care and compassion that often goes unrecognized. God’s nature is revealed in a mother’s womb-like heart. As I reflect on how Jesus dealt with questions about ministering to a Gentile mother and whether family would be a part of the life to come, I wonder how we can deal with our assumptions and failures to understand the depth of God’s enduring compassion for every one of us. God sympathizes with every mother, offering nurturing comfort for those grieving lost children. Jesus, who completed a long journey to relieve the anxious heart of a Canaanite woman, will do as much today. For those who find Mother’s Day painful because they can’t have children or have not experienced motherly love as God intended, I share two images of compassion:

Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.

Isaiah 49:15, ESV

He grants the barren woman a home, Like a joyful mother of children. Praise the Lord!

Psalm 113:9, NKJV

Only a perfectly compassionate God who nurtures and cares for us like a perfect mother can resolve the pain of being denied the joys of motherhood. Don’t make the mistake of belittling the power of God (Matthew 22:29). Instead, align the conversation this Mother’s Day to the truest expression of the best life God has in store for you. God will exceed all the limitations and perplexities of present life. You will not be forever forgotten or cheated because the One full of deepest compassion will ensure that the deep bonds of love will find truest expression beyond what we can now possibly imagine.

Craig Ashton Jr.

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