This morning I will focus specifically on 1 Peter 2:2-3.
This is undoubtedly a spiritual passage and it is also meant to be an evocative one. It speaks, obviously, of a Christian’s desire for God, and the first two verses use a metaphor involving early childhood.
When I was quite young, we played always a game to figure out who had the earliest memory. Who could remember what? How old? What did it involve? Of course, the cooler the memory, the more likely it was to be true (in our childlike minds). Undoubtedly, on the playground, most of us made up our memories. I think mine involved searching for fairy stones before I could properly crawl. Such a thing most likely was a product of my imagination and not an actual memory. However, I and all the children I grew up with searched our memories for the earliest and the most fantastical of recollections.
There was one little boy, Kevin, who claimed he could remember breastfeeding. Now, to the rest of us, this was disgusting. We were, after all, only about five or six years old. But–looking back–out of all our strange memories, wouldn’t this be the earliest? the truest? the most realistic?
Before I make the next observations, I would like to press that I am not making any judgements on women who, for whatever reason, do not have children, do not raise their children whether or not by choice, or those mothers who choose not to breastfeed. This is an observation on motherhood in the Greco-Roman world two thousand years ago.
Two thousand years ago, in the Greco-Roman World where Peter was writing, an infant’s life and survival in the world depended exclusively on his/her mother. A mother provided warmth, shelter, and (most importantly) milk. This was not a time of baby formulas, and only the wealthiest of families could afford wet nurses.
So this image, of a newborn infant looking for “pure, spiritual milk” (NRSV translation), is a very striking one. Without the mother, without this milk, without this care, the infant is dead within days: starving, helpless and alone. No mother in the Greco-Roman world could walk past an infant in such distress unless her own children were in a similar state.
…But What of the Infant’s Mother?
However, there is certainly a flip side to this image. We can imagine the infant, imagine the wailing, the thirst, the sheer need, but let us look at the other side. Let us look at the mother. The mother nurtured the infant within her body. She sustained the child’s life before birth and then continues to sustain it afterwards. It is her privilege and her joy–not just a mere duty. The child is a piece of her that lives on. In this scenario from two millennia ago, we can imagine the primal instinct of the mother, an instinct that has not died through the centuries upon centuries of civilization.
This is a primal instinct that was true of the Jewish people in first century Palestine when Jesus lived and walked among his people.
This is a primal instinct among the people of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) to whom Peter was writing in his role as Bishop of Rome (as tradition tells us).
This was a primal instinct with Pharaoh’s Daughter who adopted the baby Moses she found floating in a basket on the Nile.
This is a primal instinct that is known throughout many cultures, regardless of race, religion, or country of origin.
The mother is the caretaker. The mother is loving. The mother is nurturing. As the one who gives birth, she sustains life in her child until the child is old enough to go out into the world and fend for him/herself (in the modern world, that’s between the ages of 18 and 21; historically, it would be much earlier).
The infant needs the mother, but the mother will not forsake her child. She will provide the nutrition the child needs…
…and so, too, will God. That is the flip side of these first few verses in the second chapter of 1 Peter. We, as infants, long for “pure, spiritual milk.” And God, as Mother, will never abandon us and will always provide.
A Thought on Our Situation in 2020
There is no worldwide consensus about what we, as a people, need. There is hardly a consensus between States or within individual States.
To give an example, I live in a tiny little town on top of a hill. Here, no one so much as goes outside to wave to their neighbor without wearing gloves and a mask. If I just go down the hill two towns over, to a town where everyone hunts or fishes (and if you don’t you at least know someone who does), men and women walk out of the only local store in a t-shirt, waders, and no mask, and go about their business. I’m usually the woman skirting around everyone trying to purchase last minute applesauce for supper. Move one town over from there, and the consensus is only one person picking up pizza at a time. We all wait in our cars until the coast is clear and it’s our turn.
It is a strange, strange world, and that’s all within three small country towns of each other.
I’m certain everyone has a similar story if not stories. We all have our opinions. We all have different reactions, different ways we will react; we all make different choices.
Collectively we don’t know what we want, what we should do.
How should anyone else know if we do not know ourselves? How should our leaders guess, how should people who sell us what they think we want to buy, ultimately, know if we’re at sixes and sevenses?
The Answer: God knows. He knows what we can’t articulate. He knows what’s in our hearts, our souls, and minds.
You may be screaming at him for not wiping out the plague that has come down upon us, you may curse him for not stopping this before it happened. It’s difficult to say that this situation was humanity’s choice, such as war and hatred, so it should have been up to God. Shouldn’t it? Why isn’t God giving us–giving “me”–what we need?
In turn I would like to ask you this:
Do you think a child knows what he/she needs when he/she cries out? Do you think an infant can articulate? Do think a babe knows the greater picture outside of his/her own small knowledge of existence?
Still, God is there for his people. He is giving them exactly what we need. We may want World Peace, we may want to socially interact, we may want everything to be as it was… but what we truly need is God’s love and understanding, and he offers that to us not just this Mother’s Day, but every day until the End of Time. He will give us the strength to continue. He will give us the hope that if we work together, we can create a brighter future. He will give us the determination to make dreams a reality.
He will nurture us. He will love us. He will cherish us. God, now and always, is our Spiritual Mother, not just our father. He will provide, even if we don’t realize that is what he’s doing.