Summary: Mothering in our time is mirrored in the one prostitute, who decided just to take what she could, though it was destructive. But the true mother was willing to sacrifice that her child might live.
Who is the real mother? How do you measure authentic mothering? Is it by the mere accident of birth, or is it by something deeper?
Who is the real mother, who is the authentic mother? Is it simply the woman you gave you birth and who wiped your messy nose during your growing up years, or is the power of mothering measured by some personal response that goes beyond the boundaries of biology?
Several years ago, on a Mothers’ Day like this one, I asked that all the mothers in the congregation stand to be recognized. Then I also called for all those who had served as mother figures ... those who had played the role of mother for somebody. Male that I am, I was expecting a few maiden aunts and older sisters to get to their feet. Imagine my surprise when one of our oldest men stood up. I thought maybe he had misunderstood. But when I found out more about him and his life, I knew that he had heard me perfectly. He stood, and with good reason. He had done what a real mother does.
Obviously he was measuring mothering by something more than biology, something longer than nine months’ gestation, something more powerful than cooking meals and cleaning house.
Who is the real mother? How do you measure authentic mothering? May I suggest this morning that real mothers are defined by the way they respond to the sword? Real mothers, whether female or male, are measured by their response to the sword!
I don’t envy King Solomon his job. What is a mere male to do, when confronted by two loud, brassy, argumentative females? Most of us men have enough trouble putting two sentences together in the presence of assertive women, but come on … this is too much. Here are two women, not exactly model citizens -- prostitutes -- each clamoring for the ear of the king, each claiming to be the real mother of one tiny sleeping infant. "King Solomon, sort it out for us. I’m the mother. No, I’m the mother. I am. No, I am. Yap, yap, yap, yap, yap." Hey, why don’t you girls just go shopping and leave me alone to watch the ball game!?
But the king of Israel took seriously what these women had brought before him. He saw some issues here and he rendered a decision. So each woman claims to be the real mother of this little baby? Then let’s be fair. Let a sword be brought, and we will divide the baby, and each of you can have half of him, and everybody goes home satisfied. Right?
In a moment I’m going to contrast and compare the two mothers who appear in this story. I’m going to ask you to study them with me in order to see two contrasting ways of understanding responsibility. But first, let’s take a few moments to get in touch with King Solomon and this decision of his.
I think we ought at least to be grateful that in ancient Israel two women of the streets had access to their government. It seems not to have mattered that they were prostitutes: there were no handlers around to keep these ruffians at arm’s length and to arrange for photo opportunities. They had the ear of the king, they had
access to government.
And they felt that government was the place to look for justice. How striking the contrast between Jerusalem then and Los Angeles now, that the poor, the lowly, and the socially disreputable not only find their way to government, but also that they expect justice from the system.
Of King Solomon the Scripture says that, "All Israel stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice." How we could wish that all of the citizens of our land might also have confidence that whether it be the White House, the court house, or their own houses, justice might always prevail. I am not today arguing whether justice was or was not done in the Rodney King verdict: I am simply lamenting the loss of confidence in our institutions of justice.
And I am observing that government has to get that confidence the old-fashioned way: government has to earn it. Respect has to be earned. Solomon earned the respect of the people. "All Israel stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice."
Well, I need to be careful here. Getting political. Shouldn’t do politics on Mother’s Day! And so I will not take the time to observe that the king asked no questions about whether there was a man in the house. I will not bother you with speculation about whether these children were illegitimate, because, frankly, I don’t think there are any illegitimate children. There may be unsanctioned relationships, but there are no illegitimate children. All children have the right to live and to thrive. Solomon didn’t get into that, and neither will I.