16th Sunday in Ordinary Time reflection by Rachel Espinoza

God's 'Momma Bear' Moment

As a parent, I’ve experienced the reflexive and fierce (at times) reaction I can have to perceived dangers to my daughter - like the time when a teen rode his bike a little too fast and a little too close to my toddling tot on the 606 trail here in Chicago, or earlier in the pandemic when I was out in public with my daughter and others would come a bit too close for comfort to my preferred six-foot bubble. (At times I wanted to say, “Excuse me, my daughter is too little to wear a mask. BACK UP please!”) The visceral feelings of protectiveness that emerge are of course, due to my love for my daughter (and probably some part of the unconscious brain reacting to perceived threats). In our cultural lingo, I can be a bit of a “momma bear,”- like the grizzly who stands menacingly over any who would seek to harm my bear cub!

To be entirely honest, this was the image I got when I read today’s readings. You could say that today’s first reading (Jeremiah 23:1-6) and our Gospel (Mark 6:30-34) represent a few of God’s “momma bear” moments in Scripture! In Jeremiah, we have the Lord railing against the leaders for their failure to protect the people whom they were entrusted to care for. It’s clear God’s going to hold them accountable! (It’s almost as if God is saying through this reading:“No one messes with my people!”) Even more than that, God says that he himself will protect and shepherd his people where the leaders had failed. There’s a tenderness implicit here - God will not leave his flock scattered and vulnerable any longer. He will care for them. The fierce protectiveness against those who would harm and the immense tenderness God shows to his people are two sides of the same coin of God’s love for us.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus beautifully embodies both aspects of God’s love for God’s people. Our reading from Mark, we see the disciples returning from their mission to teach and spread the Gospel (last Sunday’s reading - Mark 6:7-13), and they are wiped out. Like a good mother would, Jesus sees their exhaustion and invites them to rest. He’s a little protective of them - knowing how tired they are - and tries to get them away from the crowds to recoup. Unfortunately, the crowd of people around them are so in need that even when Jesus and the disciples try to get away for a while, the crowds follow them! Jesus’ response is to realize that they too need care, and so rather than seeking to escape, he cares for them too. His “momma bear” instincts spread not only to his inner circle, but to all in need.

All of this leads me to reflect on the fact that we have a God who is fiercely protective of us - who loves and watches over us. We also have a God who is tender enough to notice our every need and to embrace us in that need. How does it make you feel to sit with this reading of the Scriptural texts today? When have you encountered the protection of God, or the tender care of God in moments of need? How do these aspects of God’s heart inform the way you care for others in your life?