Paul writes, ‘The other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free and she is our mother’ (Galatians 4.26)
It is strange language. Why not ‘home’? It would make more sense
But when Paul talks about ‘our mother’, he is speaking of our origins.
Our understanding of our origins is vitally important. It shapes our self-understanding, and our understanding of other people.
That is why programmes like ‘Who do you think you are?’ are so fascinating.
It is why many people research their family histories.
In our society we usually look for our origins through the paternal side.
But for the Jew, origins are traced through the maternal side. I am a Jew not if my father is a Jew, but if my mother is a Jew.
So when Paul wants to remind Christians that we are not children of this world, but children of that world; that we are not children of biological necessity, but children of the promise of God, he asks us to think through the question, ‘Who is your true mother?’
Is our mother Hagar? I don’t really have time here to go into the story. You can read it in Genesis 16 and following. Abraham had been promised a child by God through his wife Sarah. But as time went on and as Sarah got older, he decided to take things into his own hands. He had a child by Hagar, Sarah’s slave girl. They did that sort of thing in those days. But God said, ‘No. That is not the child that I promised you’. And at the right time, although way beyond the age when she could have given birth, Sarah gave birth to Isaac.
So we have on one side, the child of Hagar, the child of human wisdom, the child of the flesh.
And on the other, the child of Sarah, the child of impossibility, the child of the promise.
Who is your true mother?
Is your origin your mother’s womb?
Because if we simply trace our origins back in our family tree to some great great etc great grandparent, or back further to an ape, or some proto-plasma floating about in a primeval soup; if we consider that our origins lie within this universe, this world of space and time – then we can never be free.
We are subject to law.
We crave significance and value. We want to matter, and we need to prove somehow that we do matter.
And the only way that we can do that is by following rules or breaking rules.
We try to please God, or whatever is ‘god’ to us, by living a good life – by showing that we are a truly worthy human being.
We try to prove ourselves to our parents by making them proud of us and doing what they want – or we try and prove ourselves to ourselves by breaking their rules and rebelling against them.
We try and please our friends, or those we consider significant, by doing what we think they want us to do.
It is the principle, the law of, and I am using a theological term here, ‘justication by works’. We try to justify ourselves by what we do.
And if our origin is from this world, from something that was created out of nothing (Hebrews 11.3), then we are nothing and our future is nothing. Our origin is nothingness, and our destiny is death.
But says Paul, our origin is not to be found in this world.
Yes, we do come from the womb of our earthly mother; our physical biological origin lies in this created world. But that is not our ultimate origin.
Our true mother is the heavenly Jerusalem. We are children of the heavenly Jerusalem. We are children of the promise of God.
And so we are free.
We do not need to keep the law to prove that we are significant, that we matter.
We are set free from the need to prove ourselves to others – whether that is to our parents, or our friends, or to the people who we consider significant.
‘Before the creation of the world’, God says, ‘I loved you and chose you’ (Ephesians 1.4). So we freely choose to live for God, not in order to make ourselves acceptable to him, but because we delight to delight the One who delights in us.
And because our true origin does not lie in the physical, but is rooted in the promise of God, our true home is not really here, but there.
And our destiny is not the fate of the flesh. Someone told me yesterday that the ambulances which take dead people to the mortuary in Ireland used to be called ‘meat waggons’.
Our destiny is the same as the destiny of the word of God, the promise of God. It will never fail. And he has said that he will never leave us or abandon us.
Where do you come from?
The womb of your mother? Is that all?
If that is the case then, ‘from dust you came and to dust you will return’
Or are you someone who lives by faith in the reality that there is something, SomeOne much bigger – that your true origin comes from the God who created you, who gave you life, who loves you – because then you are free.