Argentina’s “Dirty War”, a campaign between the late 1970s and early ’80s, lasted eight years. The perpetrators’ goal was to rid the country of those who opposed the military dictatorship of the time. During this period, an estimated 30,000 people were abducted, tortured or killed. Many babies and children were kidnapped, particularly for the purpose of rehoming them with families who supported the dictatorship. These people were called “los desaparecidos”, meaning “the disappeared”.
In 1977, 14 courageous mothers whose children had disappeared set out to protest against the government, marching peacefully in the Plaza de Mayo (a city square and main foundational site of Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires). They wore white scarves or nappies on their heads, all embroidered with the names of their missing children. Over time, this protest movement grew, despite the kidnappings and murders of many protesters. These mothers, known today as the “Mothers of Plaza de Mayo”, showed courage and strength, risking their lives in order to fight for their children. Despite the silence of the media, the refusal of friends and neighbours to support them as well as the threat of death, these mothers continued to march.
Today, these same mothers who lost their children years ago and are now elderly, continue to march for justice, refusing to let the current government gloss over the brutalities of the past. For more than 40 years, these mothers have been fighting for their children, resulting in some success. As of 2017, 122 of those who’d disappeared had been recovered.
Throughout the ages of human history, mothers have shown this same fierce loyalty and willingness to sacrifice their own needs for the sake of their children. Consider the story of Moses, recorded in the Bible and portrayed in the film The Prince of Egypt. When we think of Moses, we might think of him in the bulrushes, the Ten Commandments or the parting of the Red Sea, but rarely do we give much thought to Jochebed, Moses’ mother.
The Egyptian pharoah, fearing the increasing number of Hebrews, ordered all newborn boys to be killed (Exodus 1). It was in this environment that Jochebed, a Hebrew slave, gave birth to Moses, a boy, and then risked her life to hide her baby. After three months, when it became too difficult, Jochebed wove a basket out of reeds and hid Moses in the Nile (Exodus 2). Given her status as a female slave, Jochebed’s family would have been her whole world. However, to save her son’s life, she was willing to give him up and place him into God’s hands.
In a haunting scene in The Prince of Egypt, Jochebed sings as she releases baby Moses. As the basket floats out into the river, crocodiles and hippos leap out of the water, attempting to capture the basket in their gaping maws.
The basket narrowly escapes being hauled into a fishing boat and is then roughly shoved along by the oars of several boats before finally floating into Pharoah’s palace. While this portrayal of baby Moses’ experience in the Nile may not be biblically accurate, it is safe to say that the Nile River was not a friendly place and that Jochebed knew this. However, she knew her son would not survive if she held onto him so she was willing to let him go.
We may think the story ends well as Moses’ sister Miriam sees her baby brother being found by Pharoah’s daughter and offers her mother as a nursemaid (Exodus 2). However, we rarely think of the emotional cost of this arrangement for Jochebed. Moses was not the name she had given him at birth and he was no longer considered Jochebed’s son. Similarly to the Argentinian Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, Jochebed not only risked her life but gave up her personal desires in the hope of saving her child. Mothers throughout the world can relate, as a mother’s love is a fierce, untameable thing.
The love of both Jochebed and the Argentinian mothers helps us understand the fierceness of God’s love for us. While the Bible uses the term “Father” and the pronoun “He” in referring to God, there is also imagery of God as “Mother” in both the Old and New Testaments. For example, in the Psalms, we are told: “Whoever dwells in the shadow of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty . . . [God] will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge” (91:1,4). Similarly, in the gospel of Matthew, as Jesus laments over Jerusalem He says, “How often have I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings (23:37)”. These verses compare God to a mother hen—not a rooster, the king of the coop, but a mother hen!
A hen named Penny
Growing up I had chickens. They were not just egg-laying chickens but my beloved pets, which all had names. Whenever one died, I buried it under the apple tree with a home- made gravestone. One of our family favourites was a little bantam hen named Penny. My sister and I raised her from the time she was just days old by carrying her in our pockets and she was very gentle and attached to us. At night, if I was late locking up the chickens and they’d all gone to roost, she’d fly down for a cuddle.
Then the day came when she laid some eggs in the hayloft and hatched three chicks. I was positively elated! What could be better than baby chicks to play with? But Penny wouldn’t have any of it. She changed from a sweet, gentle bird into a ferocious, wild thing, refusing to let us near her babies, pecking and flapping, protecting her children with every squawk. This is common with mother hens. When faced with danger, they gather their chicks beneath their feathers and fiercely protect their offspring, regardless of the danger to themselves.
For most of us, “mother” or “mother hen” are not the first metaphors that come to mind when we think of God, but in the person of Jesus, who laid down His life, we see the ferocious “mother-love” of God.
For some of you, Mother’s Day can be challenging. Perhaps you have a complicated relationship with your mother or maybe you’ve lost her. I’m sorry if this is your story—I can only imagine how hard it must be. However, know that God’s love for you is fierce. He understands your pain and loss and wants to gather you in and hold you close.
If you do have a mother figure in your life, someone who loved you fiercely and sacrificially, thank her for her love and sacrifice over the years. As you celebrate her this Mother’s Day, I also invite you to reflect on God’s “mother-love” for you.
Ashley Jankiewicz is a secondary education student at Avondale University. She has a passion for sharing Jesus through her writing.