The Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 5), June 9, 2024

May 7, 2024 | by Gabrie'l Atichson

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
1 Sam 8:4-11, 16-20 Psalm 138 2 Cor 4:13-5:1 Mark 3:20-35

God as a Gentle Parent
The social media buzz these days is all about ‘Gentle Parenting.’ Gentle Parenting is a style of interacting with your children that involves more mindfulness and open communication than many of us experienced growing up. At its core, parents guide their children through the decision-making process allowing enough space for them to develop independence and coping skills. In this way, children can learn natural consequences for behavior while knowing that they are loved and supported by their parents.
The lessons this week evoke a theme of God as parent, gently (and sometimes not so gently) giving us a warning, and how we often, in our humanness, do not heed. In 1 Samuel 8, the elders come to Samuel to say that the people are clamoring for a king. Because other nations have kings, the people would feel safer having a king as well. Through Samuel, God let the people know that God would be all the protection they would need. Additionally, God outlined in detail the corruption that would come with having a king reign over them. Samuel relays the warnings of God, with a list of ways that the king would slowly strip the people of their freedom in exchange for feelings of security.
In spite of the warnings, the people refuse to listen, and Saul is chosen as king. The people are left to deal with the consequences of their decisions.
An image of God as parent, although perhaps not as gentle, can be found in Genesis 3:8-15, where Adam and Eve are called out for eating the forbidden fruit. They try to hide their behavior from God but end up revealing themselves to God by being ashamed of their own nakedness. God asks, “Who told you that you are naked?” (Genesis 3:11 NRSV) Once caught, Adam rats out Eve, and Eve puts the blame on the serpent. In response, the serpent, and subsequently Adam and Eve as well are punished by God. The initial punishment for their transgressions is that they are no longer able to be comfortable in God’s presence or to be a part of the natural order of things. There is a broken connection between the serpent and humankind and ultimately between humankind and God.
Somewhat in contrast to the God who metes out punishment in Genesis, we meet a very different aspect of God in the Psalms and in the New Testament. Both Psalms 130 and 138, address the love, care, and forgiving nature of God. In Psalm 130, God answers when we call, cares for the lowly, and keeps us safe. In Psalm 138, there is forgiveness and mercy when we wait for the Lord. And, 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1, describes God’s grace and the boldness we can have in times of trouble, because God is renewing us from the inside day by day.
In Mark 3:20-35, a crowd forms around Jesus and his disciples and some of the people become anxious when they witness his ability to cast out demons. The people accuse Jesus of being crazy and perhaps a demon himself. Jesus explains that he is not evil, because evil would not be able to cast out evil without destroying itself. After explaining this, the crowd tell Jesus that his mother and brothers are outside. Jesus responds that all who believe are now considered his mother and brothers. The scripture from Mark this week demonstrates that our adoption as brothers, sisters, and siblings in Christ brings us into direct connection with God.
The idea of God as parent can be found in several of our texts this week – God ‘gentle parenting’ and allowing us to live with the consequences of our choices and God that punishes disobedience with banishment. I find that the concept of God as parent is challenging for people who have complicated or absent relationships with their own parents; however, as we expand into more mindful and communicative forms of parenting as a society, perhaps more people will find the image to be helpful and healing.

Gabrie’l J. Atchison earned an M.A. in Religion from Yale Divinity School, and a Ph.D. in Women’s Studies from Clark University. She is an adjunct professor of Gender Studies, a blogger, and an author. Dr. Atchison is the editor of Environment and Religion in Feminist-Womanist, Queer, and Indigenous Perspectives a series by Lexington Books. She is author of Are You The Unchurched?: How to Develop a Relationship with God Inside or Outside of Church and a co-author of More to this Confession: Relational Prison Theology with Chris Barbera. She is a contributor to Preaching the Uncontrolling Love of God, Edited by Jeff Wells, Thomas Jay Oord, et. al. and The Creation Care Bible Challenge, Edited by Marek P. Zabriskie. She lives in Buffalo, New York with her dog, Jack.