A Jezebel Sermon for Mother’s Day

So far as I can remember, no young preacher has ever asked me for advice. This is a real shame because I have had spectacular success in the creation and implementation of bad ideas. A whole preaching generation could be improved by learning from me what to avoid.
I would start out by insisting that Mother’s Day is not the best time to preach on this text: “What peace can there be so long as the many whoredoms and sorceries of your mother Jezebel continue?” (II Kings 9.22 NRSV). I still believe the verse raises an important biblical question, but I now believe it is best considered on another Sunday.
When I started to think about my very first Mother’s Day sermon, it occurred to me that every other preacher talks about good mothers. Thus, I expected rapt attention for my exegesis and exposition using the traditional Presbyterian three points of a world-class bad mother. First, Jezebel was ecologically insensitive. She encouraged her husband, Captain Ahab, to kill Moby Dick, the great white whale who had swallowed Jonah. The Book of Jonah reminds us that in the religion business — the prophet motive is the bottom line. (This was not actually the first point, but I thought it was a good one.) Second, Jezebel was the daughter of a priest of Astarte and she taught her three children to worship the false god, Baal. Jezebel is described in a Bible dictionary as ruthless, power-mad, relentless and remorseless. These are not generally considered proper motherly virtues. Third, and my final point, Jezebel was extremely vain. We know this because when she heard that Jehu had come to Jezreel, “she carefully put mascara on her eyes and called her maid to do her hair and only then looked out of the window” (verse 30 translated directly from the Hebrew by Professor Elizabeth Arden). Toward the end of the sermon I noticed that, as usual, all the men had their eyes closed, but the women were frowning with what turned out not to be concentration.
The fact is that mothers are serious business. Nobody is loved like a mother. Indeed, one of the delights of growing older is to live long enough to hear your daughter ruefully admit that in something she has become exactly like her mother. That girls imitate their mothers is not unusual since mothers are normally their most steady influence. A professor once told us that a young man who wanted a happy life should find a woman twice his age whom he really liked and marry her daughter.
Equally interesting is the effect mothers have on their sons. At one time, my wife had planned to study medicine and go back to Africa where she was born. Thus, it is not strange that one son took his physics Ph.D. off to the University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Having four scientists in the family means that I am occasionally obligated to interrupt the table conversation to remind them that if they had really been smart they could have studied theology, the king and queen of sciences.
Still, fathers are not entirely negligible. After all, there would be no Mother’s Day without us. My daughter-in-law, Sara (also a physicist), tells me that growing up she was a very serious little girl. However, of necessity she has gradually changed as the result of dating and then marrying my madcap son, a block off the old buffalo chip. According to Sara, “I once bemoaned the decline of chivalry and, much to my dismay, from then on Jonathan made a big production of opening the automatic doors at the grocery store for me. He would throw himself in front of me waving his arms like a lunatic until the electric eye caught these gyrations and opened the door. Then, with a courtly bow, he would intone, ‘After you, my dear.'”
“When we arrived in Ethiopia,” Sara wrote, “while all the other missionary husbands were learning to say in Amharic, ‘How are you? I am fine,’ my dear husband was learning how to say, ‘Careful! My wife has rabies.'” On Mother’s Day it is a great satisfaction to know that your son shares some portion of his dad’s DMA — which (if I remember my science correctly) stands for Demented Male Attitude.

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Fingernail in the Meatloaf

Being an expert on women, I am often called upon to give advice to young men.  

Those who can breathe and walk upright do not need to be told to look for Beauty.  They are doing that already.  Sadly, some need to be reminded that Brains in a female person is not really a serious disqualification. However, most young men–including me when I was–are not sufficiently aware of the third “B” which is Brawn.  I sometimes think that the ideal woman should weigh about 290 and bench press about 400 pounds.

Soon after flirtation turned to courtship and long before engagement turned to wedding, I recognized there was no way Margaret was going to promise to obey me.  This was to be a negotiated partnership.  I never saw my father cook a meal or change a diaper, but I realized I would do both in order to fulfill the maxim, “Happy wife, happy life.”  Our daughter was the only girl in high school to take shop rather than home economics.  Queen Margaret thought power tools were more educational than pots and pans.  The school was not happy, but what could they do.  They had met both an immovable object and an irresistible force (aka a woman who thinks she is right).

Since I have never believed that a man is working unless he is sweating and his muscles ache at the end of the day, I often enjoyed working outdoors.  However, there were two curious, feminine exceptions to “I can do anything better than you.”  One was shingling a roof.  The other was building a 10 foot retaining wall.  Somehow, and ineluctably, a delivery of 8 by 8 by 10 lumber and concrete blocks sent Margaret right into the kitchen for a number of days.  I had the local pizza place on speed dial, so we would not have starved, and I could have enjoyed some companionship around the H beams and rebars.

Nevertheless, I was glad my lady wife was not in the yard when I smashed my finger between two concrete blocks.  I would have had to explain my vigorous and repeated articulation of a short Anglo-Saxon sibilant, which I had learned in the men’s locker room, but had never employed in her presence.  Soon my fingernail became a spectacular black-blue and loose.

Now boys (and by extension–men) do not cry.  Margaret does tear up when chopping onions, so a few days later she (still in the kitchen) called me in to deal with the onions for meatloaf.  Generous to a fault, I decided to squeeze the sliced onions into the ground meat.  And that was when my fingernail came off!  I searched around in the meaty glop but the shining onions hid it.

I concluded that if the Queen bit into the fingernail it would be both nutritive and sterile–and her fault.  If she had been out helping me, I would most likely not have smashed my finger.

Unfair to Men

Medical experts report that some blind people who regain their sight are unable to distinguish between men and women. This would be a serious developmental handicap, which I have never shared. On occasion at a great distance, I can be confused by long hair, a smooth face, and earrings, but, and this should not come as a surprise, women are not shaped like men, they move differently, and smell a lot better.
I have been amused, but never fooled, by Rosalind in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” or Viola in “Twelfth Night” pretending to be men. Either Orlando and Orsino are real dimwits or they were just playing along to stay near their sweeties. This latter is my theory and a manly thing to do since “men are deceivers ever.” The ability to distinguish male from female is a high-level survival skill. Neither Dustin Hoffman, playing a woman in TOOTSIE or Gwyneth Paltrow, playing a man in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, fooled me for a minute.
A man who cannot spot the difference is likely to say something improper or even worse to touch something improper and get his face slapped–which hurts. In any case, separating men from women is a fair problem. What is completely unfair is how easily a woman can disguise herself by changing her hair style and makeup, as I have the emotional scars to prove.
Some years back Margaret got a “permanent” (which, of course, is really a “temporary”). Later on when we arrived at the party, I sidled over to several male and female friends and asked them to say to Margaret, “What did you do to your hair? It looks terrible!” By the middle of the party she was feeling quite dejected until she figured out that I had fostered the little hair thing to add sparkle to her evening. I must say she took my prank extremely well. I only received a painful pinch on a sensitive part of my anatomy when no one was looking.
Being unaware of the feminine capacity for revenge, a few weeks later I was calmly enthroned in the smallest room in our house. The focus of my attention was directed to a book by a rival in which I read a page and then tore it out in order that the page might serve a dual purpose. When I was a kid, this fate was the destiny of every old Sears and Roebuck catalog residing in the outhouse.
In the meantime Margaret had covered her glorious auburn tresses with a grey wig, applied lavish and garish lipstick, donned a cape and thick glasses. She hammered loudly on the door to my quiet study, then immediately jerked open the door and shouted, “Who do you think you are?”
Startled out of my wits, I jumped to my feet, trying to decide between fight or flight, to which the apparition responded, “You would be better advised to remain seated.”