While shopping for a Mother’s Day card I noticed that a lot of them deviated from the usual sappy material of “thank you for all you’ve done for me” and how much I love you to ones that say things like, “Remember someday I’ll be changing your diapers.” Eventually those who were cared for as babies become caregivers. I’ve found that the closer you get to that stage the less funny and more horrifying those cards are–so if you got one of those for your mother go to our Sunday school rooms to make a personalized card and give that to her instead.
Mother’s Day is one of those tricky Sundays. For most, it’s a day of celebration of the love and sacrifices and hard work mothers make on behalf of their children. But not everyone had kind and nurturing mothers. Many have more complicated relationships or severed relationships. There are women who weren’t able to have kids, or those who resent having their worth dependent on whether they chose to have kids or not. There are women who have lost children. Families where the biological mother is not present. If you sat down and thought about it, there are a lot of categories.
One thing we can recognize today is that motherhood is not easy. Today’s moms are asked to do so much and know so much. Because there is so much at stake in raising kids and they don’t come with instruction manuals, moms are always searching for the best advice, the best wisdom for how to handle things, and because there is so much out there they often feel guilty and like they’ve ruined their kid before they’ve turned a month old.
Child-rearing is difficult even if you have a perfect child. Just ask my mother. And she will tell you, “Why, yes. I suppose Mary had her hands full raising Jesus.”
She’d be right. Mary was living a normal life. Small, quiet town. One day an angel asks for her consent to bear the savior. She says okay and the next thing you know Joseph is contemplating leaving her and everyone is yelling for her to be stoned. No one was buying that bit about the angel. I’m sure the judgmental looks continued for the rest of her life.
You know the Christmas story. The hard journey to Bethlehem, giving birth in a smelly stable. Stinky shepherds show up. Other strangers bringing gifts–gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold was cool but burial spices portended something awful. They followed the rituals and the old man Simeon told Mary that Jesus would be great but his life would be like a spear in her side.
We only have one story of Jesus as a kid. He slipped away from his family to go hang out in the temple, bending the ear of the religious scholars. I imagine this embarrassed the bejeebers out of Mary. I know parents who hold their breath during the whole children’s sermon, praying their kid won’t say anything too honest about their home life while they are up here. Here’s the kid Jesus schooling the elders.
When Jesus grows up, we see that Mary had to push him into getting his ministry going. Jesus went to a wedding with her and they ran out of wine and Mary wants Jesus to do something about it and he says to her, “Woman, what is that to you and to me.” In Hebrew it’s evocative of calling her Eve, the original woman, mother of all. Essentially Mary pushes Jesus into acting and doing the water into wine bit which launched his public ministry.
When he comes to his hometown to preach, the whole town rejects him and tries to throw him off a cliff. He causes so much commotion wherever he goes, at one point Mary and her other children grow concerned about all the trouble and they go to talk to Jesus, but he won’t greet them. Instead he says that whoever does the will of God is my mother they are my brothers and sisters.
Eventually there is the cross. Mary has to watch her child be tortured and violently executed. Crosses were not as high as they make it seem in movies. Only like standing on a chair. Mary and a disciple are there and Jesus tells her that the disciple is now her son. And he tells the disciple that Mary is his mother. One version has it, “Behold your mother.”
It’s this very intimate scene were Jesus is making sure the people he loves take care of each other. Even on the cross when it all seems doomed he is still watching out for people, creating something new. From that day forward it says Mary then went to live with this disciple. It is so tender and sweet that it’s easy to miss that even then Jesus was doing something radical, disrupting the ordinary way of things for something bigger.
You see, Jesus had siblings, and they would have assumed responsibility to take care of Mary. Her own, biological children. So why skip over them? We don’t know. In that time everything and everyone was defined by who their family was. It wasn’t a thing to call someone your brother from another mother. You only called biological family, family. The one who wasn’t really his mother was now his mother. One pastor said because this happened on the cross it meant they were now blood relatives.
And so it has always been that in the church we look at each other as brothers and sisters. We are a family apart from our biological family. Our circles of love and concern are expanded. It’s not just thinking about ourselves as individuals, but who we care for in our closest areas of concern. Instead of being at each other’s throats, we are supposed to have each other’s backs.
For a while I avoided using family language for church stuff. I found that some people have bad associations with their families and when we start saying the church is a family they say, “No thanks! One dysfunctional mess is enough.” Families can be hard to break into if you are new. So while there are some challenges with the description, it’s still worth considering. I like the churches where everyone goes around calling each other brother or sister. It’s a reminder of connection.
Sure, like any family, we have some characters. But don’t get put off if someone reminds you of your drama queen aunt or curmudgeonly doomsday uncle that makes people’s eyes roll. But hey we’ve all got our stuff. The church is a group of imperfect people striving to follow Jesus with all that they are. We care for each other.
Our passage makes me think that we are to care for the mothers as we would our own mothers. Sometimes the church family is all some elderly mothers have left. How do we care for mothers, what resources do we provide? These are our mothers. I wonder what it would look like if we made an intentional effort to care for our most senior mothers. To alleviate some of the loneliness, to engage and support.
Jesus telling the disciple that Mary is now his mother makes me think of the children’s book, “Are You My Mother?” It’s about a little bird who hatches while his mother has gone off looking for food. The little bird goes out in search of his mother asking everyone he sees, “Are you my mother?” He asks all sorts of creatures and machines, “Are you my mother?”
Thinking about how Jesus wants us to expand our circles of care and concern, I watched the news this week thinking about that line. I thought of how the beloved disciple was to care for Jesus’ mother, a mother whose son died a violent death.
I saw images of Syrian mothers who lost children. And I said, “Are you my mother?”
I saw how our country has adopted a zero tolerance policy on people who come into the US and how all parents regardless of circumstance will be immediately separated from their children. Can anyone hear Jesus saying, “Behold your mother?”
Watch the news, look around at the people around you and behold your mothers.
Did you know the roots of our Mother’s Day holiday started as a movement to reach out to mothers who lost children in the Civil War? Women then turned it into a day for peacemaking saying enough of our sons have died. Let’s do what we can to make peace.
What can you do?
Stand for justice. Be involved in peacemaking. Model what you would like to see. Tolerance, conversation. Forgiveness.
Be part of church where we are trying.
The best way to honor mothers is to become the person you were created to be. A person who is kind, who cares for others, who makes the world a better place, who does their best.