A sermon by Steve Cooper for Mothers’ Day.
On Mothers’ Day let me specially greet you if you’re a mother – including women who are mother figures like a step-mother, guardian or foster mother. I hope today is a special day of celebration and affirmation for you.
I’m impressed, when I read the Gospels, about the impact which Jesus had on women and mothers. Jesus encouraged women to follow him. He treated them with unprecedented dignity and worth. Many women’s lives were made whole, and they became faithful disciples of Jesus.
This morning let’s reflect on one woman and mother whose life was transformed by Jesus – his mother Mary. As we honour her, I hope all of us, women and men alike, will be inspired to become exemplary disciples of Jesus, as Mary became.
This morning on Mothers’ Day I want to honour a woman and mother who is an inspiration to us all. She was the most important woman to play a part in the life of Jesus – Mary, his mother. Mary should be honoured as a woman and mother who in due time became a devoted follower of Jesus. To reach that point of becoming a disciple of Jesus, she matured through doubts and perplexities as a believer in Jesus as her Saviour and Lord. There’s much we can learn from her. We also learn about Jesus, who brings transformation to us as he did to his mother.
We first meet Mary when she was a young girl, probably about 12 or 13 years old. God chose her to bear the Messiah, the Son of God. Mary burst into a song of praise, which we call the Magnificat. The song shows Mary’s personal devotion to God and deep absorption in Israel’s faith. The song celebrates God’s mercy, faithfulness and strength. As a young girl, Mary shows a depth of understanding about God and of faith in him which is astonishing.
Every good mother rightly regards her child as special, but none has ever had more cause to do so than Mary. She had been encouraged to think her child exceptional by a series of things associated with his birth, like the angelic messenger who announced his coming, the appearance of angel choirs who celebrated his birth, the homage offered him by diverse people in his infancy, and the prophesies spoken about him when presented in the temple. Later, when he reached the stage of Jewish adulthood and caused amazement by his understanding in the temple, Mary’s grounds for believing her child would be like no other were strengthened. It’s not surprising, then, that when Jesus emerged from his private family life and began to move about in a more public way that she was eager to advance his ministry.
Mary’s opportunity came when they attended a family wedding at Cana and the embarrassing situation arose of the supply of wine running out. According to John’s account, Mary did no more than remark to her son that ‘They have no more wine’ (Jn 2:2), but the hint was barely concealed. It was an invitation for him to use his exceptional powers and come to the rescue, and Jesus’ response shows he understood it as such. He replied: ‘Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.’ That Jesus addresses his mother as ‘Woman’ was not a derogatory term – it’s a respectful but slightly formal way of speaking. It was not a term that would have been used in addressing one’s mother and was not associated with close affection. It was Jesus’ way of distancing himself from his mother and asserting his independence from any human advice or manipulation, even if the source of it was his mother.
How hard this must have been for Mary! She had borne him, nursed him, taught his baby fingers elementary skills, watched him fall over as he learned to walk; apparently she had also come to rely on him as the family provider. But now that he had entered into the purpose of his coming, everything, even family ties, had to be subordinated to his divine mission. She had to learn now to be Jesus’ disciple.
It’s often hard for us to put Jesus first in our lives and our relationships. That’s true for mothers too. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was so keen to give advice to her son. Yet on this occasion when she suggested Jesus could use his powers to rescue the situation at the wedding where wine had run out, Jesus made it clear to her that he was no longer under her authority.
From this point on, Mary was required to make a costly adjustment in her relationship with her son. No longer could she act as other mothers might who exercised even in adulthood some authority over their sons, but she was to adopt the role of the disciple. Mary begins that day to learn the hard and painful lesson that her calling now was to be Jesus’ disciple first and foremost, not his mother who happened to be his disciple. She needed to release him to fulfil his costly mission, and her well-meaning attempts to promote his ‘career’ would only serve to frustrate what had to do. It was like the well-meaning attempts of so many of his other friends who didn’t understand that God’s kingdom is one where death is the way to life, humility the way to honour, and weakness the way to power. Mary’s eagerness was to be admired, but her understanding was still at an elementary stage.
It’s difficult for us to imagine how bewildering Mary must have found the course her son followed in his life. She watched his life gradually unravel in perplexing and unexpected ways towards its spectacular end. Mary’s bewilderment surfaced when early in his public ministry she and the rest of the family went on a mission to ‘rescue’ Jesus from what seemed to them eccentric behaviour. Jesus made it clear that their scepticism and opposition would not stand in the way of the work of God’s kingdom. Mary was fully human and struggled with the difficulties of placing her spiritual allegiance to Jesus over her motherly love of him and her other sons and daughters. She was confused. She could not understand all that was involved in Jesus’ mission.
Happily, Mary did not abandon Jesus but followed him as a believer and disciple, even to the place of crucifixion. She was there at the foot of the cross, along with the apostle John. Jesus, from the cross, addresses his mother again as ‘Woman’ – that respectful yet slightly formal way of speaking, that indicates he is not subject to her as a normal Jewish son might be – he commits her into the care of John, who from that time took her into his own home (Jn 19:26-27). Mary remains Jesus’ mother, but is now cared for by the family of faith. Mary accepts the arrangement, and bows in submission to the directions of her son, Jesus.
Later in the New Testament we learn that Jesus’ mother and siblings had become believers and disciples, with Mary and James assuming prominent roles in the church (Acts 1:14). It’s interesting to reflect on the transformation Jesus brings. The over-eager mother of John 2 had now become the submissive disciple of John 19.
This morning as we honour mothers on Mothers’ Day, we’re honouring one of the most famous mothers of history – Mary the mother of Jesus. Mary should not be denigrated, nor should she be venerated. The New Testament shows her journey from a young woman of great faith, chosen by God to bear the Messiah, then maturing through doubts and perplexities into a believer and devoted disciple of her son. Jesus brings transformation to Mary, as he brings transformation to us too.
Mary was present at the foot of the cross as Jesus died. It’s impossible for us to enter into the horror and pain she must have felt. She had thought that Jesus’ ‘hour’ had come at the wedding in Cana (Jn 2:4), but she learned that the hour had now come at Golgotha. Eventually Mary received a prominent place in the early church. She should be honoured, as we do today, as God’s specially chosen one who bore God’s Son and in due time became an exemplary disciple of Jesus.
It’s a constant challenge for us all to give our first allegiance to Jesus. He calls us to follow him, to trust him as our Saviour and serve him as our Lord and King. But other relationships and other things have their way of reasserting themselves and take the first allegiance in our hearts and lives. For many mothers and mother figures, our family, with husband, children, grandchildren, and our parents and siblings, can come first before Jesus and his commands.
That was the struggle which Mary, the mother of Jesus, faced. Mary was a mother who loved all her children, and her love meant she had her own ideas about what was best for them. She was impressed by Jesus’ powers, and she was keen to see Jesus use his extraordinary powers to fit in with her own plans for him. It was hard for her to accept that the mission of Jesus was very different from her own expectations. She didn’t understand, and tried to make sense of the confusing part of the jigsaw. It’s impressive that she continued to follow Jesus despite her confusion, and eventually submitted to Jesus as his disciple.
I’m grateful that my mother was able to put Jesus first before her plans as my mother. After High School I spent 5 years at university, completing degrees in commerce and law. I was qualified for a career as a lawyer. God had other plans for me, calling me into full-time Christian ministry. My mother was a Christian, and knew she should let God have his way. Yet she had sacrificed much to get me though school and university, and wanted me to go into a career which was well-paid and prestigious. As she and I spoke about the matter over a few years, she could see where my heart lay. She was honest in sharing her reasons why I should consider a legal career, yet she gave me her full support in what I felt was God’s calling. Over the next 21 years, until she died, my mother was fully supportive as I served in university ministry and in pastoral work. I’ve always been so grateful. I’m certainly not suggesting that all should do what I did – each of us have our own calling from God. But I honour my mother that she put Jesus first and trusted that God would supply my needs.
If you’re a mother of mother figure like a step-mother, guardian or foster mother, I hope that today is special for you. You deserve to be thanked and appreciated!
Consider today the words of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She said to the servants at the wedding of Cana: ‘Do whatever he tells you’ (Jn 2:5). For Mary herself it was often hard to do what Jesus told her, but through her confusion she eventually became a devoted disciple of Jesus, and put him first. That made it possible for Jesus to bring positive transformation to her life.
‘Father God, we often wrestle with what you ask us to do. Enable us to submit to you, and give our first allegiance to your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Fill us with the joy and peace which only comes when Jesus has first place in our hearts. Continue to bring transformation to our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.’