Date: 26 Mar 2017 (Mothering Sunday)
Text: Luke 2:41-52
As today is Mothering Sunday or Mother’s Day, whichever you prefer, I decided to just share a few thoughts on the lady who was probably the greatest mother of all, Mary the mother of Jesus. I realise that many people think that theirs is the best mother ever but for me Mary has to be the greatest.
We frequently hear today of teenage girls becoming pregnant unexpectedly and, generally speaking, most certainly unplanned. Mary was also a teenager albeit one who was betrothed to be married to Joseph, a carpenter from Nazareth and yet at a very young age she found herself pregnant. It’s interesting to remember that she was told that she was going to have a son, and that was way before the modern technology that is now able to identify the gender of the baby before they are born. God truly is amazing!
It is an old cliché but true nonetheless that God moves in mysterious ways His wonders to perform; and in choosing Mary to be the mother of His Son God moved in a very mysterious way. Mary was a young maiden, probably aged around 13 or 14. She was betrothed to be married to a carpenter from Nazareth by the name of Joseph who was somewhat older than she was. The custom at the time was for the betrothal to last for about a year before the couple got married and Mary and Joseph were never allowed to be alone together which meant that Mary definitely remained a virgin until she married Joseph.
Imagine her surprise then when one day an angel appeared to her and said, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.” (Luke 1:30-31). When Mary asked this angel how this could be given that she was a virgin, the angel replied "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Luke 1:35). A most unusual way to become pregnant as I’m sure you will agree, but a way that demonstrates the amazing power of God to bring about what He wants to do. As we all know whilst His conception may have been supernatural, Jesus was born in the natural and usual way in that dirty and smelly stable in Bethlehem.
Fairly soon after His birth we know that the baby Jesus was visited by a bunch of cold and curious shepherds and then by a group of eastern astrologers bearing gifts. We also know that before the age of two He and His parents went to Egypt as refugees to escape the murderous intentions of Herod. After living in Egypt for a short while the family returned to live in Nazareth in Galilee. From that point on we have no knowledge of Jesus’ childhood until He reached the age of twelve. We can only assume that He would have been treated as a normal child, would have attended the synagogue school, would have played with His friends in the neighbourhood and would have helped His father in the carpentry workshop. We may even be able to imagine Him as a typically boisterous and cheeky little boy!
Mary, as any mother would, probably looked on in wonder as she saw her very special Son grow up. She knew the full truth about His parentage and can only have guessed at the plans that God had in store for Him. She would obviously have had some idea given what the angel had said to her when they first met. The angel had said to Mary, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end." (Luke 1:32-33)
We have no real knowledge of what happened to Jesus between the ages of about three and twelve. There is a huge gap in His biography as it appears in the four gospels and so we have to wait until we come to Luke 2:41-52 before we can read this story about Jesus visiting Jerusalem with His parents. This trip took place every year so that the family and their friends and relatives could journey together to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. I get the feeling that this was the highlight of the year for them all. It was a time to be with friends; it was a time to make the journey together; and it was time to celebrate the goodness, greatness and glory of God for what He did for His people at the time of the original Passover. We aren’t told how many people were in their group but I think we can safely guess that there would have been quite a lot of them. For safety and security reasons the custom at the time was for the people to walk together in a human caravan. The women and children would have been at the front of the column with the men bringing up the rear. Jesus, as a twelve year old, wasn’t yet an adult but also not really a child and so He would have drifted between the two halves of the caravan. As they walked I’ve no doubt that the adults would have been chatting together as the miles passed and so wouldn’t have really noticed if He was there or not. Given that Jesus moved between the group of men and the group of women and children, it is easy to understand that both Mary and Joseph would have thought that Jesus was with the other. You can almost hear the conversation between them: “I thought He was with you; no, I thought He was with you!” We’ve all been there haven’t we?
During their time in Jerusalem the family would have visited the Temple and given thanks to God as well joining in all the celebrations that would have taken place. It is only when we come to the return journey that we see some of the caring and loving traits of Jesus’ mother. The group of family and friends from Nazareth would have begun their return journey as a large party and would probably have walked along in a happy and carefree way. They travelled along for a day or so before Mary and Joseph noticed that Jesus was missing, He was nowhere to be seen. If you’ve ever lost your child in a supermarket or large shopping centre then you may get a feeling as to how Mary must have felt. She and Joseph turned round and went back to Jerusalem to search for the errant boy. Just imagine how worried they must have been as they searched for three days before finding Him. Eventually of course they did find Him, in the temple courts debating with the teachers and scholars. Was this a precocious twelve year old or someone with a special knowledge of God and the scriptures? I’ll leave you to think about that. The people standing around listening in on this debate were “amazed at his knowledge and understanding” (2:47). We are told that His parents were astonished although I should imagine that they were also partly angry and partly relieved that they had found Him.
Notice that it is Mary who is the first to say anything to her Son when she gently admonished Him for what He had done. She said to Him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." (2:48). That seems fairly mild to me given that He had been missing for at least four days! This was Mary His mother and she was rightly worried for her Son even though she knew exactly Who He was and that He was undoubtedly under God’s protection.
Jesus’ response to this mild rebuke from His mother is fascinating. I get the feeling that Jesus had no idea of how much He had worried His parents as He was totally spiritually elsewhere and already moving into His own world. Jesus said to Mary, "Why were you searching for me? Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" (2:49). Those interesting words are the first indication time that we see of Jesus knowing just Who He was and what His future would hold. It is also the first time that we see a mention of God being His Father; quite an important statement in so many ways. On a human level it may seem to be a bit of a cheeky response along the lines of “O Mum, stop fussing!” As so often happens when children answer back to their parents, we read that Mary and Joseph “did not understand what He was saying to them” (2:50). Mary though was His mother and was understandably concerned for her firstborn Son.
Having found their Son, the family returned to Nazareth where we are told that Jesus was obedient to His parents. For me the key phrase in all this comes in 2:51a where we see Mary as a loving mother. Luke tells us that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart”. Mothers are like that aren’t they? They remember the first time the baby kicked them before being born. They remember the first time they rolled over; the first time they spoke and the first time they stood up and took a shaky step. They treasure all these things in their hearts never to forget them. Jesus may have been a very special and different Son but His mother Mary was also a very special mother to Him.
Further stories of Mary with her Son seem to be few and far between. However, an interesting confrontation can be found in John 2:1-11 when Jesus attended a wedding party with His mother. As you may recall, the wine at this very long party, ran out. Mary, who knew exactly Who her Son was, turned to Him and told Him, “they have no more wine” (John 2:3b). Jesus reply is direct and to the point “Dear woman why do you involve me” (John 2:4). Does that sound like a respectful thing to say to Your mother, or is it a remark that suggests, leave me alone I’m enjoying myself? Just as many mothers probably would though, she ignored that comment and told the servants, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). Jesus of course then went on to turn the dirty old dishwater into the finest vintage wine.
I wonder how Mary felt when she tried that wine and when she saw the other guests enjoying this glorious vintage wine that had been kept to the end of the party. Do you suppose that she would felt proud of her Son? Would she have been in awe of Him as He performed this first known miracle? I suspect that she would have felt immense pride but also a sense of wonder at what He was likely to do in the future. Jesus knew what was to come although I doubt that Mary did.
Whilst Jesus was born in Bethlehem and lived His early life in Nazareth, our story really began in Jerusalem at the Passover, and that is where it also ends, in Jerusalem at the Passover albeit a few years later.
We have no idea of the relationship between Jesus and His mother during those intervening years although I can imagine that she would have worried about Him as she heard of some of His exploits during His earthly ministry. These exploits of course led to His arrest and trial on trumped up charges. He was sentenced to be crucified as if He was an ordinary criminal and was brutally beaten before being nailed to a wooden cross.
John describes the scene graphically for us in John 19:17-27. In John 19:25-27 we see Jesus hanging on the cross in His final moments of earthly life. Stood near the cross were His mother together with “His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” (John 19:25). As Jesus hung there in His dying moments He knew that His beloved mother was there and John tells us that, “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing near by, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:26-27).
How do you suppose Mary felt at that moment? Generally speaking it is the child who watches their parent pass away and not the other way around. No matter what the age of the child it is a painful thing to lose that child especially in such brutal circumstances as Mary’s Son. Mary loved her Son greatly and her heart must have been breaking as she watched Jesus die that painful death. Notice though that even as He hung there dying Jesus was concerned for His mother and her future hence making sure that she would be taken care of. The love between Mary the mother and Jesus her Son must have been enormous.
Whilst the Bible is full of stories of Jesus and His ministry, His teaching and His miracles, there is very little about His childhood and His relationship with His parents. We need to read between the lines and almost imagine how that relationship evolved and what Mary felt about her Son. Mary would have been only 14 or 15 when Jesus was born and so had to learn very quickly how to be a mother. Since Jesus was 32 or 33 when He died on Calvary’s cross that means that Mary would still only have been in her late forties and would not have expected her Son to predecease her. She must have been utterly distraught at seeing Him suffer in the way that He did.
Mary was a very special mother who gave birth to a very special Son. She experienced all the traumas and difficulties that all mothers do but through it all she continued to love her Son dearly. Mothers today are the same they love their children and suffer with them. They feel their pain, share their joy, and share their sorrows. It is right that we remember mothers on this special day and give thanks to God for all that they have done and still do for us.