Do whatever he tells you...
Mothers say some interesting things:
- Don’t pull that face. If the wind changes it will stick
- Take your coat off in the house or you won’t feel the benefit
- Close the door, you weren’t born in a field
- I don’t care if you’re dying, you’re going to school
- Don’t come running to me when you’re dead
- Make sure you wear clean underwear in case you're in an accident.
- Shut your mouth and eat your tea!
- Look at the dirt on the back of your neck.
Did Jesus have the same sort of exchanges with his mother? The relationship between them must have been a bit awkward:
John 2 gives us some clues as to what went on inside the Nazareth home.
It’s normal to be complicated
As the supply of wine begins to peter out, Mary turns to Jesus and asks him to do something about it. The reply sounds like a response from a petulant teenager: ‘woman, what’s it got to do with me?’ The NIV translation makes it sound a bit gentler, but it still leaves us wanting to say, ‘Don’t talk to your mother like that!’ It’s complex.
You see, she knows he’s special – even 30 years on, Mary would still remember vividly the amazing circumstances of his conception and birth. Luke 2:51 tells us that his mother ‘treasured all these things in her heart.’ When your child is infinitely more gifted than you are and uniquely different from anyone else it must be ridiculously hard to be a good parent.
And he’s living with a strange tension too – not just the tension of growing up, but of holding the balance between being fully human and fully divine. Fully human – he lives with all the needs and expectations that come with respect and love in family life. Being fully God, he is Mary’s Lord and Saviour. It would make the phrase, ‘wait till your Father hears about this’ sound very strange.
But for all the clunky, complicated relationship issues the Holy Family throws at us, there is no doubt that Jesus deeply loved and respected his mother, and she loved him. As the early church emerged after the resurrection, Mary became a leading light in developing the cause of the Gospel.
When families struggle with one another and find themselves falling out and having to seek forgiveness from each other, when families make mistakes and when sometimes it’s hard to love each other, it’s part of being human. So, when Meghan and Harry have family challenges to face, these are not a matter for public gossip, but though the Royal Family may have particular issues to face, this is mostly the stuff of normal human relationships. Too many families walk away from each other too soon, spoiling the wedding feast before it’s really got started.
People change and grow – and God expects us to grow up and to let others grow too
The Christmas story leaves us with the image of a slip of a girl, a pregnant teenager, vulnerable, naïve and at the mercy of the older people around her, including Joseph. Thirty years on, and she’s a matriarchal figure, in charge of the catering committee at Cana in Galilee and with the authority to sort out a catastrophic failure in the wedding planning.
By this time, she is almost certainly a widow, and has brought up the lively family of Jesus and his stepbrothers and sisters as well as having to keep an eye on the family’s building business. She is no fool. If we dig deeper into Jesus’ response to her, we’ll find that there’s more to this than meets the eye. He follows up his initial response (why do you involve me?) with the statement, ‘My time has not yet come’. He means that it’s not the moment for him to go public as the Messiah. After all it’s only three days into his ministry. It’s clear to me from Mary’s response that she knows what he’s talking about, trusts him to do what only he as Messiah can do, and is prepared to follow that through with her direct command to the servants to do whatever he tells them. This is no longer the slip of a girl from the back streets of Nazareth.
A deeper examination of the Gospels shows us that in a world where men took the lead and women were relegated to the back kitchen, Jesus repeatedly draws those women out and expects them to be equal partners in the business of his Kingdom because he believes in them.
When the Syro-Phoenician woman approaches him on behalf of her little daughter in Mark 7:24-30, he enters into a tough conversation with her which captures the prejudices of the time, and provokes her to answer with faith, courage and determination. Her daughter is set free.
Mary Magdalene rushes to hold on to Jesus as he stands beside her by the garden tomb. He sends her away with news of the Ascension to come and with the responsibility of sharing the message of Resurrection with the men.
As the men of Bethany gather round him, sitting at his feet waiting for his teaching he encourages Mary to join them, and when her sister, Martha tries to drag her back into the kitchen, he speaks of Mary having done the better thing.
The woman of Samaria is initiated into a deep conversation about living water, worship, sin and forgiveness , and becomes a key witness to a whole city. There are other examples of these truths, that people can change and grow; that there is neither male nor female when it comes to inclusion in the Gospel of grace; that we should never blank those we deem to be unlikely candidates because of gender, ethnicity, education or age.
So, do whatever he tells you
Mothers sometimes say the strangest things. And sometimes they speak the most profound truths. Here, only three days into what will be an exhausting ministry which ends with a cross, Mary, a village woman from little Nazareth, unlocks one of the most well-known stories in the New Testament. Water is changed into wine. And not just the odd bottle or two. Gallons and gallons of the best quality. Not put off by his apparent impatience with her, she makes the ultimate call to faith – ‘Do whatever he tells you’. Listen to what his mother says. On this Mothering Sunday, keep doing whatever he tells you, whether you be male or female, young or old, educated or not. The best is yet to be.