14 May “Mama Knows” (Read)
May 13, 2018
Rev. Peggy O’Connor
When I was young we had an old wind up Victrola and some old 78’s. I don’t know where they came from but many of them were funny. My favorite was: “I Never See Maggie Alone”. Recorded in 1927, it told the story of a young man courting a young woman whose family kept showing up on their dates. The chorus is: “She brings her father, her mother, her sister and her brother, O I never see Maggie alone. She brings her uncles and cousins, she’s got them by the dozens, O I never see Maggie alone”.
Even though that song was recorded 91 years ago, it still is amusing. It captures the urge to hang on to our kids and grandkids to protect them and their need to break free…to be independent…to make their own decisions on what they will and will not do.
On my way home from Scotland, I followed a young family down a long escalator and watched as their three year old kept trying to grab hold of the handrail and her father struggled to intercept her attempts. Every time she lunged at it, her fingers came close to the underside of the moving handrail and I held my breath…I could envision her fingers being pinched. Thankfully her father was successful and the ride down, while tense, ended happily.
The struggle between parents and children over the youthful urge to be all grown up now and their parents protective instincts…as well as the reverse…the child’s resistance to parental encouragement to try new things never seems to end. It is a struggle that morphs over time in subtle ways but it remains for decades.
Our story this morning tells us that this struggle is not new. Jesus and his newly recruited disciples show up at a wedding he was invited to in a town about 9 miles from Galilee. The parents of the bride are friends of his parents and so they are there as well, or at least Mary is. As the celebration proceeds, a problem arises…the wine runs out. Somehow Mary hears about this. I imagine the mother of the bride has shared the impending disaster with her. Mary, wanting to help her friend, tells Jesus of the impending catering problem. But Jesus wants no part of it and is clearly angry at her for trying to get him involved. He does not want to help…especially because his mother is the one asking him. And here it is, the same old story. Both Mary and Jesus are struggling with the tensions of loving and letting go. Now what can we learn from it on this Mother’s Day?
In the first place, this story tells us it is hard to navigate the transitions in life. Jesus, wanting to be his own man, resents his mother’s intrusion into his adult life. With his newly minted disciples watching, he is embarrassed when she asks him to help. His response is rude and abrupt. Some people struggle with this part of the story. They cannot accept that Jesus was rude to his mother. But I take heart from it. If Jesus could be rude to his mother and still be the Messiah it gives me hope, not just for me but for the world.
It is not that we take comfort in his harsh words to his mother. His response to her: “Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come” is shocking. But it that it offers us a way of connecting with the very humanness of Jesus. It helps us to see him as one of us, as fully human rather than just fully divine. As he spits out these words we relate and like a friend we think…no, tell me you didn’t say that. And when Mary tells the servant to do whatever Jesus says, we think…just do it…she’s your mother… it is not worth arguing over. Ironically we find a clear connection with him through this, the hardest part of the story.
Is there anyone in the world who has not, at times, fallen from their normal level of kindness and patience and barked out words that startle and hurt the very people they most love? Is there anyone in the world who manages to maintain their composure in every situation? I think not. And if there is I am not sure I want to meet them. I would rather hang out with Jesus, who clearly was not at his best and yet managed to do something we can learn from. He pulled back from the brink…took a deep breath…and recognized that he had choices.
This is the second lesson for us. The interaction between Jesus and his mother reminds us that our first response, no matter how wrong or angry or reactive, does not have to define us. We do not have to be the person our mistakes make us out to be. We can reconsider…we can regroup…and we can change course. This is great news for all of us who have ever responded to someone with harsh or dismissive words or an attitude that makes it clear we are not pleased or interested. I certainly belong in that group and suspect that you do as well. So, if Jesus can make a comeback after speaking to his mother is such a rude way, then there is hope for us all.
One of the greatest gifts my mother gave to me as a child was an oft repeated phrase:” Tomorrow is another day and you’ll get another chance to do things differently”. She would usually say this to me as she kissed me goodnight when I had had a hard day at school or a fight with my brother or with her or if I had gotten upset about something. What I learned from her is that we can learn from our mistakes…that we can do better the next time. In part I think that is, at a very basic level, what church membership is all about…the desire to learn to be a better person through the living of our faith together. Together being the operative word because we cannot do it alone.
This brings us to the final point. We all need the very people we tend to resent in moments like the one in our story, because they are most often the very ones who know us best. They see us for who we are…our gifts and our burdens are known to them, often better than we know them ourselves.
We need people who recognize our potential in life and who are not deterred by our mistakes from encouraging us. They can see past our foibles and gaffs and even our worst moments and continue to cheer us on. In our story, Jesus is a total unknown to the world. He has done nothing…no healings…no miracles. Only his family know about him…even his disciples are clueless. Only Mary knows he can help…if he chooses. She believes in him. Even if he is unsure, she is not.
Ignoring Jesus’ rudeness, Mary pushes him to act. She does not argue with him or reprimand him, rather she challenges him by telling a servant to do whatever he says. With the eyes of his newly minted disciples and the servant on him, Jesus has to fish or cut bait…as they say. His mother has in effect said, I know who you are…and you know who you are…it is time for others to know…step into your destiny. How could he refuse?
Now I am sure that Jesus did not like what was happening. No doubt he resented his mother for putting him in this awkward and impossible position. He had to either step into his future at his mother’s insistence or, invoking his independence, walk away in a huff, disappointing everyone, including himself. He had a choice to make and he chose to step forward. But why?
I believe he did so because he recognized the truth in his mother’s words and actions. I imagine that he remembered all the times her encouragement had been spot on and so he stepped into his future trusting not his own instincts but hers.
I remember clearly a moment in my own life that happened decades ago which allowed me to both see myself more clearly and which challenged me to consider alternatives. My father had come to spend a few days with me in Maine. We hiked and canoed a lot. And every day we ate our lunch wherever we were, most often looking at the lake. One day, over lunch, my father made a simple statement about me. I no longer remember what provoked it but I remember his words: “You just don’t like to be alone.” The words exploded for me. I instantly recognized the truth of it and its challenge. Like Jesus in our story, I had to make a decision. I could argue with him or ignore his words or I could examine their truth and consider whether or not it was something I wanted to change.
We all need people who see us…truly and clearly see us for who we are and then lovingly hold a mirror up for us so that we have an opportunity to see ourselves more clearly. Through their insight and love and belief in us, they can help us to move ahead to becoming the person we were created to be. On this Mother’s Day may we be more fully aware of those relationships and the value they hold in our lives.