Being Jesus’ Mother
Scripture: John 2:1-11
Hearing your word in community, we find ourselves feasting on the bounty of your house, & drinking from your river of pure joy. For you, God, are the spring of our lives. In the reading of Scripture, may we see your light. May you make our hearts right by your transforming power. Amen.
(Inspired by a sermon by Karoline Lewis.)
We know her as Mary. But J’s mother in the Gospel of John is not the Mary we thought we knew. She is never called Mary, only the mother of Jesus. And of course in John, there’s no traditional birth narrative – no stable or shepherds or angels. No harrowing birth story of having a baby in a most unexpected place. No visitors to the hospital from the east. No gifts of congratulations.
There is just a cosmic birth story with the Word becoming flesh - & in that version of Jesus’ birth, there’s no mention of Jesus’ mother at all.
She appears only twice in John’s story – at the wedding at Cana & at the foot of the cross. She is there for Jesus’ first sign & then hears him let out his last breath. At the beginning of his ministry & at its end. She brackets the incarnation, if you will. And she is the first one in the Gospel of John to show us what discipleship looks like.
I think a lot of times we make discipleship rather complicated. Or get all caught up in rules we should be following when we really don’t do a good job of that anyway. The mother of Jesus teaches us that sometimes all God needs us to do is to be. To be present. To abide.
It is her abiding, her presence, that gets Jesus’ ministry going. Have you ever noticed that in the Gospel of John? She’s the one who pushes Jesus out the door.
She’s the one who says, “Come on, you can do this, I know who you are. I’ve seen what you can do.” After all, there is 30 years of mothering behind what happens at that wedding at Cana.
In John, there is no voice from the heavens saying to Jesus, or anyone else for that matter, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
In John, there is no temptation in the wilderness for Jesus then to say, “Okay, if I can make it through that, I can make it through anything. I guess I really am God’s Son! Let’s get started!”
In John, there is no transfiguration to confirm the claims from heaven stated at Jesus’ baptism. There is just Jesus’ mother. She’s the initiator, the impetus, the instigator who gets things going. Because sometimes the only thing you need is your mom.
You remember how the story goes. The wedding celebration being attended by Jesus & his mother & his disciples has run out of wine. Not a good thing at a wedding, back then or now!
But the mother of J knows what needs to be done & what her son can do. “They have run out of wine, Jesus.” And Jesus’ answer? A paraphrase might be, “Yeah, well, so what, Mom? They should have hired a better wedding planner.”
Have you ever wondered what took place between verses 4 & 5? I can imagine the conversation going something like this: “Don’t give me that, Jesus. It is time, all right. No more renting a room from me & your Dad. No more living in the basement. No more excuses or emptying out my refrigerator every time you have friends over. No more endless supply of pizza & soda pop. No more messing around with this Messiah complex. Oh no, Jesus. Now is the time. Maybe you don’t see it, but I do. I know who you are.”
She knew it was time. It had to be time. Because the world would never be fully ready for what was about to happen. Because the world would never be ready for God becoming human. In fact, the world would reject such an idea for all its worth.
So, the mother of Jesus goes to the steward & says, “Do whatever he tells you.” And to Jesus, she is saying, “Come on, you can do it. I know you can.” Like getting your kindergartner to climb on to the school bus for the first time. “Come on, you can do it, get on the bus!”
But to us & everyone else in the story the mother of Jesus says, “If you do what Jesus tells you, grace upon grace will follow.” And so the man ill for 38 years, all of his life to be exact, picks up his mat when Jesus tells him to & walks. The man who had been blind since birth goes to wash in the Pool of Siloam when Jesus tells him to, & ends up being one of Jesus’ sheep. Lazarus, dead for 4 days, really, really dead, walks out of the tomb when Jesus tells him to & is next found reclining on Jesus during dinner. Grace upon grace. All of it.
And it is J’s mother who tells Jesus who he is.
This is not a moment for just any sign. This is Jesus’ first act out of the gate. Not an exorcism. Not a sermon on a mount. Not even a sermon in his hometown of Nazareth. No, it had to be an act of grace upon grace, an act of abundance, 6 jars, 20-30 gallons each, filled to the brim, of the best wine, when you least expect it.
The mother of Jesus pushes Jesus into revealing who he is – God’s grace upon grace – here & now, right in front of us, among us, abiding with us. She pushes God into remembering who God decided to be. I wonder if God needed to be reminded of what God got himself into.
I mean, God, what were you thinking? Good idea in theory, you wanting to dwell among us, to move into our neighborhood. Sure, you had done that before. We remember those wilderness wandering days of time gone by. But you becoming flesh? You becoming us? You becoming human? Well, that’s a whole different kind of dwelling. That ups the ante considerably. No wonder you might have needed a push!
And so God trusts Jesus’ mother to be the parent when God cannot be. God is willing to share this parenthood thing. In fact, God has to. Becoming human depends on it. God can’t just swoop in for a parenting save. Once you go down the road that is being human it’s not like you can change your mind. It’s not like you can call a time-out. Kind of like when we decide to be a parent. There’s no going back. No, God needs the mother of Jesus to be the parent of God’s human self. God needs the mother of Jesus to parent God.
Really, you say? You are talking about God, you know. Really, I say. I know I am talking about God. Our God who became one of us. There’s no partially being human, folks. You are either human or you are not.
God needs the mother of Jesus to say to him, “You have to show the world who you are” as God enters the world. And then, God will need her to say, “See? Look what you showed the world” as God leaves the world.
But not only does the mother of Jesus help God see who God decided to be, the mother of Jesus helps us see who God calls us to be, who God needs us to be.
Think about it. She has watched Jesus. She knows him. She has witnessed what he can do. She sees Jesus for who he is. And then she says, you can do this. Let me tell you who you are. It is time for you to be who you are – in the world, for the sake of the world.
Isn’t this what we need for ourselves? Who is the mother of Jesus in your life? Who helps you see who God sees you to be? Who affirms who you are, who God has called you to be? Who tells you when they see pieces of you slipping away? And who needs you to be the mother of Jesus for them? That abiding presence. Abiding when really, that is all the strength we have to do.
We know, we see, we have witnessed what they are capable of. And we nudge, we push, & say, “Come on, you can do this.” We walk alongside them so that they can walk into the future people God has called them to be.
It seems that Jesus learned a few things from his mother, because isn’t this exactly what he does with his disciples? “Friends, you will do greater things than these.” And again, “Beloved, as my Father sent me into this world, now I send you.” And again, “Peter, you are the shepherd now. Feed my sheep.”
If Jesus needed to be told who he was, if Jesus needed to be reminded of who he was, how much more so do we?
Discipleship as a call to abiding is taking on the role of the mother of Jesus for someone who needs to be who God needs them to be. To point out when the jugs are empty. To say, come & see who you can be. To help them see who God sees they are.
The mother of Jesus models an essential element of discipleship. One easily overlooked & taken for granted & assumed. Kind of like mothers in general. It is discipleship that acts out assurance, that knows the simple power of presence.
But, don’t misunderstand. I am not talking about mere empowerment. This is not pep-talk discipleship. This is not cheering-from-the-sidelines discipleship. This is not coach, trainer, maximizing-your-potential or having-your-best-life-now kind of discipleship.
The mother of Jesus does not model a discipleship of encouragement but a discipleship of courage. Because it takes an awful lot of courage to push your child out the door. And it takes even more courage to abide at the foot of a cross & watch your child die.
Sometimes in this world, all we can do is abide. And to abide is sometimes all God needs us to do. Amen.