Mary's Choice: Fear or Follow


A sermon on Mark 3:20-35

You never think it is YOUR CHILD who is going to break your heart.

Sure I had heard stories from the other women – gathered around the village well in the morning. Stories of sons who had shirked their family responsibilities, or daughters who would talk back.

But, that wasn’t my Jesus. Jesus was my perfect boy. He was the one who always saw when I was overwhelmed and jumped to help without even being asked. He was the one who started and ended his days with prayer and studied his Torah without nagging. He was the one who never demanded to be first, even though he was the oldest, and always looked out for anyone who was younger or weaker. He was the one I never needed to worry about.

And if he was that good as a child, and even as a teenager… how could I ever expect that at the age of 30 he would suddenly rebel. And not just rebel – he, essentially, told me that I’m no longer his Mother!

Me! Mary (apparently NOT) the mother of Jesus.

After everything I went through for him. I risked my life carrying him inside me. When the angel announced that I was going to bear a child, I knew that Joseph could have easily denounced me, and had me stoned to death by our village.

But I didn’t object. I said yes. I bore my unexpected child, and I raised him with all the love I had to give, through all the fears and dangers of his early life – through his birth in an unfamiliar stable with only Joseph to help; and through the flight to Egypt as refugees from Herod’s violence; and through the terror when we found he had decided to stay behind in Jerusalem as a boy... all of those fears I lived through with the heart of a MOTHER. A mother whose only drive, ever and always, is to care for, and love, and protect her son.

And now I am not his mother!?

This. After HE was the one who abandoned ME! After Joseph died, it was Jesus’s duty as oldest son to take over the role of head of the family. Pater familias ­– the position of authority and obligation for the well-being of his family, and especially of his widowed mother.

But instead of continuing in the trade that Joseph had trained him in, instead of supporting me as is his duty, he takes off as an itinerant preacher. He leaves his brothers to shoulder his responsibility. He leaves me in double-mourning. For my husband, and now for my absent son.

But it wasn’t his family obligations that drove me to come seeking him at the house where he was teaching today…. It was fear.

A mother’s instinct is always to protect her child, even when he is grown. To me, he will always be my son. The little boy I held in my arms and nursed to sleep when he was too small to stand, or speak, or even feed himself. No matter how tall he grows, a mother always remembers her son in his soft, baby vulnerability, when his need was constant and insistent, and pulled from her heart an aching compulsion to protect him with fierce mother-love.

But now that love leaves ME vulnerable to terror at the danger he is stirring up for himself. That’s really why his brothers and I went to fetch him home today. Because we want to protect him.

The people in power are taking notice of him, and the things they are saying scare me.

They are saying he is from the Devil! That his power to cast out demons is just a trick, a scheme of the Ruler of demons to lead people astray. And I know what that means. They are trying to discredit Jesus so that they can get rid of him… permanently. They see the way that people respond to Jesus and they know they can’t just come for him directly. The leaders have to make the people afraid of him first.

And I’m worried that it could work. The people who flock to Jesus could just as easily turn on him. Fear is a powerful tool in the hands of those who know how to use it. I’d rather have people believe that Jesus has lost his mind. That’s not as much of a threat… in fact, it’s probably what people WANT to believe.

The people who knew him as a boy, who watched him grow up… they’re saying it already.

They know where he came from. And all this stuff he’s saying about the kingdom of God being at hand, and having the power to forgive peoples’ sins, and being Lord of the sabbath…it’s offending people. I’ve heard the muttering… “who does he think he is, this carpenter’s son?”

And I know he’s not… not Joseph’s son. Not really. I know that he IS special. That he is from God. That he is God’s son.

But… I also remember every time he ever skinned his knees. I know that he’s not invulnerable. And this path that he is walking is just too dangerous. It will lead no where good. It will lead to his death. And I can’t let that happen. I have to protect him…

Is that so awful? Is it truly unforgivable?

Today, he said that almost anything can be forgiven, even blasphemies. The only exception is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit: seeing something that God is doing and calling that evil.

Is… is that what I’ve been doing? Have I been calling God’s work the work of the Devil?!

No. No I’ve just been saying he’s crazy… and only to protect him. But… if this Is God’s work that he’s doing, then how can I protect him from that, without opposing God? No one has the right to put limits on God’s work. To say it’s too much – too challenging; too dangerous; too unrestrained.

God made me Jesus’ mother, but his life and his message are not mine to control. Not if that means setting myself against him doing the work for which God sent him.

And his work IS of God. I know that. I can see it. He is no longer my little boy with skinned knees studying his Torah by candle-light. He speaks, and demons flee. He calls, and men leave their lives to follow him. He tells a paralyzed man that his sins are forgiven, and the man rises healed and freed.

No one with an open heart can see what Jesus is doing and deny that he is of God. All you can do is decide… decide if you are willing to be part of it, or if you’re too afraid.

You know, when I started talking about this, I thought the deep pain of this day had been when Jesus said that I am no longer his mother. But maybe there’s something even deeper going on.

I’ve always just assumed that, of course, I seek to follow God’s way. To be part of God’s plan. I gave birth to Jesus after all. But I was so young then, I didn't have other ideas ... and now its so much more complicated. I can see that he is doing God’s work, that he understands God’s will… but it’s not my will. It’s not my way.

And I understand now, in a way I didn’t as a young teenager, that following God’s will means swallowing my fear and accepting that I don’t get to set the terms of my obedience. Doing the will of God means FOLLOWING, even when it’s

Was that what Jesus meant tonight? When he said: "whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother…”

Whoever does the will of God… well, at least there’s that hope. Maybe I could still be his mother after all.

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