I remember a sermon title from the 1990s that read “The greatest Sermon every preached”. It harmonised the words of Jesus on the cross. One whole point was dedicated to Jesus’ words to his mother Mary and His beloved young disciple John. It appears that the words Jesus said from His crucifixion were in short sentences and only a few sentences in all. One whole sentence was devoted to the ongoing care of His dear mother who was present most likely as a believer at the cross.

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Mother and Son

John 19:26-27 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

I live in London and almost every culture in the world that I have come across has venerated the institution of Motherhood to some degree or another. The spectrum of honour is stronger and deeper in some cultures. I have African friends who call almost all the older women they become acquainted with ‘Mama’. As a nurse I have found it very acceptable for me to also do this when I care for older women from cultures where this is normal. We have an international and diverse church membership and are blessed to have members of every generation in our local congregation. Over time almost all the members have come to imitate our African American preacher who has fondly claimed several ladies as his mother. He is an amazing preacher and an imitator of the great Apostle Paul who writes the following in the letter to the Romans,

Romans 16:13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.

Paul shows this conviction in his deeper theology too, teaching earlier in the same letter,

Romans 9:8 In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.

Quite literally our dear elderly brothers and sisters are to be regarded as our spiritual family, our dads and moms in the faith. Papa Nick and Mum Sue!

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Conversely the depraved mind of Romans 1:28 includes in its mentality a disorder in relation to ‘parents’ (Rom 1:30). I was born and brought up a Catholic. The Catholic religion is perhaps one of the world’s foremost veneraters of mothers. They have epitomised in the Virgin Mary the veneration and honoring of mothers. Many believe that they have taken this too far and that this has led to Mary as an idol. It is the most natural thing in the world that this concept would appeal especially to women. There is always the danger that a hero can become an idol, a fact it appears that Jesus recognised early in His ministry when he made the following statements on two different occasions.

Luke 11:27-28 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” He replied, “blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Jesus taught many difficult things. This was acknowledged by his followers (Jn 6:60). One of the particularly difficulty teachings that he gave with regards to mothers is in Luke’s gospel.

Luke 14:25-26 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.

This teaching has to be taken as one of a number of teachings specifically about how disciples relate to their parents. For many years and as a result of my own personal Bible study,  the teaching of my church and the example of some other disciples that I have known, i have had the conviction that it is my personal responsibility to make sure my parents are looked after in their old age. My conviction for this comes from my insight into Matthew 15:1-9 which is a scripture used in the First Principals series that i use when i study the Bible with people.

Matthew 15:1-9
1 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ 5 But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ 6 he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

8 “‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
9 They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are but rules taught by men.’”

This is perhaps one of the scariest and most inspiring passages of Scriptures I can apply to myself as a disciple of Jesus. It is primarily aimed at religious leaders but of course applies to all Jesus’ disciples and any person claiming to follow the bible. Taken literally in the context I am discussing, Jesus teaches that if I am not willing to look after my parents and also my wife’s parents then all my church activities are completely useless. What a waste! If I miss this one command and yet evangelise the world, I’m not going to make it. That is why I have let both my parents and my wife’s parents know they have this right. A couple of years ago my wife and I took her parents on a special trip to do this bible study and they accepted the teaching! My own father who died in 2012 knew the offer was always there but refused based on his own views about my church. I am excited that my wife’s parents have now taken us up on the offer and will (God willing) soon be moving in.

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Obedience to parents is embodied and modelled in the Gospel itself by nature of Jesus being the Son of God who obeyed His Father even unto death on the cross. The whole process is echoed throughout the bible (Rom 1:1-3). Jesus was obedient to God and His parents (Luke 2:51) in that order. He was living with his mother and associated with His family household even during His ministry (John 2:1-5, 7:1-9). He passed this responsibility on to trusted disciples just before His death and not before. When I was a much younger disciple, I struggled with hatred, arrogance and disobedience to my parents. I was not living near my parents when I became a disciple. I didn’t get many chances to rebuild what I actively destroyed as a non-christian. But i had powerful moments of repentance in my relationship with both my father and mother, the more I was around them. This started from about my second year as a disciple. I imagine that the Apostle John after three years in the ministry,  having known Mary on and off, may have had a working rapport and respect for her. It was such that Jesus entrusted her care to him. He is the one who records Jesus words on the subject. John’s gospel is frequently punctuated with female themes. I believe many of these themes show Mary’s influence as she reminisced in his home for some years after the crucifixion and ascension of Jesus. I think this is one reason why John’s gospel is so different from the others. John was the only apostle who was not martyred. Thus,  in John’s life, God fulfilled the promise that goes along with the fifth commandment.

Exodus 20:12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

This is a blessed obedience. Biblically, it is actually possible to add years to my life by honouring my parents by helping them in their hours of need.

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I imagine Mary had great comfort and joy in this; Jesus left her for three years on His mission as a precursor to leaving her for the rest of her natural life. He also made sure His disciples understood that they were to obey His commands. He was so tight with His guys that he was able to delegate responsibility to John from the cross to take on a dependent, to adopt a faithful old lady. You gotta love Jesus. Right? Baby Jesus loved His mum. He loved her hardline His whole life. I hope and pray I can follow His example.

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