Jesus on Motherhood
Scriptures: Luke 8:19-21, 12:49-53, 14:25-26
It seemed like such a good idea. All winter and spring we have been studying the Gospel of Luke in our church services, so on Mother’s Day I thought why not look through the Gospel of Luke for places where Jesus talks about mothers. So I did. And here is what I found.
First is the scripture passage Rob just read from Luke 8. Jesus’ mother and brothers can’t reach him because of the crowd, so they send a message asking to see him. Does Jesus say, “By all means, bring them in”? Or better yet does he go out to them? No. Instead he says, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” Wow. That’s not what you would expect on a Mother’s Day card.
But it only gets worse. Now let me read the next two places where Jesus talks about mothers, as well as fathers.
[Read Luke 12:49-53 and 14:25-26]
I’m curious. Have many of you ever heard these scripture passages preached on Mother’s Day? I thought not. What are we to do with this? Is Jesus launching a war against family values? Or is he after something else?
Let’s go back and start with the first scripture passage: Luke 8:21. [Slide 1: Luke 8:21] Jesus says, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” If you read this statement carefully, Jesus does not exclude his mother and brothers from his family, from those who hear the word of God and do it. In fact we know from the book of Acts, which was also written by Luke, that Jesus’ mother and brothers were among Jesus’ followers. After the resurrection Acts 1:14 says, [Slide 2: Acts 1:14] “All these [meaning all the disciples] were constantly devoting themselves to prayer together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” So we know that Jesus’ mother and brothers were not excluded from his family.
So what is Jesus’ point? In this statement, [Slide 3: Luke 8:21] “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it,” Jesus is not excluding his own family; he is broadening the definition of family to include us. We too get to be part of Jesus’ family. In Jesus our heredity does not determine our destiny. Our family of origin does not determine our membership in the family of God.
Some of you, I know, had a rough upbringing. You have shared with me about having parents who struggled with alcoholism or abuse. Your experience growing up was not the stuff of a Hallmark card. To you Jesus offers good news. Your heredity does not determine your destiny. Your family of origin does not determine your relationship to God.
But there is also a warning in these words. Your family of origin does not determine your membership in the family of God. In other words, you cannot skate into the kingdom on your parent’s faith. You have to make that decision and commitment for yourself.
I remember talking to one of our church members who grew up in a Christian family, but when he went to college he suddenly realized that he was free. He did not have to do what his parents did or believe what his parents believed. There were alternatives. College is full of alternative beliefs, many of which allow for sleeping in on Sunday morning. So this young man had to decide if he wanted to continue in the faith of his parents. I asked him how he made up his mind. He said, “I looked at my friends who decided to live without faith, who decided to live only for themselves, and I did not want to be like them. So I went back to church.”
There you have it. No matter what faith you inherit from your parents, you must make your own personal commitment to discover your place in the family of God.
And that’s where following Jesus can sometimes create tension in families. In Luke 12 Jesus says something startling. He says, [Slide 4: Luke 12:51] “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”
At one level Jesus is talking about how his followers will be persecuted after he is gone. Later in Luke 21 Jesus tells his disciples, “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.” Some of Jesus’ first followers were rejected by their own families.
In Spokane I visited a member of the church who had quit coming. She had quit long before I came, so I knew it wasn’t me, but I was curious why she quit. So I went to see her. I wondered if there had been some conflict or incident that drove her away, but her answer surprised me. She did not talk about a conflict or incident with another church member; instead she had a falling out with her son. I thought maybe her son had gotten into drugs or crime, and the mother blamed God or the church for not protecting him. So I asked, “What happened with your son?” She said with disgust, “He’s a missionary.” I said, “Pardon me.” She went on, “Patrick was such a gifted boy. He could have really made something of himself. But he threw it all away to become a Presbyterian missionary living with poor people in Africa.”
I was speechless. Finally I said, “Well, you must at least be proud that he is helping people,” but she just shook her head as if he were a drug addict.
That’s when, for the first time, I began understood these words of Jesus: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” Sometimes following Jesus may put us at odds with our own family.
But there is another danger that concerns Jesus, which he addresses in Luke 14:26 [Slide 5: Luke 14:26] “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” Jesus does not mean that we should literally hate our families, any more than he means we should literally hate ourselves. Jesus is using classic Middle Eastern exaggeration, as when he says in the Sermon on the Mount, “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out, or if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” If Jesus meant that literally we would all be blind and limbless. Jesus does not mean that we should hate our families. But he does mean that we must love him first, because if we do not love him first we will not be able to properly love our families. [Slide 6: Blank]
Think about this a moment. How can we give our children the freedom they need to grow if we don’t trust God to be there with them? If we don’t trust God, we will end up obsessive and controlling over our children. And how can we forgive our children or anyone else if we don’t first believe in God’s grace toward us? We have to love Jesus first before we can properly love our families.
I shared this story a couple years ago, but it is so fitting for today’s scripture readings I have to share it again. It’s from C. S. Lewis’ book The Great Divorce, where a bus load of tourists from hell are allowed to visit heaven. One of the ghosts on the bus is a woman who takes the trip to heaven because she wants to find her son Michael who died previously. When she arrives, she says to the tour guide, “When am I going to be allowed to see my son?” The tour guide says, “There’s no question of being allowed. As soon as it’s possible for him to see you, of course he will. You need to be thickened up a bit.”
“How?” says the [mother].
“I’m afraid the first step is a hard one,” [says the tour guide]. “You will become solid enough for Michael to perceive you when you learn to want someone else besides Michael. I don’t say ‘more than Michael,’ not as a beginning. That will come later. It’s only the little germ of a desire for God that we need to start the process.”
“Oh, you mean religion and all that sort of thing?” [says the mother]. “Well, never mind. I’ll do whatever’s necessary. What do you want me to do? Come on. The sooner I begin it, the sooner they’ll let me see my boy. I’m quite ready.”
[The tour guide says,] “But don’t you see you are not beginning at all as long as you are in that state of mind? You’re treating God only as a means to Michael. But the whole thickening treatment consists in learning to want God for His own sake.”
“This is all nonsense,” [says the mother], “cruel and wicked nonsense. What right have you to say things like that about Mother-love? It is the highest and holiest feeling in human nature.”
[The tour guide says,] “No natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God’s hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods.”
“My love for Michael would never have gone bad. Not if we’d lived together for millions of years.”
“You are mistaken,” [says the tour guide]. “Haven’t you met—down there—mothers who have their sons with them in Hell? Does their love make them happy?”
“Give me my boy,” [screams the mother]. “I don’t care about all your rules and regulations. I don’t believe in a God who keeps mother and son apart. I believe in a God of Love. No one has a right to come between me and my son. Not even God. Tell him that to His face. I want my boy, and I mean to have him. He is mine, do you understand? Mine, mine, mine” (pp. 91-95).
You get the feeling she would gladly take her son with her back to hell. Even something as good and holy as family can become toxic if it becomes more important than God. The only way to really love our families is to love God first, for only then we will our other relationships find their proper bearing.