The Secrets of Every Happy Family: Mothers
Welcome to the third week of our homily series we’re calling “The Secrets of Every Happy Family.” This series has already generated a lot of discussion in many families and hopefully, in your family. We’re focusing on three guiding principles in this series that can form the foundation of your Happy Family.
The first principle or secret, to every happy family is that they accept the messiness of family life. There are no perfect people, so there is no perfect family. Over and over again in our families, we’re going to be running up against the flaws and foibles of one another. And we have a choice to make when we do, whether we’re going to accept those flaws and foibles. Inevitably, happy families consistently choose to be accepting.
The second principle of every happy family is mutual respect.
This begins with respect for God’s authority over the whole of family life and then is reflected in each spouses’ mutual respect for one another. Such a mutual respect creates an atmosphere and environment in which the children learn respect, and grow.
The third secret of every happy family is a commitment to a larger purpose or a purpose beyond themselves. Happy families know that their relationships are not just about themselves. They serve a greater mission, a higher purpose in their extended family, in their neighborhood, in their community, and even for the broader culture.
Last week we looked at the role fathers undertake in successful and happy families. We said that fathers have a somewhat unique role of providing blessings for their children. It’s a father’s primary role to bless his children as they grow.
And we know this intuitively because all of us look to our fathers for blessing, for approval, for encouragement. Happy families have fathers who willingly embrace that role.
Today we’re looking at another role –the role that mothers play in the family. In shaping this message, I have consulted with several mothers. I’ve got a lot of insight and advice from them. Plus, we have scripture. And just as last week we looked at Jesus’ relationship with his father in scripture. In today’s Gospel, we’re going to look at the relationship Jesus had with his mother.
It’s Luke’s Gospel that tells us the most about Mary, but we get perhaps the most insightful view into the relationship of Jesus and Mary in the Gospel of John which we are reading today. We just heard the familiar story of the wedding at Cana in Galilee where both Mary and Jesus along with his disciples were invited.
Pay attention to the order that John sets up for us there because the order has a purpose. John puts the mother of Jesus first and then Jesus and then his disciples. He writes: Mary, Jesus, and the disciples are at a wedding in a town called Cana.
But the wedding party doesn’t go as planned. John tells us when the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” Well, in those days, a Jewish wedding in a small town like Cana would have been a huge deal lasting several days.
So, running out of wine would have been a major embarrassment for the couple, effectively bringing the party to an end and even casting a shadow over the prospects of their married life. Mary must have known the couple well enough to have been privy to the problem and clearly, she was helping with the service of the wedding.
So, she brings the problem to Jesus with a clear expectation that he’s going to do something about it.
Instead, he says to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me?” If that sounds like Jesus is pushing back, that’s because he is. Seemingly, deaf to his response, his mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
We just heard in this story that Jesus changes water into the best possible type of wine. So, we learn that not only did Jesus turn water into wine but he turns it into really fine wine. A suggestion of his generosity. Also, wine in scripture is a symbol of abundance. Jesus provides a superabundance.
And then John concludes this story. He tells us after this, Jesus and his mother and his brothers and disciples went down to Capernaum. Now, you see the order is changed. Jesus is listed first and then his mother and then all the others. What’s the significance of that reverse order?
Well, when Mary tells Jesus about the lack of wine, it’s not just about the lack of wine. That’s not all that’s going on in this scene. She’s doing something else that’s quite significant in the story of the Gospel in the arc of Jesus’ life.
She knows her son. And while Jesus has not yet performed any miracles that’s what the Bible tells us, he hasn’t yet performed a single public miracle, she knows who he is. And she’s well aware of what he’s capable of and what he can, and will, accomplish in the world. Mary wants Jesus to get started. But in performing this miracle, events will be set in motion that will lead inexorably and rather quickly to the cross. And Jesus knows it. He’s checking with her to make sure she knows it too. Essentially, he’s saying, “Do you understand what you’re asking?”
“Do you realize that this is going to change everything including our relationship? Our relationship will be different.”
Up until this point, Jesus has been under Mary’s authority. The Bible tells us that he’s spent his life in Nazareth and that he was obedient to her.
But in making this request, Mary is changing the equation. She’s releasing him from his obedience, she’s releasing Jesus from her authority, and she’s releasing him into the world to undertake his mission and his ministry.
The story begins with Mary first, but now Jesus is first and Mary is his disciple. The roles have changed and that can take some getting used to.
Happy families, successful ones are characterized by mothers who understand their role is like Mary’s role, a role of preparation. They’re preparing their children for release into their own lives, under their own authority, in the larger world, in the same way that Mary released Jesus into his public ministry. This is the selfless role of all mothers, to bring their children up to live independent faith-filled lives.
As Mary knew, this release is not a one-time deal. It’s going to happen in little ways, and then in larger ways, over and over again in an ever-expanding release until it’s a complete release because mothers are not raising children, they’re raising adults.
And as such, a mother’s role is a completely selfless role because good mothers, great mothers are giving everything they have to their kids, and then they have to give their kids away too. Motherhood may be the most selfless vocation known to all of humanity.
That is because, a mother’s very success brings loss in a certain sense and certainly, some sadness. Sometimes it’s sadness that a mother must bear silently and all alone. And that doesn’t seem fair. But it must be so. For the success and the happiness of the family, this totally selfless act, of a mother raising adults and letting go, must be so.
As a much younger man, I once thanked my mother for bringing me and my siblings up to live as independent adults. With tears in her eyes my mom choked back her sadness and said, “you know that was a very difficult thing to do.” I think I was stunned into silence. I was probably about 25 or 30 years old. I did not know what to say. I hope I hugged her, but I don’t remember that part of our interaction, but wow, I sure do remember that unexpected response from her when I commented on her selfless act of raising independent adult children.
Our society often values titles other than Mother. We are not saying moms should, or should not, hold other jobs in life. What we are saying is motherhood, done right, done selflessly, is the most important, valuable work most women will ever do because moms are raising children who will grow into adults and impact the lives of many.
Mothers are not just raising children, selfless mothers are raising independent adults, who impact society, as emotionally and psychologically difficult as that is for moms.
Okay, back to the Gospel: on the flip side of this wedding story from John’s Gospel, we see that happy families are also marked by respect toward mothers. Despite the distance of Jesus’ initial response to Mary, in the end, he did exactly what his mother asked him to do. He honored his mother’s request in a generous and abundant way.
While the authority a mother has over her children, eventually comes to an end, honor, and respect are permanent features of the relationship. In the ten commandments, God Himself commands us, “Honor your father and mother that you may live a long life.”
Do you realize, it’s the only one of the ten commandments that brings a promise and a blessing of its own.
That’s how important this commandment is in the eyes of God. Of course, God says honor both mother and father, but I think, especially happy families are marked by a special honor accorded to the mother. And that’s because it was such a clear feature of Jesus’ own life, his whole life long. In fact, it’s also in John’s Gospel that we read the very last thing that Jesus ever did was to make provision for the care of his mother. He did that from the cross in his very last words where he tells John to take care of his mother, Mary.
So, when it comes to application for mothers, my question is this – Are you parenting your child with God’s purpose in mind? By which I mean, are you parenting, knowing that eventually, your job is to let your children go, to release them into the world? And are you practicing on a daily basis, right now, or are you holding on a bit too tight? Are you hovering a bit too close, sometimes called helicopter mom’s because of always hovering over their kids.
Are you trying to control everything, to know everything, to be everything, to be everywhere? Honestly, ask yourself that question because frankly, everybody that I talked to in preparing for this message, everybody that I talked to, told me that this is a huge problem in our community. So, maybe it’s a problem for you? Or maybe not?
If, on the other hand, your children are grown and they’re now adults, ask yourself, are you honoring, are you respecting your adult children’s independence and their authority?
As for other family members, are you honoring the mother of the family? And that means different things at different stages of life. As a middle school or high school student that requires obedience in what you do for sure,
but also in how you talk to your mother, in the tone of voice that you use, in your body language, and your willingness to lend her your attention. All of that is part of honoring your mother.
You might not like to hear it, but your mother actually gets it, more than you think. If you’re in college, if you’re a young adult, if you’re newly married, it might mean giving time to your relationship with your mom, and bringing your best game when you do so, not acting like it’s a sacrifice or some kind of imposition, but being generous with yourself in the relationship with your mom.
If your mother is older, perhaps there is patience and kindness and care that is now required that wasn’t part of the relationship before. If your mother is deceased, you can still honor her, and you should. Honor her by praying for her, honor her in your thoughts, in your prayer, in your kind remembering of her.
The family is an image and reflection of God’s love. It is an imperfect reflection for sure, but it is a reflection.
In fact, its imperfection and our frustration at its imperfection point us to our desire for something more.
And our desire for something more, is desire for the family of God. Ultimately, what God is doing in the world is building his family, and we get to be a part of it. But here’s the thing, we’re supposed to be practicing now in our own families. God is building his family –we get to be part of it, and we are supposed to be practicing now in our own families.
Listen to the audio version of this homily here: