Motherhood is not an easy vocation

According to Mark Twain, “my mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it”. I wonder, in spite of all the trouble Mary encountered having Jesus as her son, did she enjoy the experience? I am not so sure.

True, no doubt when Mary first gave birth to Jesus, she must have enjoyed being a mother. True, the events surrounding his birth were not easy. Having a child in a stable is not the best of beginnings. On the other hand, the angel Gabriel had told her that her son would be called “the Son of the Most High” and that “the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David” (Luke 1.32), but how much compensation was that for then having to make the journey from Nazareth in Galilee down to Bethlehem in Judea (Luke 2.3)? And to what extent was she aware that Joseph was on the verge of divorcing her  before an angel of the Lord intervened (Matt 1.19-21)? Then, of course, came the flight into Egypt  (Matt 2.13). Those early months must have been full of worry.

Thankfully, eventually the holy family were able to return to Nazareth, and presumably there was a degree of normality in the home. However, when the twelve-year old Jesus went missing after Mary and Joseph had taken him up to Jerusalem, there was another blip in her relationship with her son. “My son”, said Mary, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety?” (Luke 2.48). I find it interesting that it was Mary rather than Joseph who challenged Jesus. Her question revealed that Jesus had caused them both significant pain. As has been pointed out, her distress was a first fulfilment of Simeon’s prophecy that “a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2.35).  However, to her no doubt bewilderment, her son instead of apologising replied: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” It certainly wasn’t easy being the mother of Jesus.

A few years later presumably Mary was hoping that Jesus would marry. Yet even though the rabbis proposed sixteen as the most appropriate age for a man to marry, Jesus remained single. Indeed, in spite of the fact that with few exceptions it was obligatory for all Jewish men to marry and father children, for otherwise they would be deemed to be ‘slaying their seed’, Jesus continued to remain single. I wonder, what did the other mothers in Nazareth say to Jesus? And what kind of answer, if any, did Mary give in the difficult situation her son had put her in?

Thankfully there came a stage when Jesus did leave home, but even then Mary must have gone through an emotional rollercoaster as Jesus went around Galilee with his twelve friends. Presumably there were times when Mary was proud of her son, not least when he was engaged in his ministry of healing. But she must have been upset when after she and her other sons called for him to see them (Mark 3.31), Jesus seemed to turn his back on the family. “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (Mark 3.33) he asked. It was all very bewildering.

Finally, the last week of her firstborn’s life must have been traumatic for her – and even more so when at the end of the legal charade Jesus ended up more or less naked upon a cross. Notice that nakedness is different from nudity. Nudity, it has been said, is a state of personal intimacy and trust, without pretence or artifice. Both the nudity of a baby and the nudity of a married couple can be beautiful and trusting. By contrast nakedness entails more than an absence of clothing. To be naked, as Jesus was on the cross, was to be stripped of all dignity.

On that first Good Friday it must have been truly grim for Mary. But instead of collapsing on the ground beneath the cross and weeping profusely, she stood up for Jesus. It may well that standing allowed her to keep her eyes fastened to those of her suffering son, and in this way remind him of how much she still loved him. The agony of losing a child of any age is without parallel. No parent expects to have to face the death of their child. But to lose her son in this way is truly appalling. My heart truly goes out to Mary.

So what has Mary’s experience to say to us as many of us look forward to celebrating Mothering Sunday (otherwise known as Mother’s Day) this coming Sunday? I wonder, does Mary’s experience give some of my readers some reassurance as they realise that even for the mother of our Lord motherhood is not always an easy vocation.

One comment

  1. Paul I like your comments and imagine my mother has been in same place as maybe was your mother.
    Interestingly roles are revered now!
    My 98 year mother , after I had spent a morning backwards and forwards in the hospital with her and some issues said to me that she knows it is difficult time consuming and trying but I do enjoy it all anyway!!
    There was no answer to that !

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