“A sword will pierce your own soul too.” Luke 2:34
In our increasingly secular society, one of the things that remains almost unchanged is language. The Irish equivalent of the word ‘hello’, means ‘God be with you’, to which the response is ‘God and Mary be with you’. Regard for Mary was embedded in people’s daily conversation. Whatever changes there may be in society, Mary remains a major figure in the Biblical account of Jesus, and on this Mothering Sunday it is appropriate to learn from this most famous of all mothers.
‘Sure, even his own mother couldn’t love him’, was one of the worst comments one could make about a man in the North. Sometimes it was said as an insult, the person was regarded with such little respect that it was impossible to imagine anyone having any fondness whatsoever for the man. Sometimes it was spoken with sadness, the man had put himself outside of normal society to the extent that he was considered unworthy of love, a sad indictment of anyone’s life. One has to go a very long way to reach the point where even your own mother no longer loves you.
Mothers carry on believing in children long after everyone else has given up. When every other support has gone, mothers are still there, still present, still caring and feeling pain.
The experience of countless mothers through the ages is the experience of Mary in this morning’s Gospel. We are told that, ‘The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said’ about Jesus. Simeon pulls no punches. He tells Mary that a sword is going to pierce her own soul. Motherhood for Mary is going to bring a spectrum of emotions beyond her imagination, yet she accepts everything that happens and continues her unflinching love for her Son.
Mary always has confidence in Jesus, even when others would have doubted. Do you remember the story of the first miracle? Jesus and his friends are at a wedding feast at the town of Cana in Galilee and the wine runs out. What happens? Mary comes to Jesus and says, “They have no more wine.” She gets a short reply from Jesus.
“Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come.”
But Mary is Jesus’ mother and you don’t tell your mother what to do. She is not going to be put off, she says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Jesus realises that his mother is not going to give in and tells the servants to fill six stone jars with water – and the rest is history.
There was huge potential for embarrassment here – what if Mary had told the servants to go to Jesus and he had done nothing? What if Mary had misunderstood Jesus completely? Mary has confidence that the most extraordinary, most supernatural thing is going to happen – that water in jars used for washing away the dust of the day is going to be transformed into wine fit for a wedding reception.
This mother has confidence in her son.
The miracle of turning the water into wine marked a dramatic beginning to Jesus’ public ministry. As we head towards Holy Week and Easter, we know where that ministry was heading. Jesus’ integrity, his desire for truth and justice, his overthrowing of the old ways of doing things, brings him into direct conflict with the authorities and powers. Jesus isn’t just troublesome to them, he is a direct threat to wealth, to their influence, and to their standing in Jewish society.
As Mary watched Jesus’ ministry unfold, as she saw the miracles, as she listened to his teaching, she would have been very conscious of the direction in which matter were heading. Mary would have heard the whispers, she would have heard the mutterings amongst the onlookers. She would have watched the men of authority turn away in anger. Simeon’s words to her when Jesus was a baby would have come back to her with increasing frequency, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
What would it mean that a sword would pierce her own soul? She could not have imagined how great would be the pain that lay ahead. As the tumultuous events of the first Holy Week in Jerusalem came to a head, she discovered what Simeon’s words really meant. Yet Mary’s compassion never fails, even in the darkest moment, even facing the most hellish of scenes, Mary remains. Mary stands at the Cross as her son dies.
This mother has compassion for her son.
Simeon’s promise was that “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many”. In her wildest dreams Mary could not have imagined what the full truth of Simeon’s words would mean. One of the most moving pieces of religious art is the ‘Pieta’, the depiction in painting or sculpture of Mary holding in her arms her son’s broken body. Mary’s soul has been pierced, her heart is broken, her world is shattered.
Mary has been left in the care of John and it would have been from him she would have learned the greatest piece of Good News ever – that Jesus was risen from the dead. Mary’s confidence has been vindicated, her compassion has been rewarded. Mary is present at the birth of the Christian Church, she is present when Matthias is chosen to take the place of Judas. Mary knows the greatest consolation of all time – that her son has defeated the power of death and that his people can share in his eternal life.
This mother knows the consolation of her son.
On this Mothering Sunday we could do no better than to seek in our lives to follow the example of Mary – to have confidence in Jesus, to have compassion for Jesus, and, so, at the end of our lives, to know the consolation of Jesus.