Mother and Son: a tense little moment

If there`s one thing I`ve learnt- you can always rely on your mum to embarrass you in public. So let`s get it out of the way. Yes, I began my life of crime at an early age when I leaned out my pram and stole a biscuit from the Woolworths Pick and mix stall. And then a couple of years later I tried to do a runner in British Home Stores but it all proved too much for me; my then distraught mother recounts hearing over the loud speaker, “David has lost his mummy”. And as parents we look back on these kinds of things with a certain fondness. In the words of our Gospel this morning: like Mary, “We treasure them in our heart”. Mostly it`s all good fun, but if we`re wise we`ll choose our moment to speak of these childhood moments. Because telling these tales at the wrong time and place can sometimes cause a certain tension…. because as we so often need to be reminded, they`re NOT that little boy or girl anymore.

This is something of what seems to be happening between Mary and Jesus in the Gospel Reading we heard this morning. Twice in the early Chapters of Luke we are told, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart”. (Luke 2.19) Firstly, when the shepherds came and told her about the vision of the Angels` and then, again in that incident in the Temple. And firstly it appears we`re being told that Mary is someone, who like us recalls these significant and cherished moments and holds them dearly but on this occasion we have a cherished moment that was a bit tense; lacking we might say in any degree of softness or sentimentality. Imagine for a moment that at some social gathering you spot that your forty-year old son has a little smudge of something on his cheek and you –dear mother- take out your hanky to wipe if off. You might expect a reaction. And reading between the lines… although Jesus was only twelve…. this is what Mary got.

We can imagine the scene- the Temple crowded with people, Jesus sat listening to the rabbis and I come Mary and Joseph all hot and flustered and interrupting it all with “…his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ I like to imagine a moment when everybody looked at their feet in embarrassment. That`s what it`s like when a child is told off in public isn`t it? But Jesus says to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them”. Luke 2.48-50)

Now, it crosses my mind to wonder how Joseph felt about all of this- but this is Mothering Sunday so we`ll save that for another time. No, I just wonder what kind of `look` Jesus and Mary exchanged as he said those things? Had Mary forgotten that Visit by the Angel, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna in the Temple ….I wonder? Had she allowed all that stuff about the special nature of his birth to fade as she settled down into marriage with Joseph and the domestic routine? Did she look back and think, “Well, I was only sixteen – I went through a bit of a religious phase…” Our enthusiasm for faith comes and goes like that doesn`t it? But we might also imagine some quite deep feelings coming to the surface as Jesus draws this distinction between Joseph and the one he calls `His Father`. How hurtful was that? Jesus for all his twelve years of age causes consternation. We think of it as old-fashioned now but is this an example of that vexed question of the child born out of wedlock? We could imagine that the question of Jesus` birth was still a bit of a family secret. I`m just speculating but these kinds of things go deep don`t they?

I can remember in my youth being told that a good friend of mine was adopted. Of course, I thought nothing of it but I happened to bring it up (I thought quite naturally) when I was next at his housed for tea. I had no idea that the family friend who told me had for some reason been sworn to secrecy about it. It caused quite a stir. What I`m really getting at is that as you stay with this passage it seems there`s a lot going on in that `moment` and like to invite us to pray with a couple of things. Firstly, in that moment where Jesus makes it clear that he has cottoned on to his true identity I think Mary is taken back twelve years to those moments when as I say, as young girl she responded to God`s call in such a live and for us, inspirational way. I simply compare that with how, in this incident she allowed herself, as it were to lose sight of him among the `group of travellers`. She lost touch with him; for a while, was entirely relaxed about him just `being about` but then things change. The `three days` spent searching for him seem to echo the Easter story, (to which we shall return) and that connection serves to remind us that of course a parents first concern is for the child`s safety… but I both the resurrection story and here in the Temple, Mary receives Christ back in a NEW way. It seems to me there`s an invitation here to pray with any sense we have that we too may have lost sight of God especially if we can think of times when things seemed a bit more vivid and we`re left somewhat wistful.

So in this sense Lent, for us, may be a time to think about the things that contribute to our losing sight of him; perhaps the careless assumptions we make or the things that as it were, crowd him out. Or maybe secondly, we should put the emphasis on “Why are you searching for me?” This seems to find Mary`s anxiety puzzling. “Didn`t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” he said. “Why were you SEARCHING?” I get the impression that Jesus assumed Mary and Joseph would know exactly where he was. And again, it all seems a bit abrupt- but this is how he does `pastoral care`. Again, he has no truck with their anxiety. Jesus knows exactly what we`re like. He knows how very easy it is to over complicate things, to get ourselves into a bit of state and all worked up about `searching` for God. But Jesus just points us to what he regards as the obvious. He will be found (Quote): “In my Father`s House”. In other words if you lose sight of Christ (we`re not talking bricks and mortar here) he`s there to be found in the things which the household of God provides.

In other words, he`s there in the Worship, in his people, in Scripture and in the Sacraments. In a sense it`s all too simple really- but my years of experience (for what it`s worth) have taught me that these are the four things people most quickly turn AWAY from when they`re entering a period of change or uncertainty in faith… and this is our folly. This was a tense little moment between Mary and Jesus. But it was also one of those `transitional` moments between a mother and her son that we see going on all the time. Essentially it`s a moment when Jesus I think asserts his independence of her and therefore to some extent forces her to consider what kind of relationship she will have with him into the future.

I want to suggest that so often- when we get a bit wobbly in our faith- this is the kind of thing that is going on. We`re being stretched. We`re being invited, perhaps uncomfortably- into examining how our understanding of him and our relationship with him is or is not developing. So, as I say, you might like to ponder how far you complacently allow Jesus to be obscured by the crowds. Do we, I wonder, like Mary and Joseph fall foul of the assumption that he`ll just tag along behind US? And anxiety at being unable to locate him is at times understandable. But if that`s where you are- I`d suggest this passage is there to reassure you. Perhaps this is a time to take to take Jesus at his word. He promises to be present in his Father`s house: the Worship, the people, the Scriptures and the Sacraments.


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