Henry Tanner (1859-1937)
46 While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” 48 But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12: 46-50)
“How dare he!? Does he have any idea of how difficult being his mother has been? Any idea of how many nights I’ve tossed and turned into the wee hours of the morning, pondering the meaning of his life? Trying to balance the wonder of his birth with all the stress of nurturing him to adulthood? How dare he point to his disciples and name them as his mother? A sting I will not soon forget!”
Mary had come to see her son that day because she was concerned about the nasty rumors she had heard. Rumors that suggested Jesus had been casting out demons with the assistance of demonic power. She had come needing to hear him say, “Mother, not to worry. The rumors are not true. I am still going about my Father’s business.”
But instead the words Mary heard through the open door seemed so dismissive of her. Of her, the one whom the angel in her youth had greeted as the “favored one” in God’s eyes! Of her, who had given birth to him under extremely difficult circumstances! Of her, who had lived during his toddler years as an immigrant in a foreign land in order to protect his life! How dare he!?
I suspect that Mary spent many hours brooding over those sharp words. Wondering why she seemed to mean so little to her son. Wondering what her son was really all about. Wondering, for that matter, what God was all about. Difficult hours. Bitter hours.
But somewhere in the quiet of those lonely hours, I like to think that Mary came to hear those painful words as a gift. A gift of discovering more truly who she really was. As a young woman she had been told by the angel that she was highly favored by God. She had been told by the Baptist’s mother that she was blessed among women, and she had watched as shepherds and wise men had knelt to worship her baby born in that manger. And as she had pondered all of this, she had known that she was special, known that she was truly beloved and blessed by God.
But perhaps what she now also learned about herself as she pondered the seemingly harsh words of her son was that, beloved by God as she was, highly favored as she was, at the same time, she was also no more deeply loved by God, no more special to God than the lowliest of the low who followed her son. Hadn’t she once heard her son say something similar to this? About the lowliest member of his movement being greater than that bigger-than-life prophet, John the Baptist? Now his words seemed to be saying the very same thing to her. Teaching her that, even as she relished and rejoiced in the attention God had lavished on her, to be most true as a person, she still needed to understand that she was no more valuable in God’s eyes than the children she often saw Jesus holding in his arms.
Centuries after Mary and Jesus walked this earth, a Jewish rabbi from Poland would teach his people a lesson very similar to the lesson Mary learned as she pondered her life and the words of her son. This rabbi would tell his listeners that they should each carry two stones with them at all times. Frequently, he would say, they should hold each stone, gently rub it, and learn well the words inscribed on it. One stone should carry the words: “for my sake the world was created.” The other, these words—“I am nothing but dust and ashes.”
Two stones. In a sense, with her memory of all that had surrounded the birth of her son, Mary had carried through her life to that point a stone which reminded her of her specialness to God. Now Jesus had given her a second stone to carry—a stone that would call her to live her extraordinarily exalted life in a humble awareness that even the least of Jesus’ followers was as special to God as she was.
Truly a gift. A gift enabling Mary to be all that God intended her to be. Not only an exalted icon for the ages, though she certainly has been that and has been a help to countless numbers of people. But also a humble woman who, as the Book of Acts tells us, placed herself among and not above the other disciples.
Two stones for Mary. Two stones for us. Gifts to help each of us know our deepest identity before God.
“I am immeasurably loved by God, and for my sake the world was created.”
“I am no more important than the least of God’s people, and I am nothing but dust and ashes.”