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Mother’s Day

May 11, 2003

Luke 2:41-52

by Tony Grant



I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the gospel of Luke, chapter 2 and follow along as I read verses 41-52.  Hear what the Spirit says to us.


41  Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.

42  And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.

43  When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.

44  Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.

45  When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.

46  After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

47  And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

48  When his parents saw him they were astonished; and 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."

49  He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"

50  But they did not understand what he said to them.

51  Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

52  And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

Amen.  The word of God.  Thanks be to God.





Mother Lists

The list is long, and always growing. At the top, in capital letters, are two words: MUST REMEMBER.  It’s a deluge of self-imposed demands: Write thank-you letters ... Buy new ballet leotard for daughter Emily (blue, not pink) ... Return call from sister ... Ask cool friend what is gansta rap. No cool friends. Make cool friend .... Baby sitter Saturday/Wednesday, pay newspaper bill/read back issues of newspapers, call nanny temp agency ... Trim son’s nails ... Dentist appointment ... Return Snow White video to library ... Be nicer, more patient person with daughter, so she doesn’t grow up to be a psychopath.

This is just one of the “must remember” lists compiled by Kate Reddy, the working mother who is a character in Allison Pearson’s best-selling novel I Don’t Know How She Does It (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002). Mothers around the world can certainly relate to her endless lists, compiled while walking through life in what she describes as a “lead suit of sleeplessness.”  On this Mother’s Day in particular, we can all be thankful for the many ways that time-and-sleep-starved mothers everywhere keep numerous balls in the air while being pulled in a thousand different directions.

“I have to try to remember,” Kate confesses. “Someone has to.” Her husband isn’t much help, because if she asks him to hold more than three things in his head at once, you can see smoke start to come out of his ears — the circuits all blow. Women are and always have been great at what we call in this age of computers multitasking.  Most men are not.

When a friend named Jill dies of cancer, she leaves her husband a sheaf of paper containing 20 pages of close-typed script. It bears the title Your Family: How It Works!  “Everything’s in there,” Jill’s husband says to Kate, shaking his head in wonder. “She even tells me where to find the Christmas decorations. You’d be amazed how much there is to remember, Kate.”  But Kate is not surprised at all.  What mother would be?

Marjorie Williams appreciates Kate Reddy’s grasp of the mysteries of the two-income marriage. In a review in The Washington Post (October 2, 2002), she notes that it is always the mother who holds in her head the full delicate ecosystem of the family’s life, no matter who brings in what salary. “They could give you good jobs and maternity leave,” observes Reddy, “but until they programmed a man to notice you were out of toilet paper, the project was doomed.”  That is to say, no one is going to replace the mother/wife when it comes to having an actual working home.

Quotes by and about mothers

Today, of course, is Mother’s day.  There are all sorts of quotes about mothers.  A Spanish proverb says, “An ounce of mother is worth a ton of priest.”  Abraham Lincoln said, “No one is poor who has a godly mother.”

On the internet, I found a list of possible quotes by biblical mothers.  Samson’s mother might have said, “Samson! Get your hand out of that lion. You don’t know where it’s been!”  David’s mother might have said, “David! I told you not to play in the house with that sling!”  Abraham’s mother might have said, “Abraham! Stop wandering around the countryside and get home for supper!”   Perhaps the mother of James and john might have said. “James and John! No more burping contests at the dinner table. People are going to call you the sons of thunder!”


The Child Jesus

In our text today from Luke 2, a mom has much in common with Kate Reddy.  Mary also has a long list in her head as she and the family take Highway 101 back to Nazareth from Jerusalem.  With the festival of the Passover now over, her mind races ahead to washing ... cleaning ... trash disposal ... gifts ... decorating ... sewing ... mending ... cooking... caring for children ...

Wait a minute: caring for children?  Where is Jesus?

Luke, we should note, is the only gospel to include a story about Jesus childhood.  There are other stories about the child Jesus that did not make it into the Bible.  For example, in chapter 10 of the apocryphal gospel of Thomas we find the following: “Now when he was six years old, Mary his mother sent him to fetch water from the spring: And as he went his pitcher was broken. And he went to the spring and spread out his upper garment and drew water out of the spring and filled it and took it and brought back the water to his mother. And when she saw it, was amazed and embraced him and kissed him.” [Gospel of Thomas: Greek Text B, The Apocryphal New Testament, M.R. James Translation and Notes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924)].  That is an interesting story that shows the intelligence and initiative of the child Jesus, and also his relationship with his mother.


“In My Father’s House”

But back to our lesson from Luke 2.  After days of frantic searching, Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the temple.  Mary asks bitterly, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety” (v. 48).   Mary’s question to Jesus emphasizes motive: Why have you done this?  What seems to be on her mind is not only where the lost Jesus is, but what could have led him to wander away from his parents.

Jesus’ response is: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be en tois tou patros mou?” (v. 49). The NRSV translates this phrase “in my Father’s house.”  However, because the Greek expression is vague, it can also be translated “involved in my Father’s affairs,” or even “among those people belonging to my Father.”  What is important to note about the words of Jesus is he is speaking of his relationship with his heavenly Father. The sense and importance of that relationship come through, no matter which translation is used.

Mary and Joseph do not understand what Jesus is saying to them (v. 50).  They have wondered before about this child:  Mary pondered in her heart the shepherds’ message (2:19).  Mary and Joseph were amazed at what Simeon said about Jesus (2:33).  That they do not understand here shows that Gabriel’s announcement to Mary did not explain everything about this child of hers.  It is possible that Mary and Joseph are just overwhelmed by all that was happening to their family.

This incident from Luke 2 calls to mind an earlier story about a young boy in the temple.  In 1 Samuel 2, the boy Samuel is given to God by his mother Hannah, and in time he was taken to live in the temple. It was in the temple that Samuel became aware of God’s call on his life.  And of the boy Samuel it was said he “continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the LORD and with the people” (1 Samuel 2:26).

So did Jesus.  This story of Jesus in the temple shows that even as a child, he claims his relationship to God, and thus he prepares to establish our relationship to God.

But what about Mary in all of this?  When she realizes that Jesus is lost, she panics.  She and Joseph run from person to person, but he is not there.  They race back to the city, their hearts pounding like jackhammers.

Mary imagines herself being hauled before “The Court of Motherhood.” That’s a court that Kate Reddy dreams she must face when she is feeling particularly guilty about her multitasking life. In one scene, the judge asks Kate about broccoli. Specifically, he grills Kate on whether she told her mother-in-law that her daughter Emily loved broccoli — even though she was, at that time, unsure of whether Emily liked it or not.

“Yes,” admits Kate, “but I couldn’t possibly tell my husband’s mother that I didn’t know whether my child liked broccoli.”

“Why not?” asks the judge.

“It’s the kind of thing mothers know.”

“Speak up!” demands the judge.

“I said mothers know that kind of thing.”

“And you don’t?” asserts the judge.  Case closed.  The Court of Motherhood has reached a verdict--guilty.

In Luke chapter 2, for Mary, feelings of shame and guilt sweep over her as she thinks about forgetting Jesus.  How could she have failed to check on him before leaving the city?  How could she not know where her twelve-year-old son is?  As Kate Reddy admits, mothers are supposed to know that kind of thing.

When they find Jesus in the temple, Mary is overwhelmed by a mixture of astonishment, relief and anger, and she says to him, “Why did you do this to us?”  We can understand why she snaps at a boy who wanders off from the family, causing them intense anguish.  We can relate to her frustration with this wayward child.  We do not blame her at all if she says to Jesus, “Why can’t you be more like your younger brother James, and stay close beside us?”

You can identify with James, the kid brother who lives with Jesus. Everybody loves Jesus. This is the James whose ossuary — burial box — made the national news last year. At the time, Jay Leno joked about Mary making a typical introduction of Jesus, “This is our oldest child who is, as you know, our Lord and Savior.” Then, turning to her younger son, she says, “And this is James, who’s still in carpentry school.”

Well, Mary isn’t thinking “Lord and Savior” at this particular point.  In today’s passage, Jesus is not in the temple — he’s in the doghouse and she’s got him by the ear, herding him back to the minivan—while James makes faces at Jesus behind her back. 

But that’s not the end of the story. The real value of today’s passage is found in the words of Jesus, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” This is a reminder that the true family of Jesus is bigger than the nuclear grouping made up of Mary, Joseph, Jesus, James and the other siblings. The most important family for all of us is the far-reaching family of God.  This is our one true home.  In this home we learn and grow and develop and deepen our relationship with God and with one another.  Our Father’s house is more than a temple, more than a congregation, more than a denomination.  It is not a place at all.  It is a relationship.  It is a profound and personal connection with our Creator that is based on faith and love.

This is not to say that a mother’s house is unimportant.  Some lessons in goodness and mercy and faithfulness are best learned in close-knit families, but these learnings should not be trapped forever within the home.  Everything Mary did for her child Jesus helped to prepare him for his work in the world, and it would not have been right for her to prevent him from going out to serve his heavenly Father.

True, she was not ready for him to leave the family quite so early. Age 12 is rather young. But she had to let him go.

A mother’s house can be solid preparation for life in the Father’s house. Jesus knew this, which is why he felt so comfortable among the teachers of the temple, and why he appeared to be so surprised when his parents came looking for him. “Why were you searching for me?” he asked them. Didn’t you know that this is what you have been preparing me to do?

Mothers and fathers today should keep this in mind as they raise their children to adulthood. The lessons they teach should not be designed to insulate their children from the world, or to keep them intensely focused on the affairs of the family, or to make it hard for them to break away from mom and dad.  Instead, the work of the nuclear family should prepare children for service to the worldwide family of God.

But there’s another lesson here.  Jesus says to his parents, “I must be in my Father’s house,” and then his mother treasures all these things in her heart (v. 51).  Mary begins to see the plan that God has for Jesus, and her openness to this plan enables Jesus to increase in wisdom, and to become the savior God wants him to be.

We parents cannot figure out the meaning of daily life on our own. It is important to resist the temptation to try to gain control over every moment of every day. If we become too obsessed with managing ourselves and our children, we will squeeze the vitality out of this wondrous life we have been given. So let go. Have faith. Loosen up. Trust God. And listen to the children.

“It goes so quickly, doesn’t it?” reflects Kate Reddy. “One day they’re saying all those funny little things you promise yourself you’ll write down and never do, and then they’re talking like some streetwise kid or, even worse, they’re talking just like you.” In an e-mail to a friend, she adds, “I have forgotten how to waste time, and I need the kids to remind me how to do it.”

Above all remember to focus on God’s family, not just your own.  Remember that God has received us into his family not as servants or employees but as sons and daughters, and God will fulfill his duty toward us as a loving parent.

I could pick up here where I left off last Sabbath when I was talking about chapter 14 of the Westminster Confession of Faith which is on our adoption into the family of God.  This adoption, the Confession notes, is “in and for his only Son Jesus Christ.”  It is only through Christ that we become adopted of God, and have “the liberties and privileges of the children of God.”.  The Confession further states that God has put his name upon us.  In an ordinary human adoption, the parents give the adopted child their name.  God does the same thing.  God puts his name on us so that we are literally God children, and God protects us, provides for us, and loves us.

He loves us so much the confession says, we are “never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation.”  In human adoption, when you adopt a child, that is your child forever.  Same with God.  Adoption is forever.  When you are part of God’s family, you are always part of God’s family.

Here on this earth, we are always part of a human family, and that can be a difficult thing.  It requires a lot of time and effort to make human families work.  But it is our nature to live in family.  As Christians, we are also part of God’s family.  Sometimes that can also be difficult.  We may have doubts.  Or God may call and lead us to do things that we are not sure that we want to do.  But it is our spiritual nature to live in God’s family, and without that family we live a kind of half life without God and without hope.  So celebrate family.  Celebrate you physical family.  Celebrate your spiritual family.  Amen.



Pearson, Allison. I Don’t Know How She Does It. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.




If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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