Rev. Dr. Warner Bailey
Nov 30, 2020
Luke 2:22-35 Luke 11:27 Romans 5:3-5
How does grace wound? We typically think of God’s grace as something positive, helpful. “saved by grace.” What does it mean for God’s grace to cause pain? Why should it?
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a central figure in Christian thought. “Hail Mary, full of grace…” She is the exemplar of the trusting, faithful disciple. Annunciation: Behold I am the handmaiden of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your will. We should follow Mary’s example of faith.
Jesus is God’s grace personified. We say, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” Jesus is a force for good; he does gracious acts; he responds to us with unmerited favor. How could Jesus hurt someone, wound someone?
But the Bible surprises us with the fact that Mary is the first one to become wounded by Jesus, and he was just a baby. When she brought Jesus to the temple to be presented as her first-born, the prophet Simeon said to her: “This child is destined…to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner (hostile) thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” In this prophetic warning, Jesus is pictured as wielding a scalpel that cuts through all the pretension and bluster we camouflage ourselves with so that nobody will see what we really are. Jesus calls it out and no one, not even his own mother, escapes the sword of his grace through her soul.
Certainly, Jesus caused many a sword to be pierced through Mary’s heart.
- Her heartfelt the sting and barb as she and Jesus were maligned and slandered when Jesus was called illegitimately born.
- When he went missing on the return trip from a visit to Jerusalem and his parents exploded on him when they found him in the Temple, he floored them by saying, “Didn’t you know that I would be in my father’s house?”
- He left home, never to return, and established his own independent life.
- He was a sign that was spoken against. He was the target of hostile thoughts. No mother likes to see this or hear this about her child.
- Mary watched helpless his being tortured to death through crucifixion, knowing of his innocence.
But there is something more cutting to Mary. Later in the gospel of Luke, Jesus makes a comment about how he feels about his mother that is most revealing. At the conclusion of one of his marvelous teaching episodes, a woman in the crowd shouted out a warm and sincere compliment: “Blessed,” she said,” is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” The words may ring rather odd to us; it’s not something that I would say in public to your mother about you. But it was a sincere compliment spoken in the idiom of Jesus’ world from one mother to another, meaning something like, “How proud you must be of your daughter, or of your son! How lucky you are to have such a child!”
But what Jesus says in reply you must hear as a rebuff, a deflection of this compliment. “Blessed, rather, are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Jesus is pushing back with these words. Jesus does not want his mother to be remembered that way. Jesus does not want his mother to be complimented that way.
Here is the way Jesus wounds his mother. Jesus does not want to be tied to Mary at the fundamental level through her body, through her maternal function, through the natural bonding of mother and child. Jesus will not allow Mary to have access to him through the natural avenues of womb and breasts, of gestation and nurture. Jesus will not allow Mary to be fulfilled through her mothering.
Jesus’ sharp words are a sword that pierces through her heart. Jesus makes the doing of God’s will into a sword which cuts Mary off from the most natural and easily used ways of reaching out to her son. He is more impressed with the doing of God’s will. That is the deciding factor. Jesus will acknowledge his mother as she, along with him, does God’s will. It is the joint doing of God’s will that will bond them together, as mother and child, not their natural ties of womb and breast. She can be blessed directly as a follower of him, not merely as the mother of a great and controversial figure of history.
It is not that Jesus is ashamed that Mary is his mother. It is rather a question of getting our priorities straight. Jesus will be Mary’s teacher, Mary’s Lord, before he is Mary’s son. Mary will be Jesus’ disciple, Jesus’ servant, before regard can be paid to her as his mother. To her must go the very same question that Jesus puts to every woman, to every man, to every child. “Whom do you say that I am?” And she had better not start off by saying, “You are my son.”
Maybe you could say that Jesus was trying to protect his mother against the trauma she would suffer by watching her son die on the cross. Remember his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Not my will, but thine be done.” Mary will not understand in her head how this could be the case, but in her heart of pain Jesus asks her to support him in the doing of God’s will, as strange and dark as it seems to be.
Rather than being related by blood, we are related by obedience. Rather than being related by skin color, we are related by doing the will of God. Rather than being related by political party or identity politics or ethnicity, we are related by doing the will of God.
So it is that suffering and the bracing call to discipleship looms over the soft and warm feelings of the Christmas story. But this is precisely where new birth happens. The Apostle Paul grasped this uneasy truth when he wrote: “We boast in our suffering because suffering leads to endurance, endurance leads to character, character leads to hope, and hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us.” When grace wounds, suffering is tied to hope that you can sink your teeth into it because your heart is full to bursting with God’s love.