Matthew 11:28-30, Thursday of Week 15 in Ordinary Time or Our Lady of Mount Carmel
While Jesus was speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with him. Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you.” But he said in reply to the one who told him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mt 12:46-50)
First echo inside the Jewish Temple: Mary and Joseph lose their twelve-year-old Jesus in Jerusalem. For three days, they search for him and they find him in the temple. Mary says, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety” (Lk 2:48). Jesus responds with a statement that some believe is one of rebuke when he says, “Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?” (Lk 2:49). According to Sally Cunneen in her book entitled In Search Of Mary, the motherly response Mary gives to Jesus is astonishing, because Mary does not scold Jesus for a remark that might have sounded arrogant coming from the lips of a twelve-year-old.
One might ask, “What is the defining character of Mary?” I would say her “reverent silence” which is one of active pondering rather than passive. In the Gospel stories, Mary adjusts with flexibility to her son’s evolving identity even when at times Jesus might have appeared rude or arrogant to some. Was Jesus like that to Mary? Probably not. Let us not discount the fact that for any mother and child who are that lovingly close, there is no room in their relationship when one gets on the other’s nerves.
Reality check, there is a temptation to think of Mary’s reactions as predetermined or automatic as if her will was overridden entirely. To avoid that, let us go to a more down-to-earth way of looking at Mary—the ‘here-and-now’. Mary, like any loving mother who is faithful to her vocation, trusts that there is always something beyond the jumble of textures and colors hidden underneath the tapestry, so to speak. If a mother does not have that perspective then there is no way she will be able to raise anybody. What we often perceive as Mary’s silence in the Gospel stories might, as well, have been freakingly loud. No wonder she often ponders them deep in her heart. Mary’s astonishing virtue is her humble obedience to be led by God’s grace in doing her mission as mother to our Lord. The old proverb ’empty vessels make the most sound’ or the deepest echo fittingly depicts who Mary is. Mary produced the echoes that accompanied God’s music. Any musician would know the crucial effect of echo that must blend with the music beautifully. But echoes can only be produced by emptiness.
Second echo at a wedding party: Jesus and Mary are at a wedding. It seems that Mary is one of the wedding planners, and when the wine begins to run out, she becomes alarmed. She tells Jesus that they are out of wine. Jesus responds to his mother’s prompting with some very blunt words. He says, “Woman, what have I to do with you? My hour has not yet come” (Jn 2:4).
Mary, however, does not seem to be offended. Her son eventually responds to her concern, though. The wine that he creates from the water is so good which shows that Jesus was in a very willing mood. The guests comment that usually one puts out the best wine first, and when it has been consumed puts out the lower-quality wine, but at this wedding, one has been holding the best wine out on the guests. This incident can be considered as the catechetical or teachable moment for Jesus, which marked the start of his mission. Thanks to Mary’s prodding. Mary ignited in Jesus the messiah in him.
When Jesus addressed Mary “woman,” rather than mother, he was addressing her as one of the disciples, and, in fact, the first among the disciples. This is a view shared by some recent scholars which is consistent with Mary’s being honored by her son truly as both family and follower. Jesus says that whoever does the will of the Father is my brother, and sister, and mother (Mt 12:50).
Finally, the here-and-now echo: At the recent visitation to our community by our Provincial Superior, Fr Jun Viray, SJ shared in his Memoriale or Memoirs a quote from Richard Leonard, SJ. It says, “Trust the commonplace, the ordinary, the everyday. Live in the here and now. Sometimes we live in an unhealed past or an unknown future, whereas God may be found right under our nose, here and now. The good spirit draws us to deal with our ordinary life, as it is, not as we may like it to be, and there discern his presence. We often look for God in the spectacular and extraordinary, yet he is to be found in quiet and mundane moments. He comes to us poor, naked, in prison, hungry, and thirsty…”
The picture that came to mind was that of Mary who truly embodied every ‘here-in-now’ of Jesus. In the life of Mary our focus is often just tied to the big events. We miss out on the ordinary moments in her life starting from the Angel Gabriel’s announcement until her last moments on earth. Mary’s fiat or “yes” was an everyday “yes” one moment after another. Mary’s “yes” spanned up to the point of Jesus’ Ascension to heaven. If we contemplate all that, then no matter how many 30-day retreats one does, it would not be enough; if you write those down, all the books in the world combined will not fit. It just shows how privileged Mary is in her relationship with the Lord. To me, that makes her the disciple of disciples, according to Jesus’ own definition of discipleship. Yes, Jesus had Mary in mind when he was asked about his family. Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of the Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
But if we ask Jesus how we should relate with his mother, right away Jesus would say, “relate to her like you would relate to anybody else.” Mary’s life was filled with ordinary life decisions she had to make and which were chosen rightly and consistently on a daily basis. Mary is spectacularly an ordinary person like you and me. She had to deal with doses of normal life struggles and their immediate implications. Jesus would say, “love Mary like that, she is your mother.”