Human relationships

Short sermon for Mothering Sunday 2015 at St James, Colwall

2 Cor 1.3-7; John 19.25b-27

There are many subjects about which Jesus is not reported as saying much – or indeed anything at all. However, for today’s celebration of Mothering Sunday, there are probably two key texts. One is the touching account in St John’s rendering of the crucifixion story which is our gospel reading for today. The other key text does not occur in St John’s gospel, but it does appear in all three synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke. It’s the incident where Jesus was talking to his disciples and was told that his mother and brothers had shown up and were asking to see him. His reply to this news is a withering riposte for anyone who fondly imagines that Jesus was a great upholder of what we call “family values.” He responded to the news by indicating his disciples, the people who had left behind their jobs and families and had decided to follow him on his itinerant preaching mission. He pointed to that motley group and said “these people are my mother and my brothers: whoever hears my word and follows me is my mother and my brothers.”

I think that we Christians need to hold on to both these texts and not let one be the enemy of the other. St John bears witness that Jesus recognised and loved the woman who had followed in the scary footsteps of her astonishing son – she was there for him from cradle to grave – and beyond. Small wonder that Jesus, facing his painful death, wanted his most intimate friend to become her son in his place.

But Jesus was also clear that our human relationships exist in a context, and that context puts our family relationships into perspective and gives them their true meaning. We often speak – as Jesus did – of God as Father (even Jesus had to use ordinary human language to talk to us). However, it is evident (as some Old Testament prophets assert) that God is also Mother – in short, our Parent. It is God’s love for all God’s creation that puts our procreation into perspective. Because if God is our Parent, then everyone else is our brother or sister. And God, like a loving mother, pays close attention to all her children. Mothers have an eye to all their children, including, of course, sorting out their conflicts. A mother is not so much concerned to judge and punish naughty – even wicked – children, as she is to find ways of creating a restorative justice between them, so that love can be remade.

If you have had the great good fortune to have a loving mother, then you know what I am talking about. You know where you learned the first and most fundamental lessons: about what makes human life work; about what experiencing love feels like; and being taught how to love. That is why Jesus could look at the rag, tag and bobtail of his followers on that day in that house and say, in all seriousness, “these are my mother and my brothers.” He learned it from his mother – and she was right.