Today, we take a break from following the assigned lectionary readings for the day and begin a three week sermon series focused on Mary, the mother of Jesus. We’ve most recently seen Mary in Advent and it has now been months since we packed her serene-faced image back into a box, alongside the other cast of characters found “away in a manger.” Not unlike the forgotten recesses of our attic space, other than at Christmas, Mary is often forgotten in the recesses of our minds. In a patterned fashion, once a year we bring her out of her box, put her on display, and then we pack her away again. And, the way that she is displayed is thoroughly predictable. Young and fresh-faced in long flowing clothes. She is soft looking even when shaped in porcelain or wood. Her expression is sweetly serene and her posture is one of meek submission as she “ponders all things in her heart.” But, isn’t she more than that?
We think we know her but like all people that we narrowly define by one event, one action, one time in their life time, we have imprisoned her in the form of a caricature.
What about you? Have you been boxed in and imprisoned by one moment in your life? A time where people judge your character by one mistake you made, or a time of great success that you can never live up to again? Or maybe you feel that your best years are behind you, and like Mary after Jesus’ birth, you still have a life to live.
Mary has more to teach us than the Christmas story presents.
The glimpses of Mary in the gospels show us that she is a disciple of Jesus. She was with him and the disciples at the beginning, at this wedding in Cana and at the end, at the cross. Other than Peter and John, we know more about her than we do about the rest of the disciples. Her other son, James, became the leaders of the Jerusalem Church. She was faithfully praying with the disciples and awaiting the Holy Spirit after Jesus ascended into heaven. But all those facts are essentially ignored by most Christians. Or maybe they are simply overshadowed by the Christmas Mary.
I wonder, what gets overshadowed in your life?
What do others not see in you because they see you primarily in one role, or phase in your life – mother, son, senior citizen, toddler, teenager? Or maybe something in your past continues to define you? A mistake, an affair, an addiction, a divorce? Or maybe a moment of great success even, or a career that is now past?
I wonder, what do you overshadow in your own life? What do you not see in yourself because you only see your life through the lens of one role, one moment, one career…one something? Are you a Mary stuck in the manger scene? It can be tempting to think so and it can be so easy to let ourselves get stuck. But, no, you are more than that, as Mary was more than just a vessel of Christ’s birth.
In this scene set at the wedding at Cana, we see a week-long celebration attended by Jesus, his friends, and his mother. Weddings rarely go off without a hitch, or at least a glitch, and this one was in trouble because the party was still going strong but there was no more wine left. “They have no wine, Mary tells Jesus. He responds, “Mom, that isn’t our problem. And anyways, it isn’t my time yet.” She doesn’t respond to him but turns to the servants telling them to obey whatever he tells them. She assumes he’s going to do something about the situation even though he objects. And even though he says it isn’t his time to intervene, he does.
There is something about this that seems like a familiar conversation. It makes me curious whether this is a pattern of how they related to one another. Had there been other times when Jesus, as the oldest son, had dutifully helped his mother out? When the dishes had piled up in the sink and time had run out to clean up before the company arrived, when arguments between his brothers erupted at the dinner table over who’d get the last crescent roll, and that time when his little brother James had split his chin open on the backyard swing set…had Mary given Jesus that pleading and knowing look as she mentioned how wonderful it would be if someone had the power to help?
When she points out that there is no wine, she asks nothing of him outright. But his response makes clear that her words contain an implied request. The implication reveals her expectation that he can and should do something about it. I wonder if, as she was surrounded by the celebration of this wedding, where her 30-something year old single son was hanging out with his friends, if she might have had a smidge of frustration that her son wasn’t getting on with living the life she expected of him. After all, why was she not celebrating his wedding instead of some other mother’s son? But she comes to him for help for the family and what does he say? “Mom, it’s not our business. And besides, it’s not my time yet.”
Not his time yet. Not his time yet! Mary’s probably thinking, “WHEN was it going to be his time?”
Carol Lakey Hess writes that, “Just as the mother of Jesus saw her son as one who could –and should – meet need, so do many followers of Jesus. We see a world in need, and we believe in one who claimed to bring abundant life to those in need. In a world where for so many there is no clean water – let alone fine wine – where is the extravagance of God? In a world where children play in bomb craters the size of 30-gallon wine jugs, why the divine reluctance? In a world where desperate mothers must say to their small children, ‘We have no food,” why has the hour not yet come? No matter how we rationalize divine activity, we still want to tug at Jesus’ sleeve and say: “they have no wine.”
There are so many different boxes we can become stuck in and imprisoned by. For some, we get stuck in some repeating conversations from our childhood. Too often there is fear and shame as our companions in that box. Parental expectations, of which we never fully achieved. Conversations about weight, or school, or comparisons to siblings or peers.
As Jesus said, “no mom, it’s not my time yet”, he was pushing his way out of the box. The old conversation is changing. Jesus declares a new role. This is not our business, he says. This is not my hour, he says. Yet, the story plays out as if it were an old conversation. Mary prods Jesus to take action and he does it.
Mary is not the one trying to get unstuck from her starring role as Madonna and child. Jesus is.
What do you think Mary’s face looked like when she saw that Jesus had turned water into wine? Did she have a soft smile of pride? Was it a slight raised eyebrow of “I told you so?” Or was it the smug face of “Not your time, huh?” Or something else entirely?
In that moment when he didn’t just do what she asked of him, Jesus pushed back against her expectations and the pushed back against the old pattern of conversation. Jesus’ declaration to be un-stuck forces Mary to evaluate her ‘stuckness’. His decision to claim that it was not his time – even thought he went ahead and did it anyway – defines a new moment in their relationship as mother and son. Though the old conversation played out, a new conversation had begun. Sometimes when we are trying to get unstuck from old rules or moments or the past, we are not always successful. But even attempts to evolve, develop, and grow – when they fail – change us for the future.
Or sometimes it takes someone else to get us unstuck from old roles or moments. Sometimes we are the ones holding onto a past that is no longer.
If Jesus could call Mary our of old roles and days past, maybe he can do that for us as well. God has something for you in every phase, role, career, period, and moment of your life.
Listen, beloved ones, for the voices of those trying to get you to fully embrace the present by getting unstuck from the past. For none of us can be defined by one moment, one mistake, one success, or one anything. The life of a disciple is one of transformational journey. Thanks be to God who calls us out of our stuck places, our overshadowed places, our boxes. Thanks be to God who has something for us in every phrase, role, career, period, and moment of our life. Amen.