My pastor asked me and six other parishioners to speak at the Good Friday service. Each of us got to choose a portion of Jesus’ final words on the cross, as described in the gospel of John. Here is the testimony that I gave, to the assembly of about 50.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. John 19:25b-27
“Here is your son.” “Here is your mother.” This is a side of Jesus you don’t hear about very often. Jesus was a great teacher, healer, and miracle-worker. He certainly stuck to God’s plan No Matter What. But do you hear about him taking care of his mother, his family? Not so much.
Remember when he was a kid and disappeared on the trip to Jerusalem, teaching in the temple? His mother was worried sick. “Why were you searching for me?”
Or before the first miracle, at the wedding of Cana, when Jesus’ mother tells him that they’re running out of wine: “What concern is that to you and to me? My hour is not yet come.”
Or later in his ministry, when his mother and brothers come by for a visit, and can’t get anywhere close to Jesus, surrounded by his disciples? “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”
No, this isn’t like those other times. The teaching is over. The mortal ministry is done. Those jobs are done, and time’s running out. Jesus sees that his mother will taken care of, by his dearest disciple. This is good. This is responsible. It’s a little late, …but I like it.
Look, I know how this goes. I’ve been there way too often! When you love your work, when all your talents seem purpose-built for your role, when you feel what you do is “Important”, family can get left for last.
I’ve been blessed. I’ve served hundreds and now serve thousands with my talents at work. Through product releases and trade shows, monthly reports and budget cycles, hiring and layoffs, reorgs and acquisitions, partner agreements and lawsuits – I’ve been there for my managers and colleagues. I’ve worked long hours, even all-nighters, decades longer than I ever thought I would. I’ve been terse with friends and family who wanted to talk. I’ve put meetings and deadlines ahead of lunches and school outings. Yes, I’ve felt guilty for not spending more time with my friends and family, but at the time I feel like I am making the right call, being where I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to do.
When work is that fulfilling, and that compelling, everything else, even really important things like family and close friends, can get neglected. And that is not a good thing.
But did Jesus really neglect his mother and family? I wonder. We know a lot about his ministry, but that’s what was important for the early Church to write down, to remember and pass on. Family time, or family business, wasn’t as important. What he did might not translate well, either, between cultures, or through time.
Last year I searched the internet for alternatives to the palate expander prescribed for my daughter’s cross-bite, and ended up driving her to Los Gatos for a year of regular appointments so she could have that alternative. Would people a thousand years from now, or even people around the globe from here, understand what that meant? There’s so much context of time and place and technology.
What about the time I’ve spent choosing schools for my daughter? Reading school websites, test scores and parent reviews, countless conversations with my husband and friends and family, campus visits and e-mail with administrators, considering the best choice for her and our budgets of time and money, and yes, praying for guidance to make the best decision. It’s so different for us and our daughter now, and here, than it was for my parents and me back then, in rural South Carolina.
And what about all the ordinary things we do for our families? We listen to the music and watch Youtube clips and go to movies that they like. We have dinner together. We go to church, we go to the library, we go to the mall, we go grocery shopping – together. And what about all those appointments with the hairdresser, the doctor, the dentist? And the soccer games and piano lessons and ….And taking care of all those bills? … It’s all taking care of family, showing them we care.
But these are mundane things. When writing about celebrities, like Steve Jobs or Adrienne Rich, or really Great Ones, like Jesus or Buddha, how many paragraphs is the biographer going to spend on things other than their Life’s Work? Maybe a few little scenes, when family and their Life’s Work intersect, but the rest of the time they spent taking care of family, spending time with them – those moments aren’t recorded.
In fact, if you look at the other gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, or even Thomas, you won’t find this moment with Jesus and his mother and his dearest disciple. You won’t find the miracle at the wedding either. Only the writer of John gives us these glimpses of Jesus and his mother.
When you think about your life, what would John mention that the other gospel writers wouldn’t? Which family moments would show up in your biography?
Was there a time when family helped you to make the next move God had in mind for your Life Work, when you didn’t think you were ready yet? Or did God put the right person there at the right time, to take care of your family at a time when you couldn’t do it yourself? Do you remember one of those times? Maybe you’re lucky and one happened recently, so you haven’t forgotten it yet.
But even if you have forgotten, you remember that those times happened. The goosebumps. The skyward glance and “thank you.” God isn’t just there for all the important things we do in our Life Work. And God isn’t just there for the big moments in family life either – finding a new school or a new home or any of the other times when you’re talking to God all the time about what’s going on. “What do you think about this, God? Am I doing the right thing, God? Oh God, help!”
No, God is there in the little moments, too. The other day, a school administrator sent out a cryptic message to all the parents of potential students. What did the message mean? Why was she sending it? I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. But there at the bottom under her signature was a quotation from Galations:
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9”
Now it had been a staggeringly busy time in the office, with so many Important and Urgent things from so many of the different groups that I serve – I was exhausted. And here were just the encouraging words that I needed to read. She’d sent out an apology later, further down in my inbox, but that first message had meant a lot to me, so I took a few seconds, and sent back a quick thank you to the administrator. Funny enough, that same night she wrote back to me!
Thanks for the message – sometimes God-things (a Word and the perfect moment) are AMAZING! In fact, your uplifting comments are pretty much what I needed, too. THANKS!
This was a special moment for the two of us. But would a biographer write about it? And what if all these special moments were written down? (Wasn’t there a movie where every minute of your life was recorded? I forget…) Still, that biography is going to have to end. Even Jesus’ biography had an end. He had to leave his Life Work to his disciples. Like all of us will do eventually, he had to pass caring for his family on to someone else. So what’s the point? Jesus’ life and death became the center of a world religion, but that’s nothing like us. Or is it?
For me, life is about the thread that I weave into the fabric of the people around me. Am I serving my family, my friends, and my colleagues? Am I doing “all such good works as God has prepared for me to walk in”? Am I finding joy in doing good, and staying positive even when I am exhausted? Am I manifesting that force for good, bringing God into the lives of those around me, just by being someone who cares?
We don’t know when our time will be up. Death or disability or disease … at some point our Life Work is over, and we’ll have to entrust our family to someone else. But in the time that we have, we can do our Life Work with every talent God has provided us, and we can take care of our family with all the help that God provides. We can pass that God thread along, running it through the fabric of our lives, and on to those around us and to those who will come after us.
What made Jesus’ life and death mean so much, was that he brought God into so many lives. And with God’s help, in our own ways, each of us will do the same.