His Mother’s Son

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Listen to “His Mother’s Son” by Fred Smith


Over the holidays I had time to think again about images of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Traditionally, what is our picture of Mary? An innocent virgin, humble servant, frightened by losing the young Jesus who has stayed behind in Jerusalem. She is the patient mother at the wedding at Cana wisely telling the stewards to do whatever Jesus tells them and ask no questions. She is the mourning figure standing beneath the cross while Jesus is crucified and, finally, a widow adopted by John at the end.

How is she presented to us in art and music? Always young, beautiful and ever in the shadow of Jesus. As a quiet new mother in the manger scenes, she has inspired adoration. As Michelangelo’s sculpted figure of the famous Pieta holding the dead body of her son draped across her lap she has been the defining image of grief and loss.

While there are legends and stories about her and tales of where she finally lived and died, we know little about her. Her life, for the most part, has been defined as the passive and quiet mother of Jesus. Only at Christmas and Easter do we remember her. It is as if God was looking for a surrogate mother for His son and in Mary, He found one. She gave the child life and then bowed out.

I don’t think that is the whole picture. In fact, I believe she not only was far stronger than portrayed but her lifelong influence on Jesus helped shape his life and teachings.

Several years ago, I re-read her song, The Magnificat, and realized after consistently passing over it to get to the most important story, the birth of Jesus, that Mary is not at all the person I had assumed. Yes, she glorifies the Lord and the sense of being overwhelmed by her being chosen is obvious. But then, she shifts to what I did not expect from such a compliant figure.

”He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.”

“He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.”

“He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”

Those are not the words and thoughts of a woman standing on the sidelines of the story in which she simply accepts her momentary role. Instead, they are the words of a woman who has thought long and deeply about the nature of the world and God’s judgment. She has considered those who are proud in their hearts, arrogant rulers, and the empty future of the rich. She is not simply a poor and innocent maiden. She has a seam of iron in her character that I had completely overlooked. She has a view of the world and her place in it. She has a prophet’s perspective on justice. To my surprise, she is a central character. Others have come to a similar conclusion.

As I have read the stories of strong mothers in the lives of famous men, it is a constant pattern that they attribute much of their success to them. It is not sentimentality but recognition of indomitable strength.

“My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.” – Thomas Alva Edison

In fact, if we look closely we can see the refrains of the young Mary’s song recurring time and again in the teaching, parables, and stories of Jesus. His indictments of those who were proud in their inmost thoughts. His praise for the humble and warnings for the arrogant. His mercy toward those who have fallen. His filling the hungry and blessings for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. His stern cautions for the rich and powerful.

I now believe many of the themes of his life can be traced to the strength and discernment in his mother’s song long before his birth. It is difficult to believe she sang it only once. It must have been part of his life growing up. Mary was chosen not merely for being a humble virgin, but for having a core of character and conviction God desired Jesus to absorb.

He could trust her to raise Jesus and prepare him for his mission. He was, in so many ways, his mother’s son.


*The photo is a painting of Dorothy Day by Ruben Ferreira

*Click here to download “The Long Loneliness” by Dorothy Day, courtesy of The Trinity Forum

Fred Smith
Fred Smith is a graduate of Denver University and Harvard Divinity School. He spent several years as teacher and administrator at Charlotte Christian School and The Stony Brook School before co-founding Leadership Network with Bob Buford and serving as President for 12 years. Fred is the Founder of The Gathering, an international association of individuals, families and private foundations giving to Christian ministries. Fred will tell you his true vocation is that of a Sunday School teacher and it is this role for which he would most like to be remembered. Fred and his wife, Carol, have two grown daughters and a son-in-law. They also have three well-loved grandchildren.
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Showing 8 comments
  • John Stanley

    Fred, I love your “used to think but know I believe moments”. As a Roman Catholic knowing Jesus AND his mother has been a life long privilege for me. You might enjoy this film, https://odbfilms.com/feature-films.

    It was produced by a friend of mine, Eric Growth, to help us imagine the story of Mary’s importance to the apostles after the resurrection.


    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith

      Thank you, John. I told a Catholic friend that writing about Mary is so easy as a Protestant because I am totally unencumbered with any theological knowledge or perspective! I’ll check out the film.

  • Michele Dillon

    Fred, thank you for sharing your reflections on Mary – whose character, as you say, most certainly imprinted the character of Jesus. It humbles me as a mother and also highlights the high calling of it. Happy New Year to you and yours and hope to see you at the Gathering this coming year!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith

      We hope to see you all as well! Thank you for writing a comment.

  • Ann


  • Linda Lesniewski

    Truly blessed by your reflective thoughts on Mary. I rethought her during the writing of Women at the Cross, marveling that such a young women had such rich depth of spirit and character at such a young age–merely a teenager when she bared her soul to God so beautifully. Thank you for capturing it!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith

      Thank you, Linda. I’m not surprised that it has taken me this long to catch up with you on this one. As I said, I’ve always skipped over her song without even thinking about what it says about her. She was prophetic…and we need more of that now.

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