His Mother’s Son
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.