Kay and I have a dear old friend whose name is Homer Jones. He and his good wife Jo live in Lubbock, TX. Homer is an retired agriculture teacher, businessman, and gospel preacher. But he is also a man who escaped from a German prisoner of war camp and survived.
The story of how it happened is remarkable. He was a crew member in a B-24 bomber. His plane had half of the left wing shot off in the sky over Salonika, Greece, the city which is New Testament Thessalonica. The plane went into a whirling downfall, and the pilot gave the order for everyone to bail out. One man had to be physically thrown out, but all of the crew members, including the pilot, survived. On the ground, Homer and his fellow crew members were immediately taken prisoner by the German troops, and after a few days were put on a train and taken to Austria where they were put in a prison camp. Homer's mother and dad only got the word that the plane had gone down and that no crew members had been recovered.
Homer and one of his fellow crew members had heard that there were underground resistence people who would help men who got away . They decided to pay careful attention to the habits of the prison guards and to escape if they could. They made friends with the guard dogs who were kept along the outside of the fence. One night, late at night, with a downpour of rain, the guards were staying in one of their little huts up the way. Homer and his friend took one of their old mattresses and threw it over the fence and then climbed over. The German's guard dog went with them. They set out walking by night, being hidden by the underground during the day, and they did so for 49 days. They walked all the way across Yugoslavia until finally they got back to American lines.
This whole process, of course, took some months. The pilot of that plane, the last to bail out, had fallen in the hills instead of in the town, and he was the only one who was not taken prisoner. He came into possession of a paper that had been published there locally, and it had the pictures of these prisoners being walked through the streets of Salonika, barefooted but alright. The first man in that line was Homer. Somehow this pilot had gotten that paper to Homer's mother and dad two weeks before Homer made it home himself. When he got home he discovered that his mother had a package there of her returned letters. Through that whole period of time, he says, she had written him every single day and included the Little Abner comic strip out of the paper. Not even knowing whether he was still alive, with every letter still being returned, she had kept writing. Homer, in telling that story, ended by saying, "Such is the love of a mother."
In the Bible we have a picture of that kind of love in the record of the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The picture that emerges from this helps us to understand what God's idea of a real mother is. This is a way of our reminding ourselves of the importance of family and the importance of character and the importance of godliness in our lives.
I want to point out to you first off that a mother is simply a human being. This may be a point easily forgotten and overlooked. Some mothers may think that the task is beyond them because they are not perfect, but a mother, after all, is first and foremost just a person. Making the rounds on the internet, there has been a little piece about school children who were asked a number of questions about mothers, and then it gave their answers. One little boy was asked what was perfect about his mother. His answer was, "Nothing except her children." Another little boy was asked, "What kind of little girl was your mom?" His answer was, "My mom has always been my mom and none of that other stuff." Well, that is not quite true, is it? And another child was asked, "How did God make mothers?" The answer was, "He used dirt just like for the rest of us." There is some truth to that. A mother is a human being.
In scripture that certainly is how it is with Mary. There is no indication that Mary was anything other than a normal person. She was not a goddess or a deity or the queen of the angels or a mediator between deity and humanity. Mary was a humble village maiden, an illustration of what is great and good about a human being but a human being, nonetheless. When Mary sang about the promise of the son that would be born to her, she praised her God and her Savior (Luke 1:47). She needed a savior like the rest of us. When the wise men came after the birth of Jesus, they fell down and worshiped, not her - the mother, but the child (Matt. 2:11). And when we meet Mary after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, Mary is with the disciples praying (Acts 1:14). They are not praying to her or through her or in her name. She is just an ordinary person with the quality of godliness attached to her life.
Now as a human being, a mother may well have weaknesses like any other person. She will still need to be forgiven and loved and respected. A mother will have the same needs as any other person. She will need affection and appreciation, and a little bit of honor will mean the world to her. And, like any other human being, she can only become the mother she ought to be by being the kind of person that she should be. The only school for motherhood there is is the school of personhood, of character and faith and honorable conduct.
A second point that stands out from this story is that a real mother is a servant of God. Mary's entire outlook on life may well be summed up by her statement in Luke 1:38. Faced with hardship and with puzzlement, perhaps even with embarrassment and opposition, Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word." The word for servant here is the feminine form of the word "bond servant." She was regarding herself as at the Lord's service. Her life reflects a very simple but sincere faith and a devotion to the Lord which is admirable. Her personal purity in her life was such that Joseph could be told "fear not to take Mary to be your wife" (Matt. 1:20). Her acquaintance or familiarity with scripture is such that when she sings the great song in Luke 1:46 and following, almost every phrase is a phrase that would have been heard from reading the Old Testament. And her worship and service to God are such that she had a custom of acting according to God's will, whether it was in presenting her son at the temple or going up to Jerusalem for the Passover once every year and making that long, hard trip, as we are told in Luke 2:41.
She was a mother with a thoughtful concern about spiritual things. Mama, let me say to you that if you will adopt that same kind of faith, you will bless your children whether they are 2 or 20 or 40. A mama ought first of all to recognize her responsibility to God, and she should be the example of faith and trust in a God who always cares.
Third, a mother is a giver of care and training. That little article I mentioned earlier with the questions and answers - another of those questions said, "What ingredients are mothers made of?" The answer was, "God makes mothers out of clouds and angel hair and everything nice in the world, and one dab of mean." There is a lot of truth to that. For a mama to be successful she needs to have the clouds and the angel hair, but she had better have one dab of mean, too. And I don't mean by that abuse or mistreatment. I simply mean that when she speaks, she expects to be listened to. She has that tone in her voice and that look in her eye and that demeanor which says to the child, "I am responsible here and I expect and demand to be respected."
We don't have any indication of any harshness in any way on the part of Mary, but she does demonstrate the kind of concern and attention that it takes to train a child. In Luke 2:7 when the baby is born, she wraps it in swaddling cloths and lays him in the manger. Notice the practical care and the sacrifice that is involved in her attention to the little one. In Luke 2:48 when Jesus at age 12 has stayed back at the temple asking questions and discussing scripture. They finally found him and Mary said to him, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold your father and I have been searching for you in great distress." Notice the gentle discipline in that statement, the urgent concern which is there. And then in Luke 2:51 the Bible says that "Jesus went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them." He subjected himself to his mother's care. He was obedient to her, in other words. And that tells us that she was faithful to her responsibility as a parent. A mama is like that. She is a giver of care and of training.
To go along with that, there is this next thought that comes from the New Testament story of Mary. A mother is a keeper of thoughts and of wonders. She treasures hopes and dreams. She ponders the future and wonders at the possibilities in her child's life. The wise man in Prov. 4:23 said, "When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother." That could be said by any boy or girl, young man or young woman, whether there are brothers or sisters or not. It says that my mammy regarded me as special.
In Luke 2:19 as the story is told of the infancy of Jesus, it says that Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. That is the way of a mother. Then in Luke 2:33, along with Joseph, she marveled at what was said about him. And then at Luke 2:51 it said that Mary his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. There is the explanation for what gets stuck on the refrigerator with a magnet. There is the explanation for the school papers and the pictures that get kept in a box either in the closet or in the attic just in case he or she might want them some day. That is the reason why there are all those yellow clippings out of newspapers or other activities that would mean nothing to anyone except a mama.
A few weeks ago, as you all know, Dennis' 98-year old mama finished her journey through this world. I asked Dennis if I could share this with you. The day after the memorial service Dennis said that he and all the family were over at his mama's house beginning the process of cleaning up and taking care of everything. He was in one room and one of the other family members working in another room called his name. He got back to the room where they were going through his mother's things, and they had found a sealed plastic bag. Dennis said he recognized immediately the contents of the bag - a folded up flannel shirt - and in that bag with that shirt there was a note. The note said, "This is the shirt my boy wore the day before he left for the service. He was so young." Dennis was drafted and had to serve in the days of the Korean War. That has been a while. What moves a mama to treasure an old flannel shirt and to keep it that long? There is only one thing. It is the kind of love that we have been referring to here that treasures things.
And then fifth, a mother is an enabler of independence and autonomy in a grown-up's life. There is a little piece that says, "Children are like kites. You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground. You run with them until you are breathless. They crash. You add a longer tail. You patch and comfort, adjust and teach. You watch them lifted by the wind and assure them that someday they will fly. And finally they are airborne, but they need more string and you keep letting it out. With each twist of the ball of twine, there is a sadness that goes with the joy because the kite becomes more distant. Somehow you know that beautiful creature will snap the line that binds you together and soar as it was meant to soar, free and alone." That is the process a mom goes through.
Do you realize that the first mention of the word "mother" in the Bible is in Genesis 2:24? It said, "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and they shall be one flesh." Mother is mentioned in the first case as letting go so that life can be lived. You can see it in Mary. In Luke 2:49 Jesus said, "Didn't you know that I had to be about my father's business?" There is a separation that begins and it grows until finally Jesus is offered on the cross. In John 2:4 at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, she came to Jesus and told him, "They are running out of wine." And Jesus said,"Woman, what have I to do with you?" It wasn't a mean response. It was a response with respect and dignity. But it was a way of saying to Mary that he had to have his independence in order to accomplish his father's will. And she allows that. There is no control over him. There is no interference. It is interesting to me that as outstanding a woman as this is, there is no record in the New Testament of Jesus ever addressing her as "Mother." I know that he must have, but there is no record. And I wonder if it is not a way of saying that Jesus came in order to give himself, and that his ministry, his sacrifice is what was crucial. It is not that his mother is to be worshiped in any way.
In Mark 3 there is a time that must have been an especially difficult part of this adjustment. Jesus had been so busy and people were crowding around him so much that he did not have time even to eat, Mark 3:20 says, and when his family heard it they went out to seize him, for they were saying he is beside himself. And then in verse 31 says, "And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, 'Your mother and your brothers are outside seeking you'. And he answered them, 'Who are my mother and my brothers?' And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.'" A mama tries to raise that little one so that a relationship which is more important can take place, family and God-wise!
And then a mother is loyal all the way to the end. Because she cares, because she treasures up, because she lets go, she experiences many heartaches. Simeon said to Mary in Luke 2:35 that a sword would pierce her soul some day. And when we get to John 19, John tells the story "that standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene." John is also there, as the next verse shows.
Notice very carefully that she was there. Many of the disciples had already been scattered in confusion, but his mother was there. Notice that she suffered that day, too. If it had not been true that Jesus was the Son of God, she could have said something and prevented perhaps everything that happened. But she stood there facing reality and suffering because of what he was going through. And then notice the remarkable thing - she stood. We might have expected her to collapse in grief, to faint from the weight of it all, but she stood. What courage! It takes courage to be a mom like that.
And then seventh, a mother is to be respected and honored. The last thing Jesus says on the cross - nearly the last work that he does besides "I thirst" and "It is finished" - is to say to that disciple who was standing by, "Woman, behold your son." And then to the disciple he said, "Behold your mother." The Bible says from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. Jesus was seeing to it that his mother was cared for.
Responding to a mother's love and honoring and respecting that love is not merely sending a card, though it may involve that. Someone said that this episode is the best commentary on the fifth commandment - Honor your father and your mother. It means to try to see to it that there is the respect and the affection and the practical care that goes along with that. To you who are involved in that kind of task, we honor you for doing what Jesus did. And to all of us, may we imitate Jesus' concern for mother.
In Luke 11:27-28, there is an episode where at the height of Jesus' popularity, as he was teaching, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breast at which you nursed." But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it." Mother is to be honored, but the richest blessing of all is to hear the word of God and keep it. That is the crowning achievement in life. That is why Mary is found - the last time we see her in the New Testament - Acts 1:14 - with the disciples praying. She is one of them herself by that point. Are you his disciple today, too?