Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Greatest Compliment Ever Given

Yesterday our Bible study covered the readings for September 23, 2014. The gospel was Luke 8:19-21, a very short but very dense gospel.
The mother of Jesus and his brothers came to him
but were unable to join him because of the crowd.
He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside
and they wish to see you.”
He said to them in reply, “My mother and my brothers
are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

Of course, the first question to address was whether Jesus really meant to dis His mother like that. Leaving aside the question of Jesus' "brothers," which is a predictable and necessary issue to address for Catholics, the statement still seems like a terrible thing to say. After His mother walked who knows how many miles to see her Son, who hadn't been in town for a long time and wasn't going to be around for a long time in all likelihood. After all that trouble, He doesn't even take the time to see her or say anything to her. He just keeps on doing what He is doing. The question in Matthew 12:48 is even harsher: "Who is my mother? And who are my brothers?"

But what if you "invert the question" as my brother would say? (He talks theology like it's a slightly more complicated math problem.) Instead of Jesus saying, "Mom? What Mom?" He is inverting the question. "My mother? Do you want to be like her? Listen to the word of God and do it. You are my mother, my brothers, my sister, my family, if you hear the Word of my Father. I am the Word that was in the beginning. Listen to what I say and do as I do, and you are my own. My family."

He is not bringing His mother down, He is raising us up.

But there is more to it. In a way He is also paying Her the greatest compliment that it is possible for
God to pay a human. Take a look at it from her point of view for a second. After not seeing her son for weeks or months, walking for hours, and likely not to see Him again for months more, she is turned away at the door, so to speak. How did she take it? The same way she responded to every other action of God in her life: "Be it done unto me, according to thy will."

Imagine you have a friend or family member, who is so close with you, loves you so much, that you can go over to his house any time you want, day or night. If he isn't home you can open it up with the spare key under the loose brick, help yourself to his food and drink his beer and read his books. When he gets home he is completely thrilled to see you (unless you drink his last beer, my brother points out.)

Or say that I go running with my brother, who is much faster than I am. He isn't going to leave me behind, but he isn't going to take it easy on me either. He is going to run as fast as I can follow, and he is going to expect me to suck up the pain and suffer through it. He expects suffering, he expects courage, he expects me to push myself. 

Or say I ask my wife to keep me on track regarding a habit of sarcasm. She will take me seriously, and she will expect me to take her reminders humbly and with good grace. She will expect me to grow.

Now go back to Jesus and Mary. She wanted to see her Son. Her desire was denied, because He had a mission. Dozens, or even hundreds of people needed Him at that moment, and He desired to give Himself to them. With all the Love in the Eternity of the Godhead, He desired to share Himself with each one of those people. His mother loved Him, so much that she desired for Him what He most desired for Himself. She loved all of those people because He loved them, and willingly sacrificed her desire to see Him. 

This would continue until she stood at the foot of the cross, suffering with her Son, offering Him to the world, to you and I, as the best she has to offer. This was the compliment He offered her, the greatest compliment possible for a good person. I hold, and always will hold, that the greatest compliment you can offer to a good person is to invite them to become better, to become the best they can be.

God offered Mary the opportunity to take part in His work, to accept along with Him the sufferings and self-donation. He offered her the hard road of the cross, as the greatest gift, the greatest compliment it was in His power to give, expecting Her to accept the loss of Him, because He knew that she was given the grace to accept it, and He trusted in her love and faith. Seen like this, this short gospel passage becomes even more beautiful and amazing. 

More amazing still, she invites us to join her in suffering with her Son. 

Mary, Mother of Our Savior, Pray for Us.

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