Only One Thing Matters

 

Three scenarios, two Marys, and only one thing matters:

Jesus’s parents used to go to Jerusalem every year for the Passover festival. When Jesus was twelve years old, they went up as usual…

After the festival, Joseph and Mary left Jerusalem for their home in Galilee. They went on for a day’s journey thinking the boy was with the traveling party. But Jesus had remained in Jerusalem. When it as discovered that Jesus was nowhere to be found, Joseph and Mary returned to Jerusalem. There, they found the boy in the temple courts sitting among the teachers. He was listening to them and asking questions. Those who heard him were astonished at his understanding and his answers. And the teachers were not the only ones who were taken aback. When Joseph and Mary saw the boy they were quit overwhelmed.

“Child,” said his mother, “why did you do this to us?” Look—your father and I have been in a terrible state looking for you!”

“Why were you looking for me?” he replied. “Didn’t you know that I would have to be getting involved with my father’s work?”

 

It appears from Luke’s Gospel text that Joseph and Mary assumed that the boy Jesus was mature enough to make his way home within the traveling party and without oversight. Maybe at that time Mary was caring for or carrying another child. Chasing a twelve-year-old boy around would have been too much.

What we do know is that Mary did keep track in her heart of what the angel had said to her before her pregnancy. No doubt she also remembered that she and Joseph had escaped the rage of a king. And, she must have told Luke after the resurrection and ascension that the boy Jesus was “full of wisdom, and God’s grace was upon him.” (Luke 2: 40). Yet, with such unique events (including wise men appearing) surrounding the child, I wonder why a closer eye wasn’t kept on the boy. It appears that Mary did not comprehend Jesus.

One observation, based on this early account of Jesus’s life, is that Jesus isn’t in the ‘business’ of making people, his own parents in this case, feel OK about him. His parent’s assumptions, in fact, had them carry on thinking all was well. But the harsh reality had them turn around and look for Jesus.

 

It is said that Saint Teresa of Avila once remarked to the Lord, regarding not being OK with how he treated her, that, “If this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!”

Now, let’s turn to a wedding. (No, not that wedding.)

 

Roughly eighteen years after Joseph and Mary catch up to Jesus, Jesus and Mary attend a wedding in Cana. Mary invokes mother privilege when the wine runs out. What prompted her to think Jesus should do something about empty wine glasses? Did she remember boy Jesus asking, “Didn’t you know that I would have to be getting involved with my father’s work?” Had she seen Jesus perform other such miracles? Was she simply trying to get him involved in procuring more wine for the wedding feast? I assume that Mary, like most mothers, was concerned about guests being taken care of. The wedding invite likely meant that she was close to the wedding family. In any case, mother gets involved…

 

Jesus’s mother came over to him.

“They haven’t got any wine!” she said.

“Oh, Mother!”, replied Jesus. What’s that got to do with you and me? My time hasn’t come yet.”

 

The apostle John records (Chapter 2) Jesus’s act of transubstantiation — turning water into wine — as the first sign of Jesus’s public ministry. The One who is involved with his Father’s work knew that once the signs of his kingdom had begun publicly, that everything would change. It would be the end of a quiet family life. The public ministry would involve throngs of people around him. It would involve choosing disciples from the locals. It would involve facing down all the powers in heaven and on earth. It would involve the ultimate sacrifice, his death on a cross.

Mary did not see this coming. She only saw in Jesus what most Jews had hoped for – a promise come true, a covenant kept, a prophet, a teacher and, a triumphant Messiah — one who came and conquered. The Jews of the first century believed a Messiah would come to save God’s people. Going up to the Passover festival every year would reinforce that thinking. Their Deliverer was coming. It was Mary who said, [God] “has rescued his servant, Israel, his child, because he remembered his mercy of old…”.

The Jews assumed that this Messiah would be a special human, a “full of wisdom, and God’s grace was upon him” human. They assumed wrong. And, when the wine ran out, did Mary assume that she could force Jesus to deliver the goods and reveal himself to the world? Others would later demand a sign from Jesus (Matthew 12:38).

Jesus counters Mary’s assumption on that “Oh, Mother!”’s Day: “My time hasn’t come yet.”

One observation, based on this account of Jesus’s life, is that Jesus isn’t in the ‘business’ of making people, his own mother in this case, feel OK about things. Mary’s assumption, in fact, likely had her thinking all will be well if Jesus just does what she asked of him. Wine glasses were empty and more wine was needed immediately for the celebration to continue. An honest need. But, more wine depended on the Father. Listening to the Father was the only thing that mattered to Jesus.

 

Now, let’s turn to a third scenario found in Luke’s Gospel account 10: 38-42.

 

On their journey, Jesus came into a village. There was a woman there named Martha, who welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the master’s feet and listened to his teaching.

Martha was frantic with all the work in the kitchen.

“Master,” she said, coming in to where they were, “don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to give me a hand!”

“Martha, Martha,” he replied, “you are fretting and fussing about so many things. Only one thing matters. Mary has chosen the best part, and it’s not going to be taken away from her.”

 

A Proverbs 31 woman/host has major setbacks when that woman is determined to lord her peace of mind over another. That was what Martha sought to do to Mary. Martha assumed that her demands would be met. She assumed that the Lord would put Mary in her place – the woman’s space. I think it is safe to assume that Mary was sitting at Jesus’s feet listening to Jesus as he talked to Mary’s brother Lazarus, as they sat together in the men’s space.

We are told in John’s gospel account chapter 11: 2 that this Mary was the same Mary who would anoint the feet of Jesus with myrrh and then wipe them with her hair. Listening to Jesus and then responding to him with extravagant love defines the ultimate woman and more so than Proverbs 31 could ever do. 

 

Assumptions about Jesus can make us frantic, as when Joseph and Mary, after thinking that Jesus was under control, had to turn around and look for their missing child. Or, assumptions about Jesus can make us fret, as when the wine runs out at a wedding feast. Or, assumptions about Jesus can make us fussy when we make a demand for satisfaction. Discard assumptions about Jesus. Turn off social media. Turn off noise.

There is only one thing that matters and we see it restated in the three scenarios above. First, Mary and Joseph find the missing boy Jesus instructing the teachers in the temple. Those who heard the boy Jesus were astonished at his understanding and his answers. Second, Mary tells the servants at the wedding to listen to Jesus. And finally, Jesus honors Mary because she is listening to him.

If you think you know what Jesus would do, you don’t. You begin to know him as you listen to him and not to your assumptions about him. To listen to him means to be at his feet without your Smartphone assumptions. Choose “the best part” and not frantic fussy fretting. Choose the one thing that matters and you won’t lose it, empty it and, it’s not going to be taken away from you.

What Risk is This?

 

“The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”  Genesis 12:1

“Some time later God tested Abraham, He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

“Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”” Genesis 22:1-2

~~~

An angel appears to Mary and announces Mary’s pregnancy. Mary responds: “Here am I”, said Mary; “I’m the Lord’s servant-girl. Let it happen to me as you’ve said.” Luke 1: 38

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God says “Go,” and Abram, not a perfect man, goes.

Imagine being told to dig up your roots, leave your familiar surroundings and that you will be told later where you are going. Now imagine going with your first-born son, your flesh and blood and a surety of God’s promise to Abraham, to the region of Moriah and being told that your son is the sacrifice to God. Abraham is told, basically, to go outside the box he had contained God in- his hopes in his pride of place and first-born. Abraham with “Here-I-am” -outside-the-box faith obeys God and God blesses Abraham. “Abraham was now very old, and the LORD had blessed him in every way.” Genesis 24:1

God says to Mary, not a perfect woman, that she will be the one to bear the Savior. She responds with her permission. Later, at Zechariah’s house, Elizabeth sees Mary and shouts at the top of her voice: “Of all women, you’re the blessed one!” One could speculate that before the angel’s news, Mary had thought her life was, well, pretty much boxed in.

 

The boxes people put God in are not big enough for God’s blessing. So, instead of stretching the box, God stretches the person so that they come to see that no box can hold all they know about God.

 

Throughout Israel’s and Christianity’s history there are many accounts of where God has said, in effect, “Go to a new place with me” and a personal risk is taken.  Abraham, Jacob, Moses, the disciples, Peter, Paul, to name just a few. You are not alone in the history of risk-taking or in the moving out of safe-spaces.

Imagine if those who were told to go and those who were led by God to go didn’t go? How would your life be different today? Or, did you think that once you arrived on earth nothing had gone on before you arrived that would have any bearing on your life? There are many today who see themselves this way. They have their “history” and their “truth”.

If you have read the Old Testament you found that the history of Israel is the story of God moving his chosen people through space-time. The Israelites moved from country to country, to slavery, to the land of “milk and honey”, to exile and back home again. They are moved to be tested, refined and blessed. They were moved so that they would realize that God is sovereign and omnipresent – there is no place you can go that God isn’t there. They are being moved so that they will realize that God is the beginning and ending of their journey. They are being told to “Go” so that they will find that God is God and that God is good.

 

Risk taking is going, moving and forgetting what is behind.

 

The pattern of risk taking, testing and blessing occurs over and over in Scripture. God says, “Go” and when people go to a new place with God they are both tested and blessed.

Risk takes us places we never thought we’d go. Risk takes us to new places within God’s space-time and to the farthest extent of God’s promises. Risk takes us to new places within God’s character. The risk-taker decides to remove himself from the comfort of his self-storage home and from the false gods he has stored in his mini self-storage so that blessing will be gained.

 

The God who created probabilistic quantum mechanics is going to take you places where you can’t determine your position or the acceleration of your movement at the same time. Because of that you begin to take your eyes off your circumstances and look at the Cosmological Constant. You are being taught that God’s outcome will be good because He is good. There is a 100 percent probability that God is good. You just need to find this out through risk-taking.

Nature has a way of saying “Go”. The wise men, experts in early astronomy and most likely from Persia, took a major risk. They traveled 800-900 miles following “a star coming out of Jacob.” Herod was not happy at all that the wise men left without detailing the location of his greatest fear — a newborn king. So, Herod slaughtered innocent children.

 

“Get up. Go to the place I will show you. The risk is all mine and I am good with that.”

“Here I am.”

The Life of the Party

Mary wrapped her blue cotton shawl over her shoulders. She knew the night air would later become chilly. She called to her son hammering on something in the workshop and set out for the synagogue, nestled down at the end of the ox cart-burrowed street. Jesus, hearing the invitation from his mother, quickly brushed off the sawdust from his tunic, grabbed his mantle and threw it over his head. He cinched a leather belt in place, quickly washed his face and hands and ran off to catch up to his mother who was halfway to the synagogue and the wedding celebration.

“Jesus, would you bring the fish that I bought from Peter?”

“Yes mother. Is there anything else?

“No, son.”

“I will return to the house and bring the fish. Go ahead with out me.”

“I’ll wait. With such a son, I will walk with you to greet our neighbors on this festive day.”

“Yes, mother, I’ll hurry.”

Jesus returned minutes later, running down the slope with three fish in his hand, the translucent fish tails flapping.

When he had caught up to Mary he said, “Father loved to go to weddings and to listen to the music.  He loved to be with his friends. Father was a quiet man until he came to a wedding. Then he would smile from ear to ear and sing all of the wedding songs. I remember his unstoppable smile. I could see that weddings had a special place in his heart.”

“Yes, I wish he were here.” Mary answered. “At the weddings he would look into my eyes and tell me that the twinkle in my eyes had reminded him of the stars on the night when you were born. Come let’s go in before I start crying and the stars begin flowing.”

Jesus and his mother entered the large thatched-roofed synagogue after removing their shoes. Inside they greeted their neighbors.  Dusty feet were washed and dried by the bride’s father, the host. Blessings were bestowed on the household and then Mary asked to see the newly weds.

The bride and groom sat outside in the middle of an expansive garden. They were seated at the center of a low cypress wood table near a Sycamore fig tree.  A large canopy shielded them from the hot afternoon sun. Jesus recognized the table as one of his workshop creations. Many of the guests had seated themselves around the table for the start of the wedding feast. Children scurried around the tables, giggling their pleasure at finding so many of their friends. The whole town had come to celebrate.

Their town, Khirbet Kana, was located nine miles northeast of Nazareth and about nine miles east of the Sea of Galilee. It was nestled against the southern hills of Upper Galilee. The Bet Netofa Valley, which lay between Cana and Nazareth, was situated about half way between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee.

As Mary began talking with the exuberant couple, Jesus walked over and sat down with the men discussing Cana’s political landscape within the Roman Empire. From their heated discussion he could hear that they were unwilling subjects of Rome. The local authority was King Herod and King Herod reported to the Roman Emperor Tiberius. They decried the fact that Roman rule limited the power of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court with its own legislative and judicial authority. They earnestly looked for the deliverer of their own people.  Jesus listened while stoking the fire with a branch.

The men sat around the glowing coals of a fire pit used for cooking. The three fish that Jesus had brought were placed on the fire pit’s heated stones. In the middle of the pit, a large pot held boiling lamb stew seasoned with salt, onions, garlic, cumin coriander, mint, dill and mustard. Dates and grapes, cheese, wine, vegetables, fruit and eggs were in plentiful supply. Common serving bowls were set on the feast table along with wild honey to sweeten the meal.

A little boy came over and stood next to Jesus. He watched his father talking from across from the fire pit.  His father, face snarled and shoulders slumped, talked angrily about the Roman taxes being placed on their town. The boy knew that his father became especially enraged when talking about King Herod. It was Herod who had placed Roman idols in the Holy Temple of Jehovah.  Today his father spoke in a hushed voice to those seated around the fire. He did not want to spoil the celebration.

Off to the side, several little girls, unaware of such important discussions whirled in their tunics to the rhythm of a tambourine, pretending that they, too, had just been married.  The sound of lyres, lutes, castanets, and cymbals permeated the multitude of voices.  The garden was lush with a wonderful sense of joy.

Wine poured freely. The bride’s mother made sure of it. But it wasn’t long before Mary noticed a worried look on Anna’s face. Mary pulled Anna into corner of the garden. She quietly spoke with Anna.

“Anna, my friend, what’s the matter?”

“Oh Mary, the wine is gone! I didn’t think that this would happen.  Unexpected guests have come from nearby towns. Your son’s followers have come too. What shall I do? We haven’t even toasted my daughter and her husband!”

Mary turned and looked for Jesus. Her eyes found his.  He was seated among the men where her husband Joseph usually sat when he was alive. She quickly came over to him and quietly put her hand on his shoulder. Jesus got up and followed her to the front of the synagogue.

“Son, there is no more wine.  What is left is old and almost undrinkable.”

“Good woman, what does that have to do with me? My time hasn’t come yet.”

Now, Mary knew in her heart that Jesus was sent from God. She felt that He had to do something in this family crisis. Mary invoked her pregnant hope. She looked over at the servants and said, “Do whatever he tells you.”

The servants gathered up six large clay jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, and took them to the cistern in the town’s courtyard. They filled the jars, each holding 30 gallons, with cistern water and then carted them back to the party.  Jesus had ordered the servants to fill the empty clay jars with water. When they had done so, Jesus told them to draw out some of it and take it to the head waiter. After tasting the wine from the jar,  not knowing what Jesus had done (though the servants who drew the water knew), the head waiter took the bridegroom aside and told the bridegroom that he had departed from the usual custom of serving the best wine first by serving it last. The bridegroom responded with open-mouthed amazement. He then proclaimed loudly, “Thanks be to Jehovah for this wonderful gift.”

When everyone had a cup of new wine before them, Jesus raised his cup in the direction of the bride and groom. Everyone quickly raised their cups as well. Seven blessings were recited before the bride and groom.  The final blessing:  Blessed art Thou LORD our God, king of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.  The joyful couple was toasted.  New wine again filled the cups and music returned to the garden. 

As the evening wore on Mary got up from her place at the table.   With the fire dying away the cool night air now chilled her. She pulled the cotton shawl snug over her shoulders and went to look for Jesus.  She found him at the edge of the garden looking towards the night sky.  The scene reminded her of God’s vision given to Abram:  “Look up at the heavens and count the stars-if indeed you can count them. So shall your offspring be.”  Without saying a word, Mary stood looking at Jesus from across the garden.  In the expanse of the indigo-black night infinite points of starlight blazed creating a sparkling diadem for her son.

(And so it was that Jesus’ first sign, recorded by me, was the changing of water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. I was with his mother and several of his disciples who saw this miracle. We began, that day, to believe in a Deliverer.)

-John, the beloved disciple of Jesus

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© Sally Paradise, 2010, All Rights Reserved