The story is told about an avid Eagles fan who, earlier this season, stayed up to watch his favorite team play on Monday Night Football. Of course, the game took longer than he had expected. He got to bed late, somewhere around 1:00 a.m., and woke up late on Tuesday morning. Rushing around, the fellow was in a hurry to get ready for work and out the front door. With a mug of hot coffee in his hand and no time to spare, his wife of many years asked in a cheery voice, “Do you remember what today is?” Pecking his wife on the cheek, he answered, “Of course, I do, dear.” The Eagles fan headed out the front door, got into his car, and headed off to work.
Later that morning, the local florist delivered a bouquet of his wife’s favorite flower, yellow roses, in a Waterford crystal vase. A short time later, an antiquarian bookseller dropped off a marvelously wrapped first edition she had wanted for a many years. And just before six o’clock that evening, a caterer arrived with her favorite meal. The caterer arranged the dinner in the dining room for two, served it on elegant china, lit the candles, and left.
Moments later, her husband arrived home from work. Sporting a sly smile, he asked: “And how was your special day, dear?” “Oh darling!” she swooned all over the place. “In all my life, I’ve never had such an incredible Groundhog Day!”
Even when we are thoughtful, we sometimes end being very thoughtless. Sometimes when we try to be helpful, we’re told that we’re getting in the way. We offer what we believe are heartfelt and kind words of solace, but the person to whom we offer those words sometimes takes great personal offense and umbrage. We go out of our way to purchase that very special gift; but, when we give it, the gift sometimes wasn’t what was wanted. Or, we’re told or asked to do something and respond honestly that we’re not interested in doing it, we only getting into very deep trouble for what we’ve said.
The gospel of John this morning tells us that Mary said to Jesus at the wedding feast at Cana, “Honey, they’re out of wine.” “Woman,” Jesus retorted, “how does your concern affect me?”
A rather insensitive, if not callous and crude remark to make to one’s Mom, we might conclude. Or, at a minimum, a somewhat odd and curious remark. Perhaps a one-time fluke?
The gospel of Matthew also relates the story of an instance when Jesus was teaching inside of an official’s house. Someone interrupted Jesus and told him that his mother and brothers were outside, wanting to see him. According them no special treatment whatsoever, Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
We might once again conclude that this is another rather insensitive, if not callous and crude remark to make about one’s Mom and brothers. Or, at a minimum, a second somewhat odd and curious remark. A “bad hair” day?
Again, maybe not.
Let’s not forget about that poor young chap who so very much wanted to be a disciple. But, the young fellow told Jesus, he first had to go and bury his father. To this wanna-be disciple, Jesus quipped, “Let the dead bury the dead.”
Certainly this is an insensitive, if not callous and crude remark! Hardly what we’d expect of God’s only begotten Son! Is there a pattern developing here?
Taking those three statements at face value, we’re understandably very likely to conclude that Jesus was being rather insensitive, if not outright callous and crude. He responded not in the way we’d expect and didn’t use the words we’d expect. No, Jesus responded 100% the opposite of how we expect and used words 100% exactly the opposite of those we believe he should have used.
Could it possibly be that what we believe we know about important relationships—like those including our Moms, family members, friends, and acquaintances—doesn’t apply to Jesus? And, if so, why not? What would give him the right to make insensitive, callous, and crude statements? That’s certainly not God-like!
Let’s consider that first question for a moment: Just how do we look at important relationships?
Certainly the relationship we have with our Moms is a very unique and special relationship. After all—and at a bare minimum—this woman gave birth to us! That explains, in part, why we consider any mistreatment—whether in words or actions—on the part of a child toward one’s Mom highly offensive. Think about what happens at the grocery store when we see a smart aleck youngster talking back to his Mom. We think she should slap him silly, no?
Is that not exactly what Jesus’ remark—“Woman, how does your concern affect me?”—sounds like? If I had said that to my Mom, I quite likely would have gotten smacked right in the kisser! And, that’s to say nothing about what would have happened when my Dad came home!
Likewise, our relationships with our relatives are important. Bound by blood to our grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins, we give honor to those relationships when relatives come over by forgoing other amusements that might give us greater pleasure. For example, when grandparents come by to visit, we stay home and pay attention to them rather than go and visit friends. To do otherwise is considered highly insensitive. “It’s just common manners,” we were told as children when we tell our parents that the relatives are “boring.”
Yet, is that not what Jesus’ remark—“Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother”—suggests? It’s as if Jesus is saying, “So what! I’m busy with these other people who matter more to me right now.”
And, concerning our relationships with friends and even acquaintances, aren’t we supposed to demonstrate care and respect for them and their needs rather than putting our cares and interests first? Even if we want our friends and acquaintances to do something with us, don’t we consider it highly insensitive—if not wrong—to tell them to neglect their other important responsibilities and to do what we want? Imagine wanting to do something and asking a friend to do it with you. Your friend then responds, “I’d love to. But, I’ve first got to go to my father’s wake service.” Could you possibly imagine yourself saying, “Let the dead bury the dead….”
How does Jesus get away with it? Or, how can I possibly explain these three remarks in such a way that I don’t condone Jesus or us acting like prima Donnas who go around insulting their Moms and relatives and telling friends that we am more important than, let’s say, the funeral of a friend’s father?
I believe the answer has to do with understanding what it means to have a true relationship with God.
When we view that relationship in terms of the Ten Commandments to be kept or precepts of the Church to be followed, we tend to judge what’s right and wrong not in terms of how much we love God. No, the standard used is more in terms of determining the least amount what we have to do to keep God on our side (or, conversely, not to get on God’s bad side). Stating the same idea in another way, we fret about the minimum amount we have to do to maintain a relationship with God. It’s sort of like paying for an insurance policy. We believe not in “God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth” to whom we owe everything. No, we do what we need to do just to get by, that is, we fulfill the basic facts of the Ten Commandments and precepts of the Church. That’s what we call a basically sound relationship with God. And, yes, following the Ten Commandments and the precepts of the Church does fulfill the basics.
But, claiming that to be a true relationship with God is sort of like saying, “I love my spouse.” But, upon closer inspection of the facts of the relationship, we discover that what this really means is “I love what my spouse does for me” not “I live my life for my spouse.” Because if I truly loved my spouse, I would view everything else as secondary…even my life. The “I” part would evaporate before the “You” part. And, where this is the case, a spouse could rightfully say to others—including one’s Mom, relatives, friend, acquaintances, and even the in-laws—“you really don’t matter.” Yet, doesn’t that sound highly offensive? It isn’t however, if the relationship to one’s spouse is properly understood. It is actually is the way marital relationships are supposed to be.
Does this not also explain how so many marriages veer away from the “love, honor, and obey” part? A spouse says “I love you.” But, what one really means is, “I love you as long as you do what I want, look the way I want, and act the way I want.” Then, when this isn’t the case, is that not when a spouse allows the “I” part to be the most important part and the “You” part to evaporate? It’s not long—isn’t it—before one’s Mom, relatives, associates, and paramours matter more than does one’s spouse? Worse yet, how long is it before the traitor odiously blames one’s spouse for all of the problems beleaguering the marriage and assumes the attitude of the victim?
By contradicting what we would otherwise expect Jesus to say, Jesus teaches us about his relationship with God and, by example, what our relationship with God ought to be. In place of minimums legislated by the Ten Commandments and the precepts of the Church, Jesus shows us by his example what the maximum is—to the point that our relationship with God must be far deeper than even the deepest commitments we can imagine as human beings. Deeper even than love for one’s Mom, relatives, friends, and acquaintances and what those relationships require. It is true—isn’t it—that none of those relationships matters if we have a true relationship with God and are busy doing our Father’s work?
Interestingly, however, when we have a true relationship with God, we are changed in the sense that we begin to love neighbor as we love ourselves. Jesus teaches us this by his example as he performed the miracle at Cana of turning the water into wine, as he accepted the chalice of suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he forgave those from the Cross who didn’t know what they were doing, and as he gave his life for us. When our relationship with God is first and foremost in our lives, Jesus teaches, being available to and for others when and where they want isn’t primary. What is important is that love of God—which comes first—makes it possible for us to love them—even when they wrong us—to the point that we are willing to sacrifice our lives for them.
We may not have to sacrifice to the point of death. But, at times, it sure may feel like that.
When a spouse has a true relationship with God, marriage doesn’t mean being a martyr by “putting up” with one’s spouse and his or her idiosyncrasies. No, quite the opposite! Because one loves God first, those things don’t get in the way of loving one’s spouse. When the in-laws come for a visit or the grandparents come to dote on the grandkids, because one has a true relationship with God, one’s feelings about the in-laws don’t get in the way of being present and hospitable. The “I” part evaporates before the “You” part.
But, when one doesn’t have a true relationship with God, marriage doesn’t mean even “putting up” with one’s spouse and his or her idiosyncrasies. Instead, it means “Either you change or I will leave you.” Likewise, when one doesn’t have a true relationship with God, negative feelings taint how one behaves—to the point of being irritable, inhospitable or, even, downright mean—toward the in-laws or grandparents. The “You” part evaporates before the “I” part.
When we have a true relationship with God, all of the rest—the deep, satisfying human relationships, the moral conduct we expect from ourselves, as well as our material needs—will inevitably follow. Why? Because all we really need in life is a true relationship with God. It is through this relationship—not in terms of meeting minimums assessed by following the Ten Commandments or the precepts of the Church but in terms of loving God above everything—that we experience our deepest need being fulfilled to the max.
Jesus teaches us, then, in a very startling way, that is, as he says the opposite of what people expect conventionally. And, in doing so, Jesus demonstrates what true love of God and neighbor require of his disciples unconventionally.
Notice, too, that Mary also understood what Jesus meant—and, we are told, “treasured all these things in her heart”—because she had a true relationship with God. Mary didn’t take offense at what Jesus said and slap him silly, as we’d expect of any Mom whose child has one of those smart aleck, insolent mouths and speaks disrespectfully to his Mom. Instead, Mary said something unconventional when she told the servants, “Do whatever he asks you to do.”
These unconventional responses teach us something about what should be conventional, namely, a true relationship with God. These responses disturb us because we expect what is conventional. But, that’s what emerges from minimal relationships with God. As disciples, we are to love God with our whole heart, our whole mind, and our whole soul. When we do that, we will love our neighbors as we love ourselves. That’s how we “Do whatever he asks you to do.”
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