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A Story of Two Mothers

I will begin with two stories about mothers.


The first story comes to us from the Book of Exodus, Chapter Two.  It took place in Egypt when the Pharaoh was forcing the Hebrews to work as slaves.  As the years went by the Hebrew population was growing and the Pharaoh was afraid that the Hebrew men would form an army and defeat his soldiers.  So he ordered his soldiers to kill all the first-born Hebrew boys.


A Hebrew man of the tribe of Levi married Jochebed, a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son.  She loved her child and she kept him in hiding for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she prepared a basket for him and she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile River.  His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.  The daughter of the Pharaoh found the basket and the baby and she wanted to save his life.   


Just then the baby’s sister came running up to the princess, as if by accident, and she said: "Shall I go and find a Hebrew woman to be a nurse for the child and take care of it?" "Yes," said the princess. "Go and find a nurse for me."  The girl ran as quickly as she could and brought the baby's own mother to the princess.  The princess said to the little baby's mother: "Take this child to your home and nurse it for me, and I will pay you wages for it."


How glad the Hebrew mother was to take her child home! No one could harm her son now because he was protected by the princess of Egypt, the daughter of the Pharaoh.  She named him "Moses," a word that means "drawn out," because he was drawn out of the water.


My second story comes from Tiffin, Ohio, and the year was 1987.  Emily Wilson was a typical Mom with four kids.  Then her youngest son, Jacob, came down with meningitis. He recuperated and he was a happy baby.  Emily and her husband, Bernie, didn’t think there were any lasting effects from the meningitis.  One day someone dropped a kettle onto the tile kitchen floor and Jacob didn’t flinch.  Then they realized that something was wrong. They took him to the clinic and had him tested.  The meningitis had left Jacob profoundly deaf and cognitively impaired.  From that day forward, Emily gave Jacob special attention because of his limitations.  But she also challenged him to be all that he could be.  She insisted that he dress nicely and that he learn good manners. She challenged him to learn sign language and to say certain words as best as he could.


She challenged him to develop his painting skills and he has even sold some of his paintings.  Jacob is now 37 years old and living in a group home and working in a factory.  Today Emily has her own special viewpoint concerning motherhood.  She says, “I think that every mother is special, God has given us special gifts.   Namely children to love and to raise.  And this helps us feel a connection to God. I think all mothers sense it. It’s really a miracle.”


These stories give us a good description of what mothers are like.  On the one hand, they love their children unconditionally.  As did Jochebed and Emily.  On the other, mothers challenge their children.  They challenge them to use the talents and skills which God has given them.  Without a doubt, Emily loved Jacob with all her heart. But she also challenged him to become all that he could be.  Emily knew what was best for her child.  He needed her love.  But he also needed to be challenged to tap into his inner resources and to develop skills to help him live in this world.


When we look at the scriptures we see that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a lot like that.  Mary loved Jesus unconditionally.  She loved him when he caused her great pain by staying behind in the Temple without telling her about his plan.  She loved him when he was crucified on Calvary and all she could do was to stand at the cross helplessly while he died a painful death.  Mary loved her son unconditionally; but she also challenged him.


When the bride and groom at the wedding feast of Cana were upset because they ran out of wine, Mary challenged Jesus to do something for them.   The story of Cana is not a pleasant one to listen to because Mary and Jesus were throwing some harsh words at each other.  But the bottom line message is clear: Mary was challenging her son to love his neighbors by using his divine powers to serve people in need.  When all is said and done, Mary is the prototype of all mothers.  She loves her child unconditionally and she challenges her child.  She challenges him to reach out and serve others.


And now I turn to the scriptures for today’s Mass.


In today’s first reading, Jesus proclaims that his love is unconditional.  He says, “I will love you always.  As the Father loves me, so I love you.  I will be with you always.  I will send my Holy Spirit to be your constant companion.  After I ascend into heaven I will send my Holy Spirit to you.  You will never be alone.  My Spirit will be your constant companion.”


His love for us is unconditional and it is forever.  And his love is challenging.  Today’s gospel passage comes from Mark, chapter 16, and the scene is Jesus giving his farewell message before he is taken up into heaven.  But before he is taken up, He says that he has a challenge for His disciples.  He tells them to go out into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.  Those words are called the Great Commission: “Go out into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”


When we look closely at today’s scriptures, we see Jesus following the pattern which his mother had handed on to him.  We see Jesus loving his people unconditionally and then challenging them to serve others.  In other words, Jesus was imitating his mother’s lifestyle.  Jesus had learned from her how to live the gospel life.  And that should not surprise us because the Scriptures say that Mary is full of grace.  They say she is the first disciple to proclaim the Good News and that she is the model of faith.  She follows the new commandment, the one that calls for sacrificial loving - loving others with no benefit to ourselves.  She shows us how to experience the presence of Christ in our lives.  Like every mother, she challenges us.  Yes, she challenges us to love others without placing conditions on our love.


And that brings us back to Emily Wilson and your mother and my mother.  How many times have our mothers loved us unconditionally?  Whenever they did so they experienced the real presence of Christ in their lives.  And how many times did they challenge us to experience the real presence of Christ by loving others without counting the cost? 


Before we go to the altar for the Banquet of Love, please take a moment to treasure your mother’s love, her unconditional love and her challenging love!

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