My key word for today will be challenge. About twenty-five years ago I heard a talk given by Sister Jose Hobday a Franciscan sister from Tucson, Arizona. She decided to tell us a story about her mother.
Her mother was always concerned about Mrs. Casey, a lady who lived across the street. Mrs. Casey had a skin disease and that meant that she had open sores on her face, and she really looked gruesome. Jose’s mother had the custom of baking apple bars every Saturday and asking Jose to bring some over to Mrs. Casey. Jose did not like this task because she did not like to look at Mrs. Casey. So, one day she gave her younger brother a quarter to deliver the apple bars.
When Jose’s mother found out she decided to make sure that Jose would make the delivery from that day forward. Every Saturday she stood in the front door of her house and watched Jose walk across the street with the pan of bars. She kept challenging Jose to do a task that she did not want to do.
When it was time for Thanksgiving Dinner, Jose’s mother invited Mrs. Casey to the dinner table. Jose was looking forward to the sweet potatoes which were covered with marshmallows and brown sugar. Jose was sitting at the end of the table; but she wasn’t worried because she knew that there was one sweet potato for each person. But then she saw her brother take two sweet potatoes - which was totally against the rules. And of course, he did it on purpose.
Mrs. Casey took the platter next, and she cut the final sweet potato in half and Jose was able to have some after all. And from that day forward Jose saw Mrs. Casey as being a very nice person. She saw what Mrs. Casey was like on the inside and never again was she bothered by the sores on her face.
I share that story with you today because it reveals what mothers are like. They love us totally and unconditionally - and they challenge us. Jose’s mother loved her children - but she also challenged them. She challenged Jose to learn how to love Mrs. Casey and to see how good she was on the inside.
We honor our mothers today because, like Jose Hobday’s Mom, they have loved us, and they have challenged us. 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 she had to protect him from the brutality of King Herod when he tried to kill all the baby boys in his kingdom. 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 and all she could do was to stand at the cross helplessly while he died a most painful death.
Mary loved her son unconditionally; but she also challenged him to love others. 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 are 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 power 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 to find joy in life by loving others.
And now for the story of Jesus, himself. When speaking to the Pharisees one day he declared himself to be the Good Shepherd. And that meant loving his flock unconditionally and challenging them to love God and their neighbor. Unconditionally means that he loved people no matter what condition they were in.
He loved the blind and the deaf and the lepers. He loved the sinners and tax collectors. He loved Pharisees and Sadducees and all of his enemies. But Jesus also challenges people, and his challenge leads to dire consequences for those who do not respond.
His challenges are found in the 25th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus says, “I am the shepherd, and I am going to separate the sheep from the goats. Do you want eternal life, or do you want eternal punishment? If you want eternal life, you will love the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the immigrants and those in prison and you will lovingly help them with their needs. If you do not love them and if you do not respond to their needs, you will spend eternity in hell.”
His challenge is serious and severe. If you love people in need, you will have eternal life.
If you don’t love people in need, you will have eternal punishment.
I will close by going back to the mother of Jesus and your mother and my mother. How many times have they loved us unconditionally when we did not deserve it? Whenever they did so they experienced the real presence of Christ in their lives.
How many times did they challenge us to love others when there was no chance of receiving a reward? Whenever they did so they were showing us how to experience the real presence of Christ in our lives.
Today let’s give thanks to God for the love and inspiration and help and challenges that we have received from our mothers.