I have a mixed relationship with “Mothering Sunday”. Yes, celebrating mothering, or perhaps positive parenting and families, is good; the encouragement to affirm and say thank you is helpful. So what’s wrong? The danger of ignoring those for whom families have not worked, and indeed caused pain or damage: the broken and divided families, memories of control, abuse, violence, argument; those who longed to be parents, but could not, or whose experience of parenthood was hard.
So let’s have some reality. Yes, for most of us families have been good, not always giving us what we thought we wanted, but often providing what we needed. I think Jesus would recognise that. He had two good parents in Mary and Joseph, and we read (Mark 6:3) of four brothers and more than one sister. As the eldest (Mary’s “firstborn” Luke 2:7) we guess that he stayed at home long enough to leave Mary with his brothers running the business to support them all (Joseph does not appear again after the incidents of Luke 2:42-52 when Jesus was about 12). But during his ministry, Jesus breaks free from family control (Mark 3:32-34, as Lk 8:20ff and Mt 12:46ff) – and there are words which must have been hard for Mary! Later she is cared for at the cross (John 19:26-7), and becomes part of the early Christian community (Acts 1:14).
There is a choice of gospel readings today. We can take Jesus’ words from the cross, instructing John to care for Mary (John 19:26-7), or Simeon’s words to Mary and Joseph when they brought the baby Jesus to the Temple – words that amazed them, and left Mary with much to think about (Luke 2:33-35).
Perhaps my favourite, though, would be the parable of the Prodigal Son – or should we call it the Loving Father (Luke 15:11-32). It is a story in three acts. First the younger son takes his money (no doubt causing much pain) and goes. Not a great deal is made of his route to the decision to return – no doubt there are many factors – but he makes the decision and the journey we might call repentance.
The second act belongs to the Father. Love is on the lookout, and offers not only a warm welcome, but also a shield through the village from hostile comment and action. As a picture of a generous God, it can be a little difficult to hold in focus. (Can God really be like that? Even if Jesus says so?)
The third act is more familiar. The resentment and self-righteousness of the elder brother sounds familiar. He is ready to think the worst, and offers no forgiveness – a challenge, not only to the proud of Jesus’ day, but to all of us. If we have avoided scandalous wrongdoing, and offered a measure of service, isn’t there strong temptation to want to claim our reward, and to denounce the cheats who enjoy the Father’s love? The question we don’t want asked is, “Who is cheating the gospel?”