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A post-homiletical discourse delivered by the Rev. Dr. James R. Beebe

Rector, St. Patrick’s Church, Incline Village, Nevada, December 18, 2011

Text:  Luke 1:26-38 – “But she was much perplexed by his words….”



     There’s something about Mary.  The Blessed Virgin Mary, that is.  The BVM.  There’s just something about her relationship with her son that would drive most family counselors crazy.  It starts, of course, with that 1-6-00 visit from the angel Gabriel.  He announces (hey – could that be why they call this the “annunciation”?) – he announces to her the fact that she’s considered a divine fave and that she’s pregnant.  That she’ll have a son and she’ll call him Jesus.  And he’ll be great and reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end.


     The story has it that Mary was “much perplexed” by Gabriel’s words and “pondered what kind of greeting this might be.”  Well, here’s a bulletin, Mary – pretty soon it won’t be about you at all.  But the seeming lack of respect for the centrality of parental authority doesn’t stop here. 


     Later, when young Jesus is accidentally left behind in the Temple (remember “Home Alone”?), a breathless mother arrives and scolds him, saying, “Son, why are you treating us like this?  Don’t you know that your father and I have been looking all OVER the place for you?”  And Jesus shoots right back:  “Where’d you THINK I was gonna be?”  You can almost see the pre-teen sneer as he rolls his eyes.


     Then there’s the wedding (in Cana, of Galilee), when Mary suggests to her son that he do something about the rapidly-waning wine supply.  Again, the snippy answer:  “Woman, what’s that got to do with ME?”  And then, later, when the Virgin Mary and her other sons go looking for their crazy brother:  “Who ARE my mother and my brothers?  Only those who do the will of God.”  Now, if you were his mother, wouldn’t that make you feel like smacking him?


     But there’s something about Mary.  She seems to put up with this lack of respect with a remarkable equanimity.  It’s not as though she’s being a doormat, either.  Something else is happening – something different from the Fear, Sarcasm, and Ridicule School of Parenting.  “What’s that?” you ask.  Well, controlling kids comes in all sorts of flavors.  Here are some of my favorite tactics [Gerald Piaget]:



*   There’s “The Takeover.”  Assuming that they have the right – no, the duty – to get into the driver’s seat and stay there, they command, order, instruct, and cajole.  Then, later, when the child meekly protests, they’re surprised and offended.


*   A not-too-subtle variant is “The Assault.”  Using the fissionable material of the tantrum, they use angry tirades as ways of getting the child to do what they want.  “Are you really as stupid as this makes you look?” is a favorite rhetorical weapon.


*   Another, more socially acceptable form of control is “The Lecture.”  These folks know that they’re nearly always right and whatever priorities they have are the ones you should have, too.  The most reasons for doing something wins and, if the child disagrees with them, they simply conclude that they haven’t explained themselves well enough yet.  So they’ll give five or six more logical reasons for doing something.


*   One that’s harder to put a finger on is “The Erosion.”  These parents win out through sheer persistence and their favorite weapon is repetition.  They’ll simply outlast the child.  They don’t have to try better or harder.  Just again.  Eventually, the child gives in because it’s the only way to make them stop.


*    Indirect tactics work, too.  Like “The Short Circuit.”  In this game, if the parents want the child to go to the symphony with them rather than letting the child go to a rock concert, they’ll quickly order expensive, non-refundable tickets to the symphony.  The situation is manipulated, making it impossible for the child to do anything but go along.


*   Oh, I could go on.  There’s emotional control, where you can always use the fill-in-the-blank phrase, “If you really love me, you’d _____.”  Pouting sometimes works, too.  Along with guilting, shaming and scorekeeping.


     But there’s something about Mary….  There’s no real evidence that she engaged in any of these.  In fact, scripture seems to attest to the fact that she surrendered rather easily.  Why is that, I wonder?  I have a theory.  It’s just a theory, of course, but you might want to ponder these words in your hearts.


     The problem with having kids is that it’s an inherently painful experience.  It’s not painful just because they don’t do what we want them to do a good deal of the time.  It’s painful because we care deeply about them.  [Frederick Buechner]  Now, when it comes to your own hurt, there are always things you can do.  You can put up a brave front, for one, and behind that front, if you’re lucky, you can become a little brave inside yourself.  But when your child makes terrible mistakes, there’s oftentimes little you can do.


     That’s what I mean when I say that having kids is inherently painful.  On the other hand, we parents a lot of the time exacerbate our suffering with counterproductive thinking.  When Jesus said, “Consider the lilies of the field,” for example, he meant exactly that.  These lilies are not flowers to be picked.  They’re not there so that you can wax poetic about their beauty.  They’re not even there as examples of God’s handiwork to convince you of God’s existence.  The lilies are there merely as themselves.


     What usually happens is that we project onto things like lilies and children our desires or aversions, our nostalgic emotions, our ideas of how something can be useful to us.  So what happens is that the lily or the child is not seen as it is (Christian contemplatives would call it the “suchness” of the lily or child); rather, the flower is “sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.”


     A basic requirement for Christian parents is that they be willing to differentiate their child as he is from all of their opinions, prejudices, and high hopes about him.  When we glom onto our kids in such a way that we become attached to them, we’ll automatically start entertaining thoughts like:


“If he doesn’t get all ‘A’s’ I can’t be happy.”


“If he doesn’t get married and give me grandchildren, I can’t be happy.”


“If he doesn’t grow up to have a lucrative profession, I will have been a failure.”


That’s not love.  That’s all about you!



The fact is, you can’t love somebody if you cling to them.


There’s something about Mary…


…and that’s what it is.