Unlike his mother and stepfather, Jesus was God in the flesh. Yet how He treated His physical parents serves as an example for us today.
It was the wedding celebration of the year. People were mingling. The drinks were flowing. The music was playing... and then it happened. The wine ran out. While the host panicked, one of his friends broke into a group of young adults to ask her son to help.
A normal young adult may have ignored the plea for help. But this young man gladly left the group to help his mother and the host resolve the crisis.
The mother didn't hesitate to ask for help and the son was not put off by his mother's request. Wouldn't it be great if all parents and children had this kind of relationship?
This story is real. It happened approximately 2,000 years ago between Jesus Christ and His mother, Mary. This interaction took place in a town called Cana at a wedding party (John:2:1-11). When the host ran out of wine, it seems that Mary knew Jesus could solve the problem and didn't think twice about asking Him for help.
When she brought the problem to Jesus' attention, He first responded by saying, "Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not come." Then, after she instructed the servants to do whatever He asked (indicating she obviously expected Him to act on her request), He gave instructions to them and performed His first recorded miracle—turning approximately 120 gallons of water into excellent wine!
While addressing one's mother as "woman" sounds cold in the English translation, its Aramaic roots show otherwise. The New International Version translates it as "Dear woman." The Jewish New Testament renders the word "Mother." Mary obviously was not put off by the way Jesus addressed her, notes David H. Stern in his Jewish New Testament Commentary . Mary was undaunted and continued to work with Jesus toward solving the problem. Likewise, Jesus did not ignore the problem His mother brought to His attention—He went above and beyond.
Imagine it: He was the one who commanded from the midst of fire and smoke on Mt. Sinai, "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you" (Exodus:20:12).
He also later inspired the apostle Paul to write, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right" (Ephesians:6:1).
He must have been the most obedient child in the history of the world. As a teen and young adult, He must have set an awesome example of honoring His parents. The Bible doesn't tell many details of this, because the Gospel accounts have other purposes. These include showing that the spiritual—our relationship with God—is even more important than our physical family, and that Christ's mission as God in the flesh unavoidably conflicted with normal family life.
Talk about a generation gap or a communication problem! His parents truly couldn't understand Him at times! And although He actually did know more than His parents, He was willing to submit to them.
Some Bible readers mistakenly assume, after reading some of Jesus' comments the way they are recorded in the Gospels, that He didn't think much of family bonds. Closer analysis, however, shows that Jesus was very respectful of His parents. Since we are commanded as Christians to be like Jesus Christ, we can learn a lot about how we should regard our parents by examining how Jesus regarded His. If the perfect Creator God could honor and love fallible human parents, so should we.
Clearing up misconceptions
Let's look at Matthew:8:21-22, where Jesus appears to rebuke a disciple for not agreeing to follow Him at the moment because he wanted to stay behind to bury his father. Verse 22 states, "But Jesus said to him, 'Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.'"
At first glance, Jesus appears to have given a very cold, callous response to someone who is mourning the loss of a loved one. But further information from someone familiar with the culture of the day sheds important light on this example. Dr. Stern asserts that the disciple's father was not dead yet, or he would have been at home practicing the type of deep mourning we see in later Gospel accounts of Mary and Martha at the death of their brother, Lazarus. Dr. Stern suggests that the disciple wanted to live in comfort with his father until he died, which may still have been years away, collect his inheritance and then, at his leisure, rejoin the disciples at a more convenient time.
Thus, Jesus' response could be stated as, "Let the spiritually dead (those who are consumed with the cares of this world) bury their own physical dead." Jesus was not teaching disrespect for one's father. He was simply telling the disciple to get his priorities straight.
Just a few chapters later, in Matthew:12:46-50, Jesus appears to disown His own family. His mother Mary and His brothers wait outside while He is inside, teaching a group of people. Jesus' family sends word inside that they want to speak with Him, to which He replies in verses 48-50: "'Who is My mother and who are My brothers?' And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, 'Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.'"
Mary and His brothers gave no indication why they wanted to speak with Jesus. Dr. Stern suggests that they might have simply brought Him food or water, but also could have wanted to ask Him to stop preaching or could have even planned to take Him away from His disciples by force. Since their purpose wasn't clear, Jesus probably thought it best to take the opportunity to point out that spiritual ties always come before family ties.
Likewise, in Mark:10:29-30, in which Jesus states that those who have left family or possessions for the sake of the gospel will receive much in return, He is emphasizing the importance of the Kingdom, not devaluing the family.
Some argue that Jesus advocated hatred toward family in Luke:14:26, in which He said, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple."
Many translations and commentaries suggest that a better way of understanding the meaning of "hate" in today's language would be "love less by comparison," for a God of love who is building a family would never advocate hatred of siblings, spouses and children. Dr. Stern notes that the phrase "and his own life also" is key to understanding the verse. Total dedication to Jesus and the gospel, not alienation from family, is the goal.
Jesus upholds the Fifth Commandment
In Mark:7:6-13, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for shirking their family responsibilities. In earlier verses, the Pharisees had criticized Jesus and His disciples for not practicing ritual Jewish washings before they ate. Jesus responded by calling them hypocrites for trying to get around the Fifth Commandment—to honor their parents—through their tradition of Corban.
This tradition allowed Jews to dedicate their money and possessions as a gift to God and the temple, but to retain use of their wealth until their death. Under this tradition, such individuals refused to help their needy parents in their old age, saying that their money was Corban—that is, dedicated to God. Jesus pointed out that this was a blatant, selfish way of breaking the Fifth Commandment.
In addition to Jesus' miracle of producing wine at Cana, the Gospel accounts give us details of two other interactions between Jesus and Mary. The first account is in Luke:2:42-50, when Jesus at age 12 remained in Jerusalem after the Spring Feast. Joseph and Mary believed their Son was among the group traveling with them and initially did not realize He was missing. Three days later, they found Jesus in the temple, reasoning with the teachers. Upon finding Him, Mary asked "Son, why have You done this to us?"
As a mother, she was naturally worried. But Scripture gives us no evidence that Jesus disobeyed His parents. They believed He had left with them, but there is no mention of a command to come with the family that Jesus disregarded.
Though current Western tradition regards age 18 as the time when a child becomes an adult, Jewish boys of the first century had a "coming of age" at 12. This was when they started being held responsible for keeping the law, and when they first read from the Torah during public synagogue services.
With that view of 12-year-old boys, and with the revelation Mary had been given, she should not have been so worried and should have known where to find Him, says Dr. Stern. Once again, Jesus was placing spiritual priorities ahead of physical ones, and He did not disobey His parents.
Finally, in John:19:26-27, Jesus shows love for His mother in one of His final actions as a human being. In the last hours of His life, Jesus undoubtedly had a lot on His mind, including the unbelievable pain and exhaustion He felt, the way He had been mistreated, the need not to sin in His final moments and His upcoming victory.
However, in this most traumatic time, He still showed love, respect and responsibility for His mother, Mary, to make sure she would be cared for. With the last of His strength He lovingly asked His best friend, John, to take care of her.
While the Gospel accounts don't give us detailed instructions on every issue that can arise between children and their parents, they do show Jesus obeying the Fifth Commandment. As Christians, we are commanded to live as Christ lived, so let's be sure we honor our parents. VT