Horace Bushnell.

Sermons on living subjects online

. (page 2 of 29)
Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 2 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

whereupon the mother tells him, " they have no
wine ;" as if expecting of him just the miracle he is
going to perform. At which Jesus turns upon her
sharply, saying, " Woman, what have I to do with
thee ? my hour is not yet come." She pays, we notice,
no attention to his rebuke, as she certainly would if
she had felt the severity we do in it, but goes aside to
the servants telling them to wait his orders and do
whatever he bids them. She has no idea what that
will be ; but she evidently hopes that he will somehow
make up the deficiency and permit them to go on with
the distribution.

Now the first thing to be said of this supposed rep
rimand is that the salutation, " Woman," sounding
harsh and hard in English and very nearly insolent,
will be quite delivered of its harshness by just observ
ing that no such bluffness of meaning is implied in the
Greek, but that it is a form of address constantly used
in salutations altogether affectionate. We have a case
exactly in point, where Christ himself addresses his
mother from his cross in this very salutation " Wo
man, behold thy son." But the words that follow
" What have I to do with thee," have just as little of
reprimand possibly ; for they are words capable of all
varieties and shades of temperament in the Greek
idiom, the most harshly blunt and the most tenderly
cordial ; while in English they are nothing but a blow


in the face. The Greek words, literally given, are
simply "What is there to me and tothee?" the
words " to do " being stuck in to make up the English
idiom. And the question, " What is there to me and
to thee" what concern that is common may mean
either " do not put this matter in my way," " do not
push me with untimely suggestions ;" or it may mean,
harshly spoken, " let me alone ;" " I will have no part
with you." Taking the softer sense of the words, and
adding the clause which follows, the Saviour only
says, " let this matter, woman, be for me, I can not
begin now my hour is not yet come." But his hour
had come nevertheless, even the hour of doing his
first miracle, as we straightway see. And the remark
able thing about the speech, in which he is so com
monly thought to be hard in rebuke upon his mother,
is that it signifies nothing of the kind, but is only
what he lets out in the recoil of his feeling, at the
moment, and is passed away the next moment, as a
cloud passes oif the sun. " The beginning of miracles
to be made even here verily I can not begin ! How
can I launch myself on this Messiahship? This awful
world-burden, how can I take it up ?" And yet he
took it up ! and the dreaded break of his beginning
is just here made !

The assumption that Mary has somehow come into
his secret plan about the wine, and is letting it out
here by a kind of untimely and officious meddling that
displeases him, is unpardonably coarse and heedless.
She lets out nothing, she does not bolt upon the


guests in the announcement that " the wine is out !"
but she simply says to Jesus, privately and apart,
" they have no wine." And then his reply to her is
also private of course. Neither are they low enough
in their manners, to violate a wedding scene by any
such indecent behavior as the open altercation here as
cribed to them, by many commentators, would certainly
exhibit. Besides, if Mary had any quality honorable
above all others, it was in the closeness of her pru
dence, and the title she got to the confidence of her
son, by keeping all he said and showed of his advanc
ing story treasured in her heart. Keeping him shel
tered in this beautiful confidence, she had a largely
open state with him for her dear reward.

And yet we can see from the cast of this dialogue
and story that something had transpired, giving it the
turn it discovers in the matter of the wine. Perhaps
we can not tell what, but we are at liberty to imagine
any thing most convenient. Thus when Christ came
up from the Jordan, after his probably two or three
months absence after the baptism, after the call,
after the temptation his mother, we will say, ob
served a remarkable change in his appearance. He
seemed like one borne heavily down, by some un
known burden. When they w^ere apart by them
selves, she probably enough expostulated with him ;
whereupon he told her exactly what was come upon
him ; viz. : to be himself the Messiah of the prophets !
Which again led them to go over, in their conversa
tion, what the prophet Messiah is to do and to be all


the ministries lie is to perform for tlie poor, the sick,
the broken-hearted, and the oppressed, all that he is to
suffer, as the Lamb of God in the taking away of
transgression, according to Isaiah s recital in his fifty-
third chapter, and according to John s staple idea,
just now given, in his salutation at the baptism ; so to
set up the Kingdom of God among men and call the
Gentiles into it, as the saving grace of God for all
mankind. Most natural it was, in this recapitulation,
to strike on that beautiful call of Messiah, when his
work is done, " Ho every one that thirsteth, come ye
to the waters, and he that hath no money come ye,
buy and eat, yea come, buy wine and milk without
money and without price." "Why this, said Mary
this wine is festivity, and you must not have your
heart oppressed by a mission so glad. This free-gift
wine makes a wedding-day of your Messiahship, and
what are we here for, but to see the beginning of it ?
So they talked the night away, it may be, and why
shall we not see, in the frequent recurrence of this
image of the wedding, in the Saviour s parables after-
Awards, how deep an impression the prophet s wedding
call had made upon him. And to-morrow it will come
out, in the miracle of the wine, that Jesus and his
mother had been somehow, or in some such way, ap
proaching a point of expectation here. We do at
least discover how little reason there may have been
for the reprimand of Mary by her son, in the matter
of the miracle; how innocent she was in trTenrBerty
she took, and how little thought he may have had of


any reprimand at all. There is no reprimand, save
under the English idiom.

Let us look a moment now at the .home basis Mary
has provided for Jesus, in the prosecution of his min
istry. She has, besides him, four sons, and probably
three daughters. It has been long debated, whether
these are Mary s own children or only cousins taken
by adoption, or possibly children of Joseph by a for
mer marriage. I will not undertake the question.
Let it be enough that these children ought to be
Mary s, to complete the incarnation itself. For if she
must needs live and die in churchly virginity, lest she
bring a taint on her divine motherhood by maternity
in wedlock afterward, her incarnation office even puts
dishonor on both wedlock and maternity together. Or
if she must save her son from being own brother to
any body by his incarnation, what genuine significance
is there in the fact ? The debate is visibly instigated
by some ascetic, over-dainty scruple, as regards the
true honors of marriage and a mortal blood relation.

The ministry of Jesus shortly brings him round to
Nazareth, where he is set upon, at his preaching, by
the fanatical rage of his townsmen, and compelled to
flee for his life. Mary can not give him up to the lot
of a wanderer, but hastens after him down to Caper
naum, where the whole family are soon established in
housekeeping for his sake. Probably they had a very
little property, else why did Mary and Joseph go up
to Bethlehem for the taxing ? The four brothers too


appear to be now earning a support for the family.
Still, having no purse when out in his ministry, Christ
can only throw himself on the public hospitality. But
w r hen he conies back to Capernaum, as he is doing
every few days, it is pleasant to know that some of the
more frugal comforts are allowed him at his mother s
house, and that there, at least, he can find where to
lay his head and be a son at home.

But we ask to see the inside picture of this home.
There was never on earth a family composed of mate
rial more diverse in the assortment. There are two
heads in it circled with a halo, and seven that are not ;
one is the Sacred Child or Man, the other a Woman
made sacred by his miraculous sonship. As regards
the seven, there is evidence that one of them at least,
" James the Lord s brother," had a large fund of pow
er in his gifts. After the martyrdom of James the
apostle, he won the apostleship by his personal merit
and force of character, and presided wisely and well,
in a most difficult time, over the great metropolitan
church at Jerusalem. There w r as vigor enough doubt
less in the four unsainted sons, to maintain them at
cross purposes always with their elder sinless brother.
But Mary was happily prepared for the molding of
these ill-related elements, by the fact that her mother
hood feeling to Jesus w r as unlike that of any mere nat
ural mother to her child. She bent over her Holy
Thing with religious awe and not in mere fondness.
Her love worshiped, as it were, with the Magi, when
they came witli their gifts. And her silent, almost


reverent respect towards Jesus, connected with no
manner of partiality, put him always in their respect,
and made him a kind of benignant presence among

Of course they had their human thoughts about
him, such as were not always just or wise. Perhaps
they were a little tried, or put on some hard speeches,
by his dropping out of work, and throwing over the
care of the family on them as if he had found some
thing better to do about the country than the duties
of the eldest son at home ! And yet he was their won
derful, strange brother, held in constant respect and,
to tell the truth, in real admiration. Thus we have a
scene given us and a dialogue, that, if we may judge,
passes inside- of the house, ami shows all the brothers
together. The great feast of tabernacles is about com
ing off, at Jerusalem, and the brothers going up for
they are all so far religious urge it specially on
Jesus to put himself forward now in his impressive
demonstrations ; so to let the public men of the nation
see what is in him. For if he is perchance the Great
King, Messiah, what may he not possibly do for their
advancement ! Their argument is " For no man who
has merit keeps it secret, but seeks to be known open
ly, and shows himself to the world." And the evan
gelist adds " For neither did his brethren believe in
him." He does not mean that they are spiritual rejec
tors, in that sense unbelievers ; for that is an idea not
yet born. They are willing enough plainly to be
lieve, but he is a riddle to every body, the Mes-


siahship itself is a riddle, and even John the prophet
reels incontinently out of his faith. In their over-
politic advice there is no ill nature. They even count
on going up to the feast in company with him,
hoping there to witness some great success, that
will justify their admiration and mightily bring
on the family. James, the future apostle, has
been practicing in this prudentially contriving way
from his childhood onward, as he will yet again
show at the great council at Jerusalem ; and if
Jesus had been a debating character, policy and prin
ciple the two worlds represented in the house would
have been crepitating always in their two kinds of
electricity. But his way no doubt has been always, to
hold the dialogue of the house a little way off, and
save it thus from becoming a wrangle. So we see him
contriving here repelled and hurt as he is by their
counsel to set his clever brothers off on their religious
journey, without him. How can he go up with them,
thinking all the way, as reminded by their presence lie
must, of the high figure he is now expected to make !

In this glance at the mother s family w r e see them
all engaged for him and with him, and if they do not
believe in him, they will stick fast by him, we can see,
in dearest and most faithful love. As she actually did,
following him to the cross and staying unflinchingly
by him in his awful hour ; and as she and they togeth
er also did, still holding on upon his unknown future,
after his horrible death had blasted seemingly all fur
ther hope in it; gathering in with his apostles, to wait


with them the coming of his unknown promise they
alone to be specially named in the roll of the little
apostolic assembly, " Mary the mother of Jesus and his
brethren " conspicuously honored in that record as the
head family thus of the kingdom.

How absurd now is the discovery, put forward
by critics who are willing to let down the person
al honors of Mary by setting a stigma on her char
acter, that about this time she joins the church
party against him, and heads a kind of family
conspiracy to get him under constraint. Christ
has been pressed all day by multitudes in and about
Capernaum, teaching them in successions of parable,
and healing their plagues, and has not even found
time to so much as eat bread. And now, at last,
word comes to Mary, that he has been cornered and
rushed into a court, where he is completely hedged in
by the multitude or mob, raging madly against him.
The family hasten thither, greatly concerned for him,
and what is specially uncomfortable, fearing that he is
finally getting quite beside himself; for his extraordin
ary sentiments and strangely unconventional utterances,
exceeding even the eccentricities of genius, have been
keeping them always in this kind of disturbance, till
now they are quite unwontedly concerned lest he is
becoming lunatic; a fear that is increased by the
charges of foul possession, that are being debated by
the multitudes inside of the house. Now the repre
sentation is, that his family are come down to the place


" to lay hold of him ;" but what are we to understand
by that ? They are certainly not absurd enough to think
of seizing him by violence in that crowd, or we ab
surd enough to impute any such design. The natural
and proper conception is that they are come to bring
him off by their friendly remonstrances, or half-com
pelling importunities, requiring him, as it were, to go
home with them and rest, and take his necessary food.
They send in word accordingly, that his mother and
family are without, desiring to speak with. him. Per
ceiving at once the over-tender concern that has
brought them hither, instead of going instantly forth
at their call, he finds opportunity in it to say to the
multitude about him, that he is here among men, as
in a large and most dear family. And who is my
mother, and who are my brethren, but you all here
present, who can do the will of God ? " for whosoever
shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and
sister, and mother " such and so great is the dear blood
affinity with mankind, into which he is born. The
whole significance and beauty of the appeal is, from
family affection to the broader affection of God s uni
versal family. There is nothing to be blamed in what
Mary is here doing, and Christ blames nothing. To
say that she is here with her .family posse to seize and
drag away, is a libel too absurd. Besides, it is a most
sorry detraction from all dignity of sentiment in the
lesson Christ is giving here, to imagine that he draws
it from his displeased feeling ; saying thus " I drop
these faithless relatives, and turn to you, hoping to


at least make brothers of you, since these desert and be
tray me." The impeachment is too sharp, to allow any
look of attraction, in the universal brotherhood relation
thus severely commended. A family quarrel stands in
winning connection with nothing so grandly fraternal.

Mary s behavior at the cross fitly ends her story.
On the way out a great company of people follow,
comprising many women who go to bewail him, and
make up the procession of mourners. Mary, the
mother, was deep enough in mourning, but she could
not join that noisy company, and it does not appear
that the other two Marys, Magdalene and the wife of
Cleopas, were in it. At first, when the cross is set up,
and the suspension made, they are with the mother at
the cross. But we shortly find them in a larger circle-
of women, looking on from a point farther off ; having
floated away thither unconsciously, perhaps, in the
swing of the crowd. Mary, the mother, is thus left
alone, waiting there by the cross during all those
dreadful hours, till Jesus dies. And observe she
" stood," a word of strong composure. Her knees
do not give way. She does not faint, or fall on her
face. She does not toss her arms in shrieks and wild
hysteric wailings ; not allowing herself, when a scene
so transcendent is passing, to make a scene of her own
private griefs. Doubtless she remembers the word of
Simeon, that went before upon her, when he said
" Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul
also," but there she stands, in the beloved disciple s


company, holding fast the decencdes of sorrow, as if
the proprieties of the worlds were upon her ! At
length, when life is ebbing to the close, Jesus says to
her, in the undertone, probably, of his failing voice,
"Woman, behold thy son !" to him. also, " Behold thy
mother !" Under this last will and testament, she
goes out silent with John, who takes her to his home.
Why Jesus committed her thus to John and not to the
four brothers, it is not difficult to guess ; for John has
a home as they certainly have not, and are not likely
soon to have again. For the dreadful ignominy fall
ing on the house in his death, he sees must utterly
crush out and scatter the family. However, the ex
pression " from that hour that disciple took her to his
own home," is sufficiently justified, without under
standing that she remained with him till she died, or
longer than till her return back to Galilee. Besides
it is to be noted too, that she and the four brothers are
actually gathered family-wise, in the ante-pentecostal
assembly. Where, no doubt, they all had their minds
opened, under Peter s sermon, to the full discovery of
what their Jesus had come into the world to do. And
the scene was a kind of new birth to them all, putting
them in courage again, and bringing them friends to
help them by the ministration of abundant means, and
a wonderful, unheard-of sympathy.

How long after this she lived we do not know. But
we could most easily believe that when her mind was
opened at the pentecost, to the meaning of her son s
great mission, she was at once so astounded and exalted


by the awful height of her relationship, that her soul
took wing in the uplift of her felt affinity with the High
est, and was gone ! But w r e have no such traditions.
Possibly the suspicion that some were like to give
her annoyance by the tender of divine honors,
put her on ways of withdrawment and silence. The
remarkable thing is that John has nothing to say of
her, or to report from her : except, probably, the story
of Cana ; for the conversation of that story being pri
vate between her and her son, could have been reported
only by her, and is given by John alone of all the
evangelists. If John had her with him even for
years, speaking freely of what she knew, how many
things could she have told him that we so much long
to hear the story of the nativity, at first hand, from
her human point of view, in its due connection with
her prayers ; all the memorabilia of the wonderful
childhood ; all about the mind-growth and develop
ment of the child, or his advancing genius in the mat
ter of character. And yet the apostle, beginning his
gospel far back in the solemn arcana of the Eternal
Word, and passing directly over Mary to speak, four
teen verses after, of " the Word made flesh," gives
not so much as a trace of mention, concerning her
maternal place and office in the story. Making no
report of her conversations, he is equally silent as
regards her death; telling never when she died, or
how she died, or in what place she was buried. And
it is well ; for there was even a much higher necessity
in her case, than in that of Moses, that her burial-


place should be hidden from mortal knowledge.
Otherwise it would be the center of a vaster idolatry
than the world has ever known. The divine wisdom,
too, as I think, somehow took her aside, with a set
purpose not to let her mix her human-story products,
beautiful arid graceful as they were, with Christ s im
mortal life-word from above. About all we can say
of her, therefore, under her embargo of silence, is
that she appears until she disappears ; which she does
most wonderful, most nearly divine of all human
characters in the stillness of a snow-flake falling into
the sea.

But her disappearing from us does not bring her
story to an end ; it only prepares our final appearing
o her, on a higher plane of life, where she will most
assuredly be the center of a higher feeling than some
of us may have imagined. Our pitiful mistraining
here is assuredly there to be corrected, as an all but
mortal impropriety. And when that correction is
made, such flavors of beauty, and sweetness, and true
filial reverence will be shed abroad, I can easily be
lieve, in such loving and blessed diffusion, as will even
recast for us Protestants at least, the type and tem
perament of the heavenly feeling itself. The true
relativity of motherhood gets no place in us here,
because we are in a prejudice that extirpates right
perception ; recoiling even from her person, as if that
were somehow to blame for the dismal idolatries pros
trate before it, and the mock-worship gathered in it to


her shrine. Probably there was never any created
being of all the created worlds, put in such honor as
this woman, chosen to be the Lord s mother ; all the
more truly our mother, that, from her begins the new
born human race. " Hail, thou highly favored."
" Blessed art thou among women !"

To her it is given, even to grow the germ-life of
the Divine Man, Son of the Father, in its spring.
And her behavior is beautiful enough to even meet an
occasion so high. That grace of bearing, that sweet,
devout modesty, such as became the motherhood of
everlasting innocence ; that watching of her miracu
lous boy, that could so easily be telling his wonders
with a weak mother s fondness in the street, but
which still she was treasuring in her heart ; that
wondrous propriety of silence at the cross, allowing
her no wail of outcry in that hour, lest she might
be making herself a part of the scene O ye lilies
and other white harbingers of spring, culled so often
by art to be symbols of her unspotted motherhood,
what can ye show of silent flowering in the white of
purity, which she does not much better show herself!

We seem just now, in these modern centuries of
Reformation, to be assuming that Mary is gone by,
and the honors paid her ended ; and if we choose to
let our hearts be barbarized in the coarse, unappre-
ciating prejudices that have been, so far, our bitter
element, there certainly are finer molded ages to come.
Is it too soon even now to admit some feeling of ration
al shame, that we have been weak enough to let our


eyes be so long plastered with this clay? Doubtless it
must be the first thing with us, after we have entered
the great world before us, to get cleared, and assured,
and at home in our relations to the Son of Man him
self. After that our next thing, as I think, will be
to know our mother, the mother of Jesus ; for no
other of the kingdom, save the King himself, has a
name that signifies more. And I make no question
that, when the great hierarchs and princes of other
worlds and ages, who are challenged to pay their Ho-
sannas in the Highest, throng in to meet us, they will
ask, first of all, for the woman by whom, under God s
quickening overshadow, Christ, the Eternal Son of
God, obtained his life-connection with the race, and
his birth into practical brotherhood with it. As the
Sages of the east, guided by the star, brought their
tribute to the child at her stall, so these ancients of
God will come in with us, wanting above all to know
the woman herself, at whose royal motherhood and by
it, Immanuel, the King, broke into the world, and set
up his kingdom. And higher still is she raised by the
recognition of her son himself; for* as she is yearning

Online LibraryHorace BushnellSermons on living subjects → online text (page 2 of 29)