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Bible Study

Who is my mother? by the author Shirley Erena Murray

A hymn about

  • those who share the Spirit of Jesus
  • inclusiveness
  • relationship
  • focus
  • purpose

LOOK UP Mark 3:31; Matthew 12: 46-50; Luke 13:29; Isaiah 25:6

The main symbol of Christian teaching about community is a table, with people seated round it, sharing food. Not an altar, with priest and sacrificial offering, but something essentially homely, familiar, accessible.

So this hymn is written to express, in contemporary terms, the meaning of the table as gathering place, the character and identity of the people who come and the kinship of all who know God’s presence there.

It also raises questions about how the Church, or churches, present this symbol to the non-churched world. For example:

  • how open is this table, really?
  • what protocols (table manners) are expected?
  • are there rules about qualifying, and if so, who makes them?

Let’s look at the text:

Verse 1

One of the most poignant words of Jesus is the rather shocking question: ‘Who is my mother?’ Didn’t he love and respect her, as a Jewish son was bound to? Of course he was not reducing his mother to be an ordinary member of his community. Rather, he was raising the crowd to be equal in affection and relationship to his mother and family.

Jesus is saying, by asking the question and giving the answer, that in God’s sight everyone is family who chooses to come – except for those who, by their own choice and action, show their rejection of other human beings.

This was the question for the Jews then, and for the majority of humankind now, because it changes the basis of our own personal identity, and more, our ‘corporate’ or tribal identities.

The universality of Jesus’s message is still a challenge, and is clearly seen in those who gather round the table.

LOOK UP Acts 2: An essential element in this understanding is shown in the story of the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost to people ‘of every nation under heaven’. The more expected word in line 4 might have been ‘Spirit-filled’ but ‘Spirit-blown’ is a reference to John 3:8, something less definable, but in this context, more powerful.

Verse 2 ‘Differently abled, differently labelled . . .’

RECALL AND LIST those stories in the Gospel about the ‘halt, the lame and the blind’ who came to Jesus for healing.

Then list the socially undesirable in these stories: lepers, women, tax collectors . . . .

And the culturally undesirable: Romans, Samaritans, even Pharisees (a culture within a culture) . . . .

The heart of the Good News is that no one is rejected because of perceived or labelled deficiency or disability. The very nature of Jesus was to welcome people as they were, and to see them as potentially fully human. As others come into the company of the table, the circle changes shape, grows wider to include all our human variables.

Q: Who would you feel uncomfortable sitting beside at the table?

Q: What has your church done to make its worship, leadership in worship, and facilities accessible to differently-abled people?

Verse 3 ‘Love will relate us’

It is not easy for us Christians to accept the universality of Jesus. Love recognizes and overcomes differences which most of the time are barriers to us. We experience the reality of this inclusiveness only when faced with a specific challenge and choice.

Look at Peter, preaching the Gospel of universal acceptance in Acts 2, but finding it extremely difficult to apply in Acts 10! This was the breakthrough for early Christians struggling with the acceptance of both Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free. (Gal. 3:28)

‘Family failings, human derailings’ The things that cause us embarrassment or shame can separate us off from one another. And not just individuals going ‘off the rails’ but the ways in which the family of the Church lets people down. This hymn was written in the context of the World Council of Churches meeting in 1991, where both the gay and lesbian communities and the differently-abled (their own term) expressed deep sorrow and anger at the non-inclusive attitude of the Christian family.

Q: How do we explain or excuse continuing disunity among ourselves, rejection of other faiths, failure to speak out with one voice on issues of social justice ‘that the world may believe’? Be specific: think about your local challenges here.

Verse 4 ‘Bound by one vision, met for one mission’

LOOK UP Matt. 28:16 The Great Commission. The climax of the post-resurrection story is the sending out of the disciples to preach to all people, everywhere. Alongside this, we need to put the other directive of Jesus, ‘Follow me!’ Because mission is not simply a strategy related to, but remote from, the life of Jesus. It is certainly not the ‘conversion’ of the ‘heathen’ to become like us, but for us to be converted to Jesus, his ways, his table, and to become like him.

This hymn challenges us in the Church to see things in the round, to face our ‘pockets of resistance’ – personal, cultural, theological – to see our neighbour as ourselves, and to bring in some more seats! Jesus is not seated at the head of the table (there is no head of a round table) but Jesus is the person sitting between each of us, joining us in a unity which the world desperately, despairingly needs.

© 2000 Shirley Erena Murray. Copying facilities provided are limited to local use by owners of HymnQuest. Wider or commercial use needs negotiation with the copyright holder.

The copyright in this bible study vests in the author. Permission is given for them to be reproduced by HymnQuest purchasers for local use. Wider or commercial use requires their consent.

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