Reflection for the fourth Sunday of Lent, Mothering Sunday.

‘They returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him.’ From Luke 2:33-51, today’s Gospel.

‘Besides male and female, there are 72 other genders.’ MedecineNet

Today’s Gospel focuses on the encounter in the Temple of Jesus and his parents with Simeon and Anna, the aged people who realise who the child is. Simeon tells Mary that what will happen will be painful for her and images such as Michaelangelo’s Pietà depict Mary holding the body of her dead son after standing near the cross at his crucifixion. Equally, there are images of a serene Mary holding his her baby and many parents will recognise the anguish and the joy that can be part of raising a child today. 

It’s recently been suggested in the media that the terms ‘father’ and ‘mother’ should not be used but that ‘parent’ would be preferable. A very mixed reaction has resulted but, with the Welsh Senedd putting tampon machines into the men’s toilets and it being suggested that there are 73 genders, this is not an easy time to be either a parent or a child as these things are debated. 

That confusion is echoed in the rest of the reading today, in which Mary and Joseph go up to Jerusalem for Passover but, unknowingly, return without Jesus. They assume he is with other families travelling in their group but he has actually stayed in Jerusalem and it takes them a day to realise that he’s not with them. When they return to look for Jesus, it takes another three days to find him with the teachers in the Temple and they are understandably very worried about him by then. But, as Mary questions him, he asks why they were searching for him when he must be in his father’s house. What effect did that have on both Joseph and Mary? Luke tells us that he then came back to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them but that Mary treasured all these things as the child grew in wisdom as well as height. 

It can’t have been easy for Mary as she ‘treasured’ these things but what happened then would perhaps be rather different today. At a time when communities don’t always do as much communal care of their youngsters as they did, if parents don’t know where their child is for four days, awkward questions might well begin to be asked. However, it could perhaps hearten us that even then Mary and Joseph found raising their child a challenge when so many issues confront us today and when Joseph was, in effect, a stepfather to Jesus.

During a retreat, I came across a mop head suspended in a cage with a light rigged up to provide warmth with food and water provided by the warden. Underneath the mop were chicks whose mother had been killed by a fox – the mop wasn’t ideal, but it was good enough to provide warmth and shelter for those chicks until they could fend for themselves. With life as a refugee in Egypt for two years and Joseph being, in effect, a stepfather to Jesus as he passed on to him his skills as a carpenter, it’s clear that Jesus’ family had to fend for themselves at times and that they embodied many of the challenges some families still face today. Nevertheless, despite his parents not realising he was missing, Jesus’ upbringing was sufficient for him to become who he was destined to be and the same hope applies to us in the changing circumstances we may face today. Mary and Joseph weren’t perfect parents and, as Mothering Sunday is also called Refreshment Sunday, perhaps we can allow our souls to be refreshed by their example!

With my prayers; pob bendith,

Christine, Guardian.