Paths To Power - Overshadowing Power
( Originally Published 1905 )
"The power of the Highest shall overshadow thee." Luke i. 35.
(A Christmas Evening Narration and Meditation.)
THE human heart does not exhaust a reverent interest in Mary and her Child. The mind has its questions to ask. Never was mother-hood so eager, as to-day, to measure up to the divine privilege. Never did Mary's motherhood so command and satisfy every finest ideal. But what one of the dear mothers here would not like to know a little more of the manner of her progress with her child in that education, which is the education which every mother must guide and foster, and which was also so peculiarly personal and unlike that of other children because of the child's unique character and future?
When, if ever, did Mary the mother exhaust the power and resource of motherhood in telling her Child and explaining to Him the fact that He was the Messiah? When did she timorously and yet prayer-fully venture to let Him into the secret of that day when Gabriel entered her chamber, she answered: "Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word?" When did she relate to her little son the story of that night in the grotto, in the Bethlehem stable-yard, when the shepherds came and found Him lying in a manger? When did she take up any of the fine presents which the Persian astrologers had brought to Him, if any of them were left after the journey to Egypt and back again, and seek to impress upon His young mind the significance of the more than one hundred days' pilgrimage by the Magi, in bringing honor unto Him?
The fact that these are unanswered questions means that for us the duty of life must be illumined elsewhere. We leave these questions and fancied answers, with the sacred silence in the gospel stories. If ever these questions had been answered-and they would have been answered, if we possessed a humanly composed tale rather than a divinely inspired history —the answers must have invaded the holy privacy of those hours when, at eventide, the Child of Mary, tired of His play, and yet unsatisfied with the message of His playmates to His musing life, looked out into the West beyond Esdraelon and the range of Carmel, as the sun was sinking and the Infinite wooed the finite into its mystery. But what a wonderful life was opening before that mother's eyes! In a sense which robs Jesus of Nazareth of no ray of His divinity, it must be said that His divinity was a discovery to Him through His humanity. Mary was to behold that discovery. Who could shade her eyes from its glory save the Highest? Mary was to be herself a fact by which He was to rise into a dignity and grandeur which would bewilder her if she saw clearly and at once. God will Himself overshadow her, as He has on the way back from Egypt.
They are in their own country again, and Herod is dead. Did you expect them at Jerusalem? No. Did you expect them at Bethlehem? You will not find them there. The world's Emancipator, the one soul of history, who was to illustrate divinity at its loftiest by dwelling in humanity at its lowliest, must not avoid Nazareth. Why not rear Him in David's royal city? No greatest inspirations for history flow through that conduit. Not aristocratic Bethlehem at all, only some Nazareth will try and train your new ideal. Jesus must spend the days and months of open-eyed boyhood and the responsive and resilient years of youth there, and nowhere else. So, when Joseph reached Palestine on the return from Egypt, his plans for residence at Bethlehem were changed, and he proceeded to Nazareth, where he had loved Mary, and where his home was now to be.
Wherever Nazareth was in the geography of man's physical life, it is the name of that realm in his spiritual life which associates itself with that which saves men. Yes, prophecy has reason in it: "He shall be called a Nazarene." Jesus "His name shall be called Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins" Jesus, the Christ, must ever be "Jesus of Nazareth" who "passeth by." There are limits even upon Almighty Love, when Love seeks truly to reveal Himself. God, who is the Highest, cannot rear the Son of the Highest ethically, save in the atmosphere and by the aid of the problems of the lowliest. Bethlehem curls its superior lip at the mention of Nazareth, not perhaps because Nazareth is as low as Bethlehem thinks, but because Bethlehem thinks so; yet the King of men must bring good out of Nazareth. Nazareth was the triumph of the commonplace. Doubtless Nazareth was not the frightfully despicable little town which we often hear described so realistically. The effort to make it contrast violently with its chief citizen is not suggestive. Joseph and Mary were not so straitened in any condition as to forcefully set them in contrast with other people. They experienced only the poverty which is quite unconscious of itself. Joseph and Mary were poor, as most of the human race are poor; but theirs was not the sort of poverty to furnish forth a hero and heroine because they lived in it. So, also, the dullness of Nazareth was the dullness of most of our planet where men huddle together; it could not supply even their son with a superficial gloriousness because He resided there. Christ entered the world, and lived in it at its lowliest, only because His environment furnished nothing in either direction for genius to endure or to feed upon. As later he came upon manhood, and the Carpenter of Nazareth went forth to patch up the old house of a neighbor, carrying His tools with Him in the usual way, He some-times found that His work led Him out of the town upon the loftier rise of ground behind and above the city, if one is looking toward the north, and there-from He mused upon the clustered and flat-roofed houses, without remarking at all upon the sordidness of the village or the penury or ignorance of its inhabitants. At this earlier time, however, Joseph must have been still living, and all the years of boyhood were yet to elapse with some of the years of His youth, before Jesus would take His place as the town carpenter. Or, to take another view of Him, if, at some such hour, looking from that height, He saw into the Infinity which at last pushed open the gates of His nature, His eye swept along the plain of Esdraelon yonder toward white crowned Hermon, and He was unconscious of any vigorous incongruity between the town on the hill and the mingled lights and shadows playing in His mind. God manifest in the flesh was Jesus, and yet He was a human boy for this very reason. Commonplace days had come. The power of the Highest was with Mary in helping her to deal wisely with the ordinary, after she had been so strained by the extraordinary. This takes something more than genius; it requires God's help just to do the customary duties in common light, after one has been exalted in such a glory as she knew.
Before the time of such a possible occurrence as I just indicated, even now as a child, Jesus must fulfill all the laws of earth. The most heavenly manner in which He is to do this will made Him not an infant prodigy, uttering an idealism not understood by His playmates, but a tiny citizen in that little nook of our common world. This must have seemed a great change, from the supernatural of other days to the commonplaces of these days, as His education was beginning. God had given Him, not a faculty of illustrious archangels for His university, but a human father and a human mother; the uneven roads and lanes of Nazareth to press with baby feet; a home not unlike those of the children of the other two thou-sand inhabitants, the green fields of the valley, the mountain walls about it, the public school in or near the synagogue, in which latter He was religious with the rest, and all that mingling of vision and prejudice, patriotism and conceit, ignorance and knowledge, lowliness and loftiness of aim, fear and hope, which characterized an atmosphere common to all. His parents must have been more than ordinarily devout, and their peculiar experience may have widened, while also, in other ways, it intensified and narrowed their sympathies. But they escaped no besetment of false views because their child was called to great things. God overshadowed Mary. Nay, they were more sure to be close to the human because He was divine. Deity runs through narrow defiles oftentimes to compass in the next moment universal ends. For example, the old feud with Samaria must have often come into mind, even when they looked southward upon the mountain-chain. The blunders of the over-discriminating rabbis had not disastrously affected the religious enthusiasm of His parents, yet they were not, for that reason, exempt from the usually accepted opinions as to many things concerning which He was taught with ordinary error, and with the customary limitations of parental knowledge. His earth was the center of the planetary system, and Jerusalem was the center of His earth. When He first heard others talk in the synagogue, or at the home of His father, where friends gathered, sitting, after the Eastern manner, upon the few mats they had, or on the mats which the visitors brought, and the conversation turned upon the "Consolation of Israel," His expect-ant and boyish eyes may have looked to see if any of them would prove parents of a Messiah wholly Jewish. There was only one strip of sacred territory to Him. It was what is called the Holy Land. After Mary had been used to the sublime accompaniment of His birth, it took a nobly sustained woman to meet these duties and tasks.
Mary had already partially educated her child as He had lived under her heart, and now, as He went to sleep upon it, she must have sung to Him such songs as only she could learn in their inmost music. She was more than an Oriental mother singing to her babe the wild lyrics of her clan. She was a Jewish mother, and the picture of motherhood in the world was then, and is still, limned by the Jew. She was also the Virgin, the Daughter of Zion, who sang out of a heart trained by hearing angelic choruses. Beneath that flat roof of earth, and behind the low white walls of the house of Joseph, the mother taught her child from the grand legislation of Sinai. Brighter than the Syrian daytime which played upon this dwelling of sun-dried clay was the splendor out-beaming from the golden candlestick in the Temple of which she told Him. All these radiances entering His soul made Him no less a child among the common utensils and rugs and bright quilts or hanging stuffs, which no poorest home quite forgot to arrange with beauty. As He grew up, He met a boy's problems with four other boys who were His brothers and with two girls whom Mark calls His sisters, and it would be entirely false to the spirit of that revelation which God made of Himself in Jesus, to suppose that these boys, whose names were James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude, and their sisters, were at all amazed or overborne by the wonderfulness of their brother Jesus. They nursed at the same breasts, and drank in the same spirit of obedience unto the law. They pulled at the same dress, and looked up into the same eyes for answers to their questions; they found food in the same wooden bowls and water in the same earthen pitchers; they slept in winter on the same little pallets beneath the common roof, and on summer nights they dreamed beneath the journeying moon, as they rested with father and mother upon the roofs themselves.
One of them, however, was to perceive spiritual meanings. The lamp whose little flame shone out upon them all was teaching Him its story of illumination. By and by He would have it in mind, in speaking a parable to the multitude, yet the wick and the oil were then giving one ministry to the whole family in Nazareth. The bushel was one which Jesus would not forget, and He should say, "Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel." The broom will appear by and by in His thought, when He is speaking the parable concerning the lost coin, and the remembered coin in His mother's hair will not be less bright when He shall point its moral. Indeed, all these items of household furniture, while they were to be wrought over into the eloquence of the Gospel of the Son of God, had their places of importance to other members of the family. The Divine Child divinely felt the symbolism of things. After a time He would speak it. It would try the faith and courage of Mary.
It was thus, also, when with His father or mother, He went out of the windowless room called home, and saw the world. If Mary's cooking made this a kitchen and He learned of her how the leaven worked in "three measures of meal," He also learned one day from Joseph the builder the value of true foundations beneath the house, so that when the storm came and "beat upon that house" it "could not shake it; for it was founded upon a rock." If, in the home, He saw His mother refusing to sew a new piece of cloth to an old garment in order to repair it, and found there an illustration of the wisdom which refuses to patch the antiquated with the vital and the new, He also gathered from the fields prepared for seed in the springtime a symbol of life through persistent and guaranteed death, and that symbol which remained with Him until He said, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit"; and in the fall He found another metaphor which He would not forget until He said, "First the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear." He was so trained by these things that the mustard-seed as well as the red anemone, which was probably the only lily He ever saw, the sycamine-tree as well as the tares amidst the wheat, the fig-tree as well as the vine, yielded their imagery to illustrate certain other aspects of the Gospel of His kingdom, for which the salt in His mother's kitchen, and the hens whose broods were rebellious within the little inclosure around His father's house, furnished other similes. Do not think that Mary, less than you who have had angel visits sometimes, needed a shield from the commonplace an overshadowing from its perplexing mysteries.
In those quiet, undramatic days Mary must have often felt that Jesus' calm and meditative life moved rather slowly toward the shining goal of which she was told in the angel-song. Much happened to Jesus, and in His interior life, when He sat in the evening light. It could not be that Mary was missing her own education with Him and under Him. He often found the opinions He first received from His elders transforming, as He brooded there. In that fading glow, He discovered the fadeless fact that much which He had obtained from His father and mother, as well as much that He had learned in school and synagogue, was antagonized, and at length subverted by the development within Him of certain intimations of a Divine destiny. The horizons which their teachings furnished Him melted in that air, before the outlookings which were His and which engaged His sight with the larger inheritance belonging to all the sons of God. Here He had the deepest of those experiences which are included in the statement "He grew."
We are able only partially to explore the height and depth and breadth of the Gospel statements: "And the child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him." "He was subject to His parents." "He increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man." This latter statement is most suggestive. The order in which these words God and man stand tells the history of Jesus' power. He lived His life, even at its beginning, from the heights. He was the Son of the Highest. It took the power of the Highest to shade poor Mary's eyes, and we must be overshadowed in proportion as we have the highest on hand.
Mary had other children, as we have seen, and she must have been perplexed at the fact of the sinlessness of her child Jesus. Probably she did not discern that all variation from the common experience came from His unbroken relationship to the All-Holy One. Morally pure, he must have been, and mentally fine and strong. His ever-enlarging scope of mind was consequent upon the inflow of the Divine Life. He was too responsive to the Holy Father to permit sin in Himself. Those eyes, therefore, were full of the true vision of these things and their spiritual belongings and His total environment. No other child had enjoyed it. His sinlessness gave a character to His mental processes and spiritual grasp, and made His sight clearer and deeper than that of other men. It was impossible that, looking out of eyes of purity and ever welcoming the tides of the Infinite Light, He should not see purely. No one else has seen so well or so far. His mental life must break beyond the narrow limitations set up by the innocent ignorance of His home, and especially must it transcend the arrogant dogmatism of the rabbis. While physically He grew able to labor for His daily bread, He grew mentally to know that men were hungry for that which Divine Personality alone could supply, yet it was a long while before He grew up into the conviction, "I am the Bread of Life." As He grew to experience the meaning of His brotherhood with Jude or Simon and the rest of the home children, He felt the sentiment, and came also upon the idea of universal brotherhood. Doubtless in the fatherhood of His father, Joseph, there was provided a circlet of experience and thought which had been entered by His own spirituality, until it already began to break into the vaster circle of the idea of universal Fatherhood in God. Yet it was a long distance between the boy out in the field with His father, watching the feeding of the birds, and the man preaching a view of God's Fatherhood which pictured Him feeding birds and men alike. It was a long distance, but it was a logically continuous path which led from the less to the greater in the life of Jesus.
They were now preparing to celebrate their Fourth of July Independence Day for Israel.
Every year they joined the patriotic and devout throng which went up to Jerusalem for the Passover feast; and it must have been that, as they now pre-pared to move with the caravan in the direction of the Temple, Joseph and Mary had strangely moving thoughts concerning the boy who so naturally met all the demands of piety, and whose recitations of the sacred words which He had been taught produced in their hearts mingled sentiments of joy and wonder. Here was Something more sublime than ritual, and in their humble home that Something radiated an unwonted light upon the phylacteries he carried and the fringed mantle He wore. To them who were teaching Him, the fact that great moral principles began to interest Him rather than the legal formalities concerning trifles upon which even they had been in the habit of putting emphasis, this amazed and distressed their painstaking souls. They were never to be detached entirely from the Phariseeism which alone, as they saw it, could save their nation; and now, amidst this orthodoxy, there was growing a heretic and a revolutionist and He their own child.
He looked into divine distances; for He alone had a sinless eye. Whatsoever may have been the power of His memory, and with whatever ease He may have mastered the long list of the law's requirements, He must have felt a quick sympathy with any other boy, who, because of faulty memory, had neglected some petty observance, and who, according to the theory of Phariseeism, was therefore guilty of a disobedience not less serious because of his ignorance of the proscription he had neglected. Perhaps even then young Jesus had a glimpse of the day when He must permit His now growing radicalism to push aside these vexatious legalities as a growing bulb pushes aside the soil in which it is developing. In the synagogue were the treasured manuscripts of Holy Scripture, and some of the prophecies must have thrilled Him with strange emotion the reflex of that emotion portrayed in the painting by Michael Angelo, the Holy Family, in which the "Virgin Mother is seen withholding from the Child Saviour the sight of the prophetic writings in which His sufferings are foretold." For Jesus soon began to learn the cost of entertaining Divine ideas. Mary could not be far away from Him in any of these experiences.
Very early in the intellectual and spiritual life in Jesus, it must have occurred to Him that the ideas of His fellow-students with reference to what the Messiah should be, and what the Messiah should do, were at least incomplete. Even Mary's idea was to be shattered. There was one fact in the soul and life of this Nazarene, son of the carpenter, to which we have given a little attention, as the fact determining the strength and movement of His intellectual life. It was this: He was sinless. This fact soon wrought powerfully in His view of the Messiah to come. "What will the Messiah do about Rome, and how will He break Rome's intolerable rule?" This was a question asked by every Jew and asked as often and as intently as that Jew felt his sense of Rome's tyranny quickened. It was the patriot's question. Joseph and Mary had asked it. Jesus paid it no heed. It was not the deepest inquiry of Jesus' musing. Jesus' sinlessness threw into bold relief the ugly features of sin. Sin came in sight of human conscience, at least in its true proportions and nature, through the eyes of Jesus. His own whiteness of character made iniquity appear horrible. This Sinless Soul was to give to the world something which Greece itself had failed to give a sense of sin. This special and peculiar characteristic of His spirit and conduct His sinlessness made sin appear more terrible than Rome to Him. He was to find it more formidable, also. "What is the Messiah to do about sin? and how is He to abolish its tyranny?" This was Jesus' question. Poor Joseph and Mary have no idea of the peril their son is inviting.
So, all this led to a great trial for Mary. It was the middle of our month of April, A. D. 9, and the Holy City of Jerusalem was crowded with its more than two millions of visitors who had come up, from near and from far, having made their pilgrim-age at this time to attend the great feast of Israel. On this day began the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread; and once more the consciousness of Hebrewdom was quickening itself with the high enterprises of Jehovah at the memorial thus made of one of the most important events in all Hebrew history.
They were going to the festival which began on the fifteenth. As they proceeded down to the plain of Esdraelon, they were joined by other Jews, who, conscious of the memories of great deeds accomplished there, uttered their Hebrew loyalty and started conversations as to the rumor of the Messiah. What if He had already started to Jerusalem to be present for the first time at the great national feast? What a sublime hour it would furnish for Him to appear to the joy of the elect nation and to the discomfiture of Rome! This boy of twelve years of age walked along with Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth. He heard all these discussions and listened to the cry in the heart of Israel, when they halted to rest at night near some well or mountain vocal with heroic memories. Mary kept pondering in her heart.
The celebration concluded, Mary and Joseph are on their way back home to Nazareth. On the first night they had probably camped quietly, almost within sight of the city. Soon their hearts were sorrowing. A lost boy even their son Jesus tugged at their heart-strings. We cannot be certain as to the hour when trouble agitated them. Nearly three days had elapsed when their trouble ended, or rather, shall we not say, when the anxiety and worry which had been theirs vanished by deepening into a perplexity and a distress such as come only to those who have infinite problems and nothing but finite solutions for them? Dear and trustful Mary, only one power can hold you now!
A lost boy, on such a jubilant occasion, having escaped parental watch-care amidst the confusion created by the hundreds of thousands of vociferant Jews who were leaving the city of Jerusalem, could not have been an extraordinary fact. Do not let the mother reproach herself. Mary had not been care-less. It is only ignorance of the time and its conditions though it is a quite benevolent ignorance of the event and Eastern manners which censures Mary upon her apparent neglect of the youth Jesus in this instance. The explanation in the words of the Gospel is sufficient. Mary had trusted her child and her friends in the caravan; she had doubtless made the long pilgrimage on purpose to see this wonderful child of hers safely inducted into His new duties and made conscious of His privileges as a "Son of the Law." But a Diviner care than hers now inter-posed. It had so taken her carefulness up into its purpose that she seemed to be careless. Many of the apparent failures of human nature to reap the results of truest care-taking are testimonies to the inflow of the Divine Nature upon lives which have been consistent and practical enough, until they are touched by wider issues. Every Mary-soul finds this out sometime. It was a lost Nazarene boy, as the fact appeared to the eye of earth; it was the self-discovered Son of God enjoying the rapture and vision of His Sonship unto the Divine Father, as the same fact was looked upon by the eye of heaven.
While it is evident that it was quite fitting that a Jewish youth so young as was Jesus should go up the way on Mount Moriah and enter into the Temple, and receive the instruction then offered to all, and even propose questions with the utmost freedom, yet the fact that Jesus, when He was found there by His distressed parents, instantly answered His mother's sorrowful question by the words, "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" reveals the truth that He had already measured Himself as the Son of God, His Father, along with, if not against, the huge and splendid thing which embodied the religionism of past and present. In Nazareth, He had already so measured the importance of His Sonship unto God with that of His sonship unto Joseph and Mary, that when she said, "Thy father and I have sought Thee," it only made larger and more sublime the "My Father" in the heart of Jesus. He seems to suggest, "My Father in heaven has also been seeking Me, and He has found Me, and I am sure of My Sonship unto Him here." But more than this had occurred in the mind of Jesus. The test of all thinking is found in its power to resist and even to use some august thing a thing which is the embodiment of mighty and past thinking. Would His thinking be self-respectful and sure-footed in the presence of such an overwhelmingly grand thing as the Temple in Jerusalem? The answer is that episode within its very shadow, perhaps on the terrace, possibly within the sacred walls. The Son of the Highest was not on trial; the Temple and all concerned in it were to be judged. It was the judgment of Light the light cf the world had swept upon it all. At that moment the process was going on by which, at length, when this youth should have given His life on Calvary to constitute the temple of humanity, "the veil of the Temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom." Poor Mary is being trained for that more fearful crisis. Young Jesus had found the Temple of Hebrewdom lifeless and perishing, and Himself immortal and fresh; His heart of Humanity, quick with Divinity, had already throbbed against revered walls, and they were falling the religion of the future was born. All future movements which promise to get out and enlist, to organize and lead on to human triumph, the dispirited and enslaved souls of men, have their motive in the fact that man is not God's manufacture, but God's child. Jesus had just attested this truth. The program of Christianity was inaugurated. Through what was discovered of man's possibility and God's loving purpose by the mediating Jesus, humanity will at length realize its sonship unto the Eternal One. All this, however, was beyond Mary's ken.
More serious outbreaks of unsuspected power would come from this. His Father's Fatherhood had so filled Him full, that His own earthly sonship opened out into Sonship unto the Infinite God. They might not understand Him; He was sure to distress them, but He would now be a better son unto Mary and Joseph, because He was the true Son of God. Could they follow Him into the experiences of this profounder Sonship? No doubt the vision He entertained was limited and colored by the Jewish ideas which were strengthened the more while He was in Jerusalem; but it was destined to become as large as the destinies of all humanity and the Infinite love of His Father, by and by. "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" that is, "Did ye not expect to find Me where I could get closest to My Father's plans and purposes? Was it not to be presumed that I would be searching more and more deeply as to how I am to do His will, as His Son? Where else, then, since I have seen a little into the divine meaning of this Passover Feast? Where else, then, since I have been driven to study the significance of the lamb offered by My earthly father to My Heavenly Father, and have felt that other blood than this must flow, before Israel is delivered? Where else, then, would you expect to find Me, except where I could get all the light obtainable on the questions which have driven Me to and fro at Nazareth, and these mysterious intimations which pervade My heart? Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" Still more strongly does He seem to speak, when we remember that His own phrases were: "Wist ye not that I must be in the things of My Father?" In spite of Mary's recollection of the visit of the Angel of the Annunciation and his message, in spite of the saying "A sword shall pierce thy soul, " and in spite of all the bewilderingly luminous experiences which had been hers as mother and guide unto Jesus shall we not say, because hers was only the parentage of earth, and she had brought into the world an Infinite Factor, the old equation for working out problems was destroyed, and she looked in vain for satisfactory light in the face of Joseph? "And they understood not the saying which He spake unto them." Poor Mary! but the power of the Highest will shade her from this terrific glory.
The trying contrast comes now. It is as if God would prove forever that the highest resources for life are most opulent with beneficent divinity and most truly known when they enter and work through human life along its ordinary level. Jesus, so says the evangelist, Jesus, vocal with this vaster harmony, "went down with them to Nazareth, and was subject unto them." Subject unto Joseph and Mary, after confounding the Temple doctors? Poor, loving, limited, amazed, and ever-faithful Mary, the mother! She has "subject unto her and Joseph" the one whose ever-growing destiny is to lead her, also, to that spot where all divine visions and infinite ideals will be paid for, and paid for by Him Who, to the last, "must be about His Father's business." She will follow her boy as far as she may. She surely has set foot toward Calvary.
Let us stop for a moment to recognize that this is the biography of every ideal which comes into the world to bless the world. Just as Jesus took up into His extraordinary and wonderful Self the ordinary and commonplace material of the Nazareth in which He lived with His mother Mary, and in a sense under her, so your ideal, conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin soul, will take up into its own nobler and loftier commandment, and really feed upon the apparently ignoble and insignificant things which come along with the duties of life. It will be subject unto its mother your soul. Then there comes a time when it springs away from you. It gets among the doctors in the Temple at Jerusalem. It is mightier than all traditional wisdom. It opens vistas of the Father's business. It is an awfully trying moment for the mind which bore it into the world, and one says, as Mary said, "O my dear child my fresh young ideal, why have you dealt with me thus?" It is the real Christ in you showing His responsibility to God, while you have thought your ideal was responsible to you. The babe which was held to the breast, and who was carried by you into Egypt, is assuming his kingliness. No ideal is worth anything which does not grow into regnant power over you. O soul of mine, thou wast greatly trusted, and a mighty interest of earth and heaven was put into thine hands. Thou didst do well to lovingly identify thyself with the fair faced young truth which has come out of thy life under the touch of God. But thou canst not keep that beloved child with its commanding cause, its battle to fight and its world to redeem, entirely as thine own. Thou canst cradle it in a manger, lead its little feet in the house-hold, and guide them in Nazareth, but, by and by, His distinctive task woos Jesus forth and commands Him, and just where life is sacredest at the Temple in Jerusalem, where the old must expand into the new, there the dependence of Jesus upon His Father God will make Him seem independent of his father Joseph and Mary! thy wonder at Him will be full of pain; it will be pain that will grow keener until Cal-vary is passed.
For thirty years the soul of Mary oscillated between what men call the supernatural and the natural in the life of her child. Now, everything was quite abnormal and full of starry wonder; next day, or for a long stretch of years at Nazareth, His life and her life drop into the region of ordinary home duties. We may be sure it was never sordid, though it might have been neither squalid or contemptible, however dull or uninteresting the provincial and stupid Nazareth may have seemed to other people. O what a faith it requires to live with one's ideal, after it has shone forth beneath angel-haunted skies, and then to believe in it through years and years of seclusion and monotony in lowly Nazareth! One looks up out of the unvaried space of small earthly things, and says, "Is this, my ideal, really the Messiah of my soul, and the Messiah which shall save a world? O for one dominant chord from the angelic harmony! Is this duty-doing, obedient, and loving and trustful young power of my every-day life really the Anointed of God and the Prince of Peace? O for one minute's presence of the Eastern Magi, to make me feel certain! Am I taking the Lord God of Israel to the little school? Am I teaching the King of kings the Mosaic law? Is this child God's child who seems so much and so entirely to be my child? What will be the next unexpected demand which my new-born ideal will make upon me? Will my Jesus, who is the Christ, take me into some deeper meaning of my poor, common-place life, or will He stretch my meager cords of faith to an unwonted length because His moral genius soars so much above me?" these are questions which the soul asks about its ideal, and these are the questions of which Mary's heart was full.
Well; there is to be a marriage in Cana, and we will go with Mary and her Son to the wedding. It may be that the years bereft of distinguished events have come to a close, and that the years that will try Mary's heart with their visible crises have come upon Him. Patience and faith and obedience, O my soul! Only the ideal can make wine out of the thin water of our existence be brave and follow the ideal which has grown now to be strong and beautiful.
Everywhere the earth was wearing bridal garments. The blithe, clear air was full of the songs of birds which were making love to each other in the hedges. Countless forces of production were stir-ring beneath the all-pervading sunlight. Blossoming and radiant nature was repeating the old love story of throbbing seed and opening flower, of urgent sap and coming fruit. It was Spring.
Jesus is the perennial witness that a true reformer is first a transformer. One reformer may say, "I will get myself out of the world, to save myself and to save the world by attracting itself unto me." This reformer would say, "I will save the world and be a Son of God by being a Son of Man, finding My way into the very heart of the world, whatever becomes of Myself." Thus only is Divinity safe. His own life was being lived so as to manifest God in the world. It was Divinity entering still more deeply into humanity.
You know the story. The wine had run out, and it seemed that the marriage party was to experience a painful failure of Eastern hospitality. The mother of Jesus had a way out of the difficulty, and perhaps she saw an opportunity for her Child. She had learned by this time that her Son possessed power of an extraordinary nature. She knew of the approval John the Baptist had given unto Him, and her mother-heart pondered yet over the fact that the Spirit had descended upon Him and heaven had commended Him; but she had not yet fully understood that the words "Thou art My beloved Son" emphasized the fact that Jesus' intrinsic relationship was with God, rather than with Joseph and Mary. Her love also urged her to Him, at the instant when she realized that He and His disciples might be six per-sons too many to be entertained at the long festivity. She crept up to Him and told Him of the state of things. He did not need a hint of the scandal which was sure to come to the bridegroom and his family, because the very thing which symbolized their rejoicing had failed. To avoid this disgrace, Mary had now called upon Him Whose entrance into the world had been heralded by an angelic presence and celebrated by an heavenly anthem. "He had returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee." Would "the power of the Spirit" now be sufficient for the Son of Man?
Jesus had been through his trial and discovered his divinity. He had known Himself to be the Son of His Father, God, and He had realized that the only essential relationship which may exist between human beings is that which is in God as the Father of all. He was not to lose this truth, even now, in the presence of His mother. No one can so intensify the meaning of human belongings as can a mother.
Recent experiences, however, had made the truth of His divine relationship more clear and vital unto Him than it was, even when He spoke to His father and mother in the Temple as a twelve-year-old boy, and said, "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" Jesus now turned from the special temptation He had resisted in the desert, which was to employ His miraculous energies without compelling them to work in sympathy with the idea of the Fatherhood of God and of His own Sonship unto God. He said, "Woman, what is there between you and me? My realm of life is not yours. Mine hour is not yet come." This is not the sharp and unsympathetic speech of a son careless of a mother's feelings. He was only saying that her thoughts were not His; and at that moment He was respectful and kind. He was also true to God, His Father, and there is not the unkindliness in His words which our translation would suggest: "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" He knew He possessed the power, but He would not permit it to betray or deprave Him. He had trusted God's Fatherhood for a Father's power to save Him, without His calling upon what we call the supernatural, in the Temptation in the desert; and God might trust His Sonship now to honor Him. If this were the time to use extraordinary powers, His Father-God must somehow tell Him. Jesus would be true to His heavenly parent-age, before He met the request of His earthly parent-age. If His earthly parentage break meanwhile, under the strain, it is because He has fulfilled the less with the larger, the human with the divine. This is the way of the ideal, always. But Mary had doubt-less suffered from the misapprehension of her neighbors, and had no doubt been pitied, because she was the mother of this gentle enthusiast; and now was the moment, she thought, for the signal of His Christly presence and dominion. But she had anticipated God; and Jesus could obey His Father only. When His Father spoke in Him, He spoke to them.
He said, "Fill the jars with water." Men must now obey Him; and His mother said unto the mystified servants, "Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it." The mother's over running affection could now flow into divine channels. He who obeys God, the Universal Father, will never disobey the universal humanity, though some dear Mary may be bewildered for a time. She was clear only on one thing, and that was this, "Whatever He tells you to do, do it."
Mary had experienced the truth which all Christendom comes to know, that the way to understand Jesus Christ is to simply obey Him. Many unrecorded and mysterious days with Jesus had brought her to this conviction. This method of clearing up mysteries of Jesus is safe, because of the infiniteness of Christ's resources and wisdom. None but the eternal Christ, nothing but a divine ideal, has the right to the soul's maternal appointments and disappointments.
At the very beginning of His public career, this Son of Man inaugurated a kingdom by one miracle, and it showed the nature and method of the kingdom. The invisible King was less concealed in His Kingdom of the Invisible. In His Kingdom, life's water was to be perpetually changed into wine. This is called the "beginning of miracles" with Jesus. All the miracles that followed were to be accomplished after the same method. Yes; it was also the beginning of a deeper sorrow for Mary, had not the mother of this Kingly Being yielded to His heavenly influence. From this point, also, the story of Jesus and Mary is the story of your noblest ideal as it matures in your soul. It does strange but sublime things. It cleanses the temple. It con-founds Pharisaic conceit and dines with ill-favored people. It silences the orthodox scribe and gets on intimate terms with common folk. O how it embarrasses you and horrifies any self-appointed guardians this reckless way your ideal has of associating its cause and fortune with the whole world, as Jesus did. Publicans and sinners yes, but the woman of Sychar, and the woman taken in her sin these who are worse keep coming under its genial touch as did the lepers and lame and blind and all outcasts and children when Jesus was here among men. Nazareth would have thrown Him from the cliff, and ended it. O yes, brother, it is so improper and disconcerting that your ideal should behave in this manner! It is too great and good for you. But Jesus stays and works through our earthly relationships, because the life He lives has its inspirations and respirations through His universal relationships. We fail to understand Him only when our life has only special, local, and physical relationships.
And is it strange? it is true, dear soul, that when your ideal gets maturity, it will belong more to God and humanity than to you. All you can do is to obey it while God overshadows you. Look again at Mary with her beloved son. Men who are with Him are paying the cost of an ideal. He has spoken terrible words to the Scribes and Pharisees, and they always hate the ideal.
As He said these things, the heart of another woman was touched, and she expressed her appreciation with the directness of a mother-heart, when she said, "Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the breasts which Thou hast sucked." Jesus replied with characteristic fusing of truthfulness and tenderness. He drew His answer from that idea of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man which inspired Him at an earlier time, when He sought to quicken spiritual relationships. He said: "Yea, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it." Another occasion soon followed, enabling Him to indicate to His disciples and to the world that the supreme relations binding human beings are not physical, but spiritual. O how an ideal will get people together on its own basis and after its own law! Under that ideal, men and women manifest kinship of soul. Brotherhood and motherhood, sisterhood and fatherhood, are revealed. They are spiritual. The true commonwealth of manhood is in sight. The great crowd thronged about Him, for He was revealing His Sonship and their sonship unto God. It was no time for merely earthly relationships to intrude. Heavenly ties were being constituted by His love; earthly ties, though most tender and dear, had lost their right to the highest place. His mother and brethren were standing without, desiring to speak with Him. He said, "Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?" "And He stretched forth His hand toward His disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, he is my brother, sister, and mother." If your ideal does not do. all that revolutionary work, inside of its evolutionary work in that direction for you, it is not a divine ideal.
But is this the whole cost of mothering some "holy thing" of the soul? No. Let us follow this truth on to its very last conclusion. O my soul, if thou hast brought forth a true ideal, fresh, valiant, and mighty, for this world's transformation, according to the law of its own divineness, be ready for this, and know thou that this world, so sunken and so bad, will marshal its bigotry and its brutality and will hound thine own sweet and holy child to places of insult and hatred, to the moonlit garden of Gethsemane, and to the trial where one will deny and another will betray, along the via dolorosa yes, to the rude cross where thy child must be slain. No ideal of goodness, no vision of truth, no persuasion of duty nothing that can permanently command and hold and trans-form it, is fitted for its redeeming work, until it has been condemned by the world and crucified by it. O Mary, canst thou stand the cross for thy Son?
O my soul, canst thou endure it, that the ideal in which thou hast trusted shall suffer, and that thou shalt suffer also when the highest ideal which thou dost know speaks to thee from its bloody cross? We will see. We follow on to the hill of Calvary.
It was now nearly two hours since they had fastened the Redeemer of Men to His cross, having handed Him over to the cruelty of the Roman quaternion and the malice of sneering priests. When Jesus was arrested, the disciples ran everywhither, and only at the trial before Caiaphas and Pilate do we see any except John. Simon Peter, who followed after John, was always afar off, even from John, for John was as close as possible to his Master. The loving disciple had pressed ever on after the stricken Shepherd of the sheep. He had probably gone to the city and now had returned with the women, whose faces we see in every true portrayal of the death of Jesus. Art has placed them nearer than the account would indicate as their station. Luke says that they "stood afar off, beholding these things." Least far away, doubtless, was the mother of Jesus, and close to her was her sister, Salome. Mary, the wife of Cleopas, mother of James and Joses, was near unto them, with Mary Magdalene. It was deeply tragic for her. Only a woman's heart in which love had done its wonders could there remain so undismayed and be seed-ground for hope. John's courage was the courage of love, and upon that courage Jesus relied, when, looking through the awful darkness which hung about the earth in the hour of its own extreme tragedy, He saw his mother, and John standing by her side. He could trust John with the dearest possession of His life His mother. Only one who would be near unto Him when the crowd on the roadway was turning away from Him in horror, because His mutilated form was receiving reproaches and contempt only such a one as John, faithful to the last, would receive the great honor which Jesus conferred upon him when He said, "Woman, behold thy Son!" Only a mother whose heart-strings had been so often strained by the unfolding of her son's destiny could be worthy of such a gift as Jesus gave to Mary, when, looking at His disciple, He added, "Son, behold thy mother."
Once more He had exemplified the strength and beauty of spiritual relationships. He had carried the doctrine of the Fatherhood of God and the brother-hood of man farther than ever before. He honored only the relations that are eternal. And here, with blood streaming down His face, and with unparalleled sorrow choking His voice, He proclaimed this truth in which He had lived, even to the mother to whom He first spoke it when He said, "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" He had nearly completed His Father's business on earth, but it was not to be finished, save as these spiritual relationships were revealed in their divine superiority. Mary had found a home, and John had found a mother, in deed and in truth.
Is this all? Is this the last of the mothering of any beautiful truth or goodness or fine ideal in the world just to see it crucified and then to go home with John? No, thank God, it is not all. The cross is not a conclusion leading to the sepulchre. It is the new beginning of the enthronement leading to the everlasting dominion of that which is crucified upon it. Jesus lives; the ideal lives. O what an illuminating and satisfying event was the Resurrection of Jesus to the patient, obedient, and heroic Mary! O what a day was that when His feet slipped the rock, and He ascended in full majesty, and she knew that the Angel of the Annunciation had told her the truth, and this "holy thing" which was born of her was of God. So may every divine impulse and holy purpose and true ideal of life lead us on and ever on, until we have experienced the raptures as well as the agonies of the soul's mothering, and the triumphs as well as the trials which come with the divine life and its product in humanity. Mary became one of the founders of Christendom. So did God overshadow her, and so He will overshadow you and me.