It’s the first week of school for many; parents armed with lists and coupons for back-to-school shopping have been on a seek-and-destroy warpath. Many have already spotted the kids with “smother mothers” and “helicopter parents”, as well as those who let their kids wear the same shirt every day of the first week. (I am sure they wash it every night. Pick your battles.) Disputes over parenting techniques may have renewed societal spotlight but it’s really nothing new. Parent pushiness reached Biblical proportions long ago. As I gain new life experiences and perspectives, new things stand out to me from the Biblical text. This week it was the parenting stereotypes that we find in the New Testament. (Parenting faux pas from the Old Testament would need a mini-series.)
Presenting…4 Aggressive Parents of the New Testament!
1. The Status Symbol/Best in Class Mother: Matthew 20:20
Ah, Salome. Most likely Jesus’ aunt (Mary’s sister), her two sons James and John were in the disciple inner circle. Right after Jesus tells of his death for the third time, she sidles up to the dear nephew, whose diapers she probably changed a few times, used her family influence, and made a request: “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left in your kingdom.”
Oh, is that all? As a mom of at least two boys, Salome heard loud and clear at the third warning. Jesus was going to die but gain a kingdom; she wanted her boys to be on the fast track to the greatness Jesus described. James and John learned from the greatest teacher, spent 3 years in personal training, and sacrificed with the team. Why not ask for starting positions? What mother doesn’t want her boys to be successful?
2. The Desperate Parent of the Uncontrollable Child: Mark 9: 14-29
All whose darling children have been overtaken by a spewing, demanding, uncontrollable spirit, raise your hand with me. This poor dad is the parent who has read every book, tried every method, sought every resource, and is now that haggard-looking parent we all feel sorry for when they walk in with their shoes on the wrong feet.
Enter the father of a challenging child.
“Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able… and Jesus asked his father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ ‘From childhood. And it has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’
This is no Wal-Mart temper tantrum. This dad has been vigilant in caring for his son, protecting him from his own physical destruction. This man truly loves his son. He has hope that his son can be helped. What he’s lost is his faith. No one around him has any faith in the child’s ability to recover either. Even the disciples were unable to help. The crowd and church leaders looked on and were discussing the issues at hand. Ouch. No wonder this man had a doubting problem! He was drowning in a sea of the faithless. He even wonders if Jesus can help him. At Jesus’ promise of ability the father cries out and says, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” This Dad isn’t concerned with heavenly kingdom positions; he just wants his son not to cast himself into fires. He needed a miracle.
3. The Demanding Parent: Matthew 15:30
Behold the Queen of the Parent-Teacher conference; the Canaanite mother. Here Jesus is trying to withdraw for a little R&R after a grueling day and a non-Jewish mother is literally crying and pitching a fit because her daughter is ‘severely oppressed by a demon’. (Perhaps a teenage daughter?) When she didn’t receive immediate attention, she pestered the disciples until they finally begged Jesus to handle it and send her packing. Then Jesus responds with one of the most misunderstood and sassy remarks of the New Testament. “I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
Yikes, oh loving Messiah! This Momma didn’t seem to bat an eye. She’d probably gotten so used to being called a Gentile dog that it didn’t phase her Jesus would use it as a metaphor. (This term means little dogs, much like a domestic pet- not necessarily an insulting term. Other Jews used the term for wild dogs to describe Gentiles.) After being pushed around and rejected by people who wanted answers and to get what they want, this Momma came full of demands. Still, this was a mother who was determined to have her daughter’s needs met at all costs. She knows of the promises of blessing to Abraham’s other descendants and she has the faith that Jesus is the one who can bless her family. She’s up for a faith test if that’s what it takes.
4. The Grief-stricken Parent: Luke 7:24
Throughout the school year, tragedy sometimes strikes families close to us. As situation reports roll in, the parent may not make any requests at all. They aren’t aggressive parents, but the situation and grief can be dominating. We see one such grieving mother in the town of Nain as Jesus and his disciples enter. They encounter a great crowd not for Jesus, but for the funeral of this widow’s only son. This poor mother is now potentially in a financial and security crisis without the men in her life, which would add to the grief. Although she would be justified in asking for help, she doesn’t say a word.
“And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep’. Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” (Luke 7:13-15) Not only Jesus raising the dead, he touches the funeral beir, which would have made him ‘unclean’. At this point, death is a bigger issue. She was surrounded by others who helped carry the burden as best they could until Jesus came and restored life, which only he could do.
The encounters of these parents meeting with Jesus have rather impressive results. James and John were both leaders of the Christian faith who eventually did ‘drink the cup’ Jesus would bear and suffered greatly. They are founders of the Christian faith and often hailed as saints.
The desperate father of the boy with a tormenting spirit watched as “Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.” (Mark 9:27) The Canaanite mother heard Jesus say, ‘“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire!” And her daughter was healed instantly.’ (Matthew 15:29) The grieving widow and mother of the dead son received her son back, and the entire crowd glorified God and reported throughout the county. Her grief was replaced by joy; the miraculous experience enriched her life with an encounter with Jesus.
These are just 4 stereotypes, but I am sure some of these personalities have already been spotted in the pick-up circle or at the classroom door. The common denominator for all these parents is Jesus. Ultimately, their requests are granted and their problems do get resolved. Perhaps that’s why Jesus is sometimes called, “The Great Teacher”.