Throughout the gospel of Matthew we only see glimpses of Jesus’ mother. Unlike in Luke she is barely a footnote in the birth of Jesus. Here the text centers around Joseph. There is no mention of Jesus’ childhood in Matthew so the next glimpse we get of Mary the mother is in chapter 12 when Mary and Jesus’ brothers come to see Jesus. His response: “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” It never mentions whether or not he went outside to talk with them. In the Matthew text Mary isn’t at the foot of the cross, doesn’t come to the grave. These are the only two mentions of her in the gospel.
In the Gospel of John, Mary is present at the cross, in fact, Jesus even addresses her: He gives care of his mother to the disciple referred to as “the disciple Jesus loved” and that disciple takes Mary into his house from that point forward. (John 19:26-27)
Why is Mary sometimes important to the text and sometimes banished to barely a mention? What was her role in Jesus’ life and ministry?
I think a lot about Mary. How complicated a person she must have been. Filled with such strength to birth a son out of wedlock in a time when that was judged harshly. Strength to keep relying on God in the midst of not knowing what God was doing. Then to watch her son grow, to watch him leave her home and travel teaching people. To hear word of his deeds make it back to her ears and wonder what would happen to him. She must have heard as the public opinion changed toward him, must have worried that her baby was getting himself into trouble.
I wonder why she showed up with Jesus’ brothers wanting to talk to him. Did she want to bring him home? Did she want to tell him to stop with all of this foolishness and take care of his family? And what pain she must have felt when he claimed those gathered as his family instead of his flesh and blood.
We transgender sons and daughters have complicated relationships with our families. I know that talking about mothers and fathers strikes a chord with a lot of us. Some of us have had families that outright rejected us; kicked us out of the house and cut us out of their lives. Some of us have families that have been super supportive and loving.
My own journey has been more of a middle road and is a continual process. I find myself drawn to the story of Jesus and his mother. His biological father is nowhere to be found and his step-father seems to be a semi-remote figure that disappears either before or when he reaches adulthood. This is much like my own situation.
Growing up my mom and I were incredibly close. I was an only child (until my sister was adopted when I was 20) and I was homeschooled throughout highschool so I spent a lot of time with my mom. I talked with her about everything. Until I started to realize that the path I was on was one of which she would not approve. Then I stopped talking to her as much. Or I would talk to her but not tell her the things that were really important to me and over time the rift grew. From my perspective I thought she was too conservative, unwilling to listen to me, wouldn’t understand. I’m sure from her perspective she worried that I was making the wrong decisions and saw me growing farther and farther from her.
When I came out (first as gay and in a relationship with a woman) she was upset, but was kind. She accepted my partner, invited her to family functions. She even came to our wedding even though she didn’t approve. Throughout it all I tried to keep her in the loop on what was happening, told her when my partner and I got engaged, told her when we were getting married. It was hard to have those conversations with her but I knew they were important.
Then I moved out on my own; moving in with my partner. I realized that I was trans and knew I needed to transition. Much of my time in therapy in the lead up to beginning my medical transition was to talk about how my mother would deal with things. I was terrified. In fact, I think one of the reasons that kept me from realizing I was transgender for so long was a deep-seated fear/knowledge that my mother would disown me. And with that fear came a new fear; that she would keep me from ever seeing my adopted siblings again. So I kept putting off the conversation. I started testosterone and still hadn’t told my mother. My voice started to change and I still hadn’t told her. Finally I just stopped calling her because my voice was too different to pretend that nothing was happening but I just could not get up the courage to tell her what was happening.
After six months on testosterone I sat down and I wrote my mother a letter. I felt like a coward coming out to her in a letter but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it any other way. So I sent the letter and I waited. Terrified.
Her first response was that she needed time but that she loved me. It was a relief that she was still saying she loved me. Then she wanted to meet so we went out for lunch. I was tense and felt like I was going to throw up. The lunch was civil. I shared a bit about what was going on with me and she shared what she was going through and then it was over.
The next several months were up and down. A harsh phone call on my birthday that left me feeling like I was losing my family, then a kind email somewhere else. It seemed to me, though, that my mother would always see me as her little girl and that nothing would ever change that no matter how hurtful that was to me.
Then I decided I was going to get surgery. My mother was upset. Begged me to change my mind. Asked me to talk to her pastor. Her pastor emailed me an angry email telling me how unhappy I must be in order to change my body when in reality I was happy for the first time in my life. It was hard to get those emails and phone calls. I felt like maybe this would be the thing that would cause my mother to disown me.
Around this same time, though, my little sister ended up in the hospital. I dropped everything and came to stay at my mom’s house with my little brother. I stayed there for a week, calling out of work, changing all of my plans, being there for my family and things started to change with my mom. She never mentioned that I didn’t email her pastor back. When I got back from surgery she hugged my partner and thanked her for going with me and taking care of me. She called on Christmas morning (we got back from surgery Christmas eve) and invited us over because she wanted us to be with family on Christmas.
Since then things have only gotten better. She still uses female pronouns for me, but calls me her child instead of her daughter. She apologized to me once for calling me “woman”. I am still in my sibling’s lives and they have supported me throughout my divorce.
And it makes me think of Mary’s trajectory; going from being shut out outside of the house to being present at the foot of the cross. She just wanted to keep her baby safe. Maybe she was outside of that house to warn Jesus, to make him see that he was getting into trouble. And then to follow him to the cross; to watch her baby boy die not knowing if he would be resurrected. The anguish only a mother can feel at watching her child suffer.
I’m sure there were times when Mary was angry with Jesus for following what he was called to do. She probably thought he was turning his back on his family, turning away from the things she had taught him. She thought he was making stupid decisions and getting himself into trouble. But yet she was at the cross in the hour that he needed her most.
We don’t get Mary’s perspective in this text. We only see her through a lens of Jesus. What a story she must have had to tell. What a story my mother has to tell.
I know there have been times when I have been impatient with my mother. When I have left her outside in the cold. When I have claimed other people as my family over her. But throughout it all she has stood by me, not perfectly, but steadfastly. I try to remember that this is a process for all involved. That she needs time to figure it out just like I need time. And so I try to let her in as much as I can. But most of all I let her know that she is my mother and I love her. I let her know that my family comes first and that I am there for her no matter what and will continue to be there for her no matter how much my body changes. I still carry the name she gave me and I am still her child, even as I hope that one day she will be able to call me her son.