If you grew up in a Christian home, you probably said grace at your meals, attended church every Sunday, and had regular prayer and Bible study times. If you were like me, however, you only said grace when grandparents came to visit. Growing up, prayer times consisted of “Now I lay me down to sleep...” We learned The Lord’s Prayer in school. All of these things are good, but reciting prayers by rote and getting perfect attendance in Sunday school does not a Christian make. Faith in God and exercising that faith are essential to your Christian walk. So, how do we learn faith? Is it acquired through osmosis just by being part of a Christian family? Is it something that grows over time? How can we grow in faith? More importantly, how do we instill our faith in God in our children and other family members?
In the selected chapters for today, we get a brief glimpse of what married life was like for Mary. We consider her concerns as she thinks about her marriage to Joseph. We see a willing worker and faithful servant of God.
It is eleven years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Come to Me opens with Mary lost in thought as she waits for the apostle Luke to arrive. As you read these chapters, remember Mary lived in a small community of about 400 people. She probably knew everyone in her village. In fact, most extended families lived close to one another. As she reflects on her life, keep this in mind.
“4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
This is called the Shema. It is a term given to a set of daily prayers recited by members of the Jewish faith. The Shema is recited twice a day, during morning and evening prayers and is the last thing on the lips of the dying. It is considered a commandment, or mitzvah, separate from the commandment simply to pray. Joseph had carved this prayer into Mary’s bench. What do these verses mean to you?
Take a moment to examine yourself. Do you remember what it felt like when you first fell in love? I do. My relationship with my husband was a long distance one, and we ran up some very expensive phone bills talking to each other every day. I couldn’t stand being away from him. He was always on my mind. My heart soared when the phone rang, and when I saw him in person, I was over the moon. I loved my husband with all my heart, soul, and mind. My question to you is this: Do you love God that way?
As the stepson of a devout Jew, Jesus would have been under Joseph’s instruction and that of the local leaders of his synagogue. The Shema would have been one of the first prayers Joseph taught Jesus. As we read further in the verse, we can see why Jesus knew the Scriptures so well. Moses had just given the Israelites the Ten Commandments.
“4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
In addition to loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind, what does verse six command?
What does verse seven command parents to do?
Verse eight commands, “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” Today you will see Orthodox Jews doing just that. Some wear little boxes on their heads called tefillin. They also wear leather straps on their arms in obedience to this command, all to remind them to love the Lord and obey Him. This is the background Jesus came from. His life was steeped in tradition and the Torah (Old Testament). His parents, who were chosen by God, would have taught him well.
Look at verse seven again. How was Jesus’ life an example of the Shema?
As Mary waited for Luke, she recalled her conversation with her nephew John. You might be surprised to discover that James and John, the “Sons of Thunder” as Jesus called them, were actually His cousins. The next few scriptures will help you discover this for yourself.
“21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him” (Matthew 4:21-22).
“These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John” (Matthew 10:2).
What were the names of Zebedee’s sons?
“55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons” (Matthew 27:55-56).
Who was present at the cross?
“40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome” (Mark 15:40).
Look at the previous verse again and then read the one above. What was the name of Zebedee’s wife?
Who were Jesus’ cousins?
As discussed earlier, Nazareth was a very small village and extended family members tended to live close to each other. While this wasn’t always the case – Mary’s cousin Elizabeth lived more than 100 kilometers away from her – it was the norm. Already we see the close family ties Jesus grew up with and how the strong ties of faith in God kept them together.
“1 And God spoke all these words: 2 ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.3 You shall have no other gods before me.4 You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments’” (Exodus 20:1-6).
In the novel, Luke is worried that his respect for Mary would turn into adoration or worship. The early converts in Antioch, particularly the women, had this problem, as the book suggests. But what does God say about idol worship? What do we learn about God from the verses above?
Put yourself in Mary’s shoes. She is a servant of God and a Jew, brought up to honour God and place Him first. How do you think she would react to people worshipping her?
Is the veneration of Mary scriptural or in any way appropriate for Christians?
Tradition tells us Mary was a young girl of no more than fourteen or fifteen. Some scholars suggest she may have been as young as twelve. Her betrothal to Joseph was not how we view engagements today. It was a binding contract. Most betrothals lasted for a year or more. During this time, Mary was considered by all to be Joseph’s wife, even though she still lived at home with her parents and they had not yet consummated their marriage. Mary is like any young teenager thinking about her wedding day. Contrast this with the promiscuous lifestyle of today’s teens. What is the missing element in teenage lives today that has led to such immoral behaviour?
What or who are the major influencers of this behaviour?
Having a better idea now of how Jesus was raised, we know how important a role parents have in instructing their children spiritually. Teaching them to believe in God and to obey Him is one thing. Being an example of faith to them is another. What can you do this week to show your children, family, or friends that you love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind?
Prayer: Lord, faith and family go hand in hand. Help us give You first place in our lives. Help us be an example to our children and a witness to our neighbours as we live out our faith. Keep us from putting anything else above you. May You find us faithful when You come again. In Jesus’ name. Amen.