Broken and Spilled Out
Dr. Jim Denison
Today is Mother’s Day. Every one of us has had a mother, obviously; however, we don’t all see her in the same way. For instance, there was a little girl who, when shown the wedding pictures of her parents, asked her father, “Daddy, is that the day you got Mom to come and work for us?”
Then there was the teacher who had just given her second-grade class a lesson on magnets. She asked a little boy, “Now, my name starts with an ‘M’ and I pick up things. What am I?” The boy replied instantly, “A mother?”
But my favorite story has to do with a poor mother who was concerned about her eldest son’s use of profanity. She asked her pastor for advice, and he told her that each time her son cussed, she should slap him. Bad advice, to be sure.
The next morning as her sons came to the breakfast table she asked them what they wanted to eat. The eldest said, “I want some ‘blankety, blank Post Toasties.’” His mother slapped him as hard as she could. As he sat dazed on the floor, she turned to the younger son and asked what he wanted to eat. He said, “Well, I sure don’t want any Post Toasties!”
This is a good day, for mothers need all the encouragement they can find. That’s what Anna Jarvis thought when she decided upon her mother’s death in 1905 to make a day in her memory. She copyrighted “Mother’s Day” with the U.S. Patent Office, then wrote governors, state legislators, congressmen, and even the president. Finally, in 1914 President Wilson signed a proclamation making Mother’s Day a national observance.
Upon her death in 1948, a wreath of 43 carnations was placed on Anna Jarvis’s grave, because in that year 43 countries celebrated Mother’s Day. Why carnations? Because they were her mother’s favorite flower.
Anna Jarvis had the right idea for our culture, but also for our souls. For mothers have the single greatest influence on their children’s eternal souls. That is the simple point I want to make today.
The contents are what matters
Our text finds Rachel in dire straits. Her husband loves her, but she has borne him no children. Her sister and even their maids have given him ten sons together; she has none. So she prays, and prays more fervently, and prays still more intently. And finally her prayer is answered.
Fourteen years after she and Jacob were married, she gives him a child, a son. She knows immediately the source of her blessing, for she names him “Joseph,” which means “The Lord adds.” God gave her this child. And she would love him until the day she died giving birth to his brother, Benjamin. The Jewish people venerate the place of her birth to this day.
Rachel’s story illustrates well the relationship of motherhood to pottery. The first fact: the contents of the clay vessel are its value.
A clay vessel is a means to an end. The contents of the pot are what matters, not its form or appearance. Pots are as valuable as they are useful.
We are to judge them by their function, not their appearance. They may be beautiful, but cracked or dirty on the inside, and thus of no value. Or they may be common on the outside but clean and holy on the inside, so that their contents are valuable and pure.
So with mothers. Your eternal value lies in the souls of your children. Not in your status in the eyes of your society, your possessions or appearance or achievements. Your greatest value as a mother is the soul of the child given to you.
The second fact: the vessel seldom knows the ultimate result of its work.
Water poured from the clay pot grows flowers the pot never sees. It helps thirsty people the pot never knows. Its use extends far beyond the pot which held it.
Rachel never knew that her oldest son would one day save his brothers and his nation. She died never knowing that he would be second in all of Egypt, and the most famous son of her family and people. She never knew the eternal significance of the life she gave to the world.
You will likely never know the eternal significance of the souls entrusted to your care, either. But God does.
And the third fact: the vessel is the first influence upon its contents. Its purity or contamination is directly transmitted to that which it holds. So with mothers and their children.
Rachel was faithful to God, and God was faithful to her. She was Joseph’s first spiritual influence. She prayed to have Joseph, a fact we never find about Jacob or the rest of his family. She loved him when his brothers were jealous of him. She was his first model of spirituality. Mothers usually are, for better or for worse.
Mothers have the single greatest influence on their children’s eternal souls. That’s my point. Let’s see if it holds up across biblical history and life today.
A pattern across time
First, some biblical stories.
Consider this text: “On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist’” (Matthew 14:6-7). Her mother implicated her daughter in one of the worst crimes in Scripture.
Consider Ahaziah, the ancient king of Israel, and this statement: “He too walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother encouraged him in doing wrong. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, as the house of Ahab had done” (2 Chronicles 22:3-4). This mother’s son suffered a violent, ignominious death for the sins she taught him.
But there are good examples of our point as well. Moses, for instance, was raised in the pagan culture, traditions, and religion of Egypt. And yet because of his spiritual mother, he never forgot his God or his people, and one day led them to their Promised Land.