Examining the ‘real’ start of Mother’s Day

By: Pastor Jovan Ilijev, Foresthill Seventh-day Adventist Church
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Have you ever wondered what Mother’s Day would be like if Jesus hadn’t come? First, consider this: An estimated 150 million Mother’s Day cards are sent each year in the United States (compared with only 95 million Father’s Day cards), making Mother’s Day the third largest greeting card holiday of the year. Americans spend an average of $105 on Mother’s Day gifts ($90 on Father’s Day gifts). The phone rings more often on Mother’s Day than on Father’s Day, and the Saturday before Mother’s Day is the busiest day of the year at car washes. Mother’s Day is not unique to American culture, however. It is celebrated in over 140 countries around the world. But before the first Mother’s Day could be celebrated, the common perception of a woman’s rights and equality had to be elevated. And that’s where Jesus comes in. Noted historian A.J. Schmidt tells us that Christ’s attitude towards women, his interaction with them, and his teaching offered a new social status to women. His behavior stood in stark contrast to the prevailing attitude of the day, as recorded in the literature of the Greco-Roman or Jewish world. Ironically, the Greeks, who were often credited with originating Mother’s Day, had an extremely low view of women. In Greek culture, the social status of women was that of a slave, with no freedom and no rights. A woman could not walk alone, speak in public, or do any business with a man. Not surprisingly the Greek establishment of Mother’s Day was not aimed towards celebrating Greek women, but honoring Cybele, the great mother of Greek gods. The Roman culture treated women no differently. A male child was a principal source of prestige and validation. Baby girls were expendable and viewed as an economic liability and social burden. A man had full authority to chastise his wife, and even to kill her in case of adultery. In the Jewish world of Jesus’ day, women were socially and religiously neglected. The Jews barred women from testifying in court, from public speaking, and from talking to men. The Rabbinic law was quite clear: “He who talks with a woman in public brings evil upon himself.” Every morning a male Jew began his prayer with the following words: “Praise be to God that he has not created me a Gentile; praised be God that created me not a woman….” Against this backdrop we can understand why Jesus’ teaching and actions were considered shocking and outrageous. Jesus’ approach was unique because He recognized women as fellow human beings, not simply as objects of male desire. He did not treat them primarily in terms of their gender, age, or marital status, but in terms of their physical and spiritual needs. Consider how shocking it must have been in a male-dominated culture to compare God to a woman looking for a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10). Or, to call a Jewish woman a “daughter of Abraham” (Luke 13:16), a title that only a man had a right to? Or, commending a Gentile woman for having “great faith” (Matthew 15:21-28), something that no Jew was ever told by Jesus. How do we explain Mary “sitting at Jesus feet” (Luke 10:39), the traditional posture of a male rabbinic student? For Jesus, women had an intrinsic value equal to that of men. Jesus’ example — his public one-on-one conversation with the adulterous Samaritan woman, his allowing a “sinful” woman to anoint Him and an “unclean” woman to touch Him, his inclusion of women among his closest friends and his choosing a woman to be the key witness of his resurrection—set in motion a new model for male/female relationships. Decades later this new model was expanded and expressed by one of his disciples this way: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) This message of freedom, equality, and dignity changed the world forever. On this Mother’s Day, as we take a moment to pay tribute to the person we each owe so much, let us remember: If Jesus had never lived, we wouldn’t have any basis for observing Mother’s Day as we know it today. It is only because He stood against the social norms of his day, raising the status of women to a new level, that we can celebrate this holiday. Jovan Ilijev is pastor of Foresthill Seventh-day Adventist Church.