Tucked away in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem — right near the ruins of the pools of Bethesda — is a gorgeous, 12th-century Basilica called the Church of Saint Anne. The tall, stone building is surrounded by lush gardens, and the vaulted ceilings and pillars that make up the interior of the church are just as stunning.
It is no surprise that millions of tourists flock to this site in Israel each and every year, taking time to pray inside of the church and reflect on the healing miracle that Jesus performed near the Bethesda pool (John 5:2-9).
As I have learned about this tourist site and the Church of Saint Anne, there is one thing that has captured my imagination above the rest. Placed against a wall inside of the church building is a stone statue that is meant to depict Mary — the mother of Jesus — along with her own mother.
Mary is shown as a child, standing next to her mother and devotedly saying her prayers. Mary’s mother embraces her daughter with her left hand and holds a scroll in her right hand with the inscription Deuteronomy 6:5-7. We know these verses to read “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.”
While some historical and religious traditions claim that Mary’s mother was named Anne (thus the name of the church), it is important to note that the Christian Bible has little to say about Mary’s family of origin.
What we do know for certain, however, is that Mary did have a mother. And it is likely — as was the case with all faithful Jewish parents — that her mother taught her how to say her prayers, how to be attentive to God’s voice, and how to love him with all of her heart, her soul, and her might.
This strikes me as incredibly significant. It is possible that because Mary’s mother taught Mary to love God above her own reputation, Mary was able to say a resounding “YES” when she was asked to take a step of faith by mothering Jesus — who is God with us — when she was still a virgin. And it is also likely that because Mary’s mother taught her to have God’s words written on her heart, Mary was equipped to teach her own child, Jesus, about what it meant to be a faithful Jew.
I know that much of this is conjecture, but the main point I want to hit home here is this: most of the biblical heroes in the Bible — including Moses, Ruth, Mary, and Jesus Himself — were raised and shaped by the care of their mothers. And that means that the mothers of the Bible are very much heroes of the Bible, as well. The legacy they left for their children had far greater impact than they could have ever imagined, and their leadership shaped history.
I also want to make a quick note to those of you who may be hopeful mothers, spiritual mothers, step mothers, or female mentors. The examples of biblical heroes that I listed above were not all raised by biological mothers. Ruth is a great example. It was Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, who introduced her to faith in the one true God. Naomi’s mentorship ultimately influenced the lineage of Jesus!
Moses is another example. He had not one but two mother-like figures who shaped his life. His biological mother, Jochebed, saved his life from brutal persecution by sending him off in a basket by the river bank to essentially give him up for adoption (Exodus 2:1-3). Pharaoh's daughter, who discovered Moses and chose to adopt him as her own, shaped this young boy’s life by providing care, resources, and a new family (Exodus 2:10). These women were significant in the making of this biblical hero and accordingly the deliverance of the Jewish people from Egypt.
So, wherever you find yourself, I want to honor you and encourage you. The way you disciple and lead the people under your care matters. As a leader yourself, you have the potential to shape leaders. And as you find yourself at the feet of Jesus time and time again, I know that God will give you the grace you need to carry out the task of motherhood or mentorship — whatever it looks like for you in your season.
On Mother’s Day, I will be sharing at Rock Church about another biblical mother who has captured my attention and inspired my faith. If you need encouragement in your journey, I would love for you to join us at one of our in-person campuses or online. Happy Mother’s Day, friends!
Miles McPherson is the Senior Pastor of the Rock Church in San Diego. He is also a motivational speaker and author. McPherson's latest book “The Third Option” speaks out about the pervasive racial divisions in today’s culture and argues that we must learn to see people not by the color of their skin, but as God sees them—humans created in the image of God.