December 18, 2016
What do we know about Mary, the mother of Jesus?
Mary is an interesting character in the story of Jesus. Much of what people "know" is not Biblical. That may not mean that the stories from outside the Bible untrue, but it does mean that we must be careful about how we inform our faith by them.
This question is especially appropriate for the fourth Sunday of Advent because in each of the three liturgical calendar years, the story for this day involves Mary, the only Sunday that focuses on the mother of Jesus in our church year. Each of the Gospels, and the sequel to Luke, the Acts of the Apostles, has a slightly different presentation on Mary.
This year's Gospel, Matthew, has an extensive 'Birth Narrative (1:18-2-23)" which includes commentary about Mary and about Joseph, the husband of Mary. In fact, a heavenly messenger (we popularly assume Gabriel, though no name is given in the text) appears to Joseph to say that Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph, being a faithful man, shares in this birthing process by accepting both Mary and the child when by Jewish law and local custom he does not have to. There is also this side comment that Joseph has no relations with Mary "until she had borne a son," which begs the question about Mary's perpetual virginity, a dogmatic statement of the second century and maintained as dogma in the Roman Catholic Church.
Luke's Gospel, and his Acts of the Apostles, continues to afford a popular notion of Mary's deep spiritual understanding and faithfulness through the birth narrative (1:5-3:38), her presence at the crucifixion among the women who followed Jesus from Galilee, and her presence in the upper room with the disciples at Pentecost. One of the most profound portrayals of Mary in Luke is her proclamation of the Magnificat, a prophetic moment pronouncing God's care for the poor and powerless, including Mary herself. It is here where we hear that Mary reflected on all these great events in her heart.
The Gospel of John's portrayal of Mary, though a different set of stories, show her in a favorable light. Mark, however, without a birth narrative and with a story about Mary coming to Jesus with his brothers to take him home because they thought he was out of his mind. Mary and Jesus' siblings are just as confused about him as the Disciples are in this Gospel.
Other well-known details about Mary, her immaculate conception from Ann, the identity of her mother, her assumption into heaven, and her office as co-mediatrix for intercessory prayer come from sources outside the Bible and from within the developing Church.
Here is the Bible picture: Mary cooperated with God and bore Jesus. She reared him, watched him die, and was associated with the early church. All enough for one human life and all enough to honor her among women.
The Rev. David Lucey