MARY, MOTHER OF OUR LORD

December 21, 2010

Nowhere in Scripture do we read that Mary, the betrothed of Joseph and the mother of Jesus, was immaculate, sinless and/or the mother of God.  I'd like to think that the early Catholics were merely saying that she was the earthly mother of God in the flesh.  Indeed there are many in the Medieval days of the Roman Church who were saying just that. But it didn't take too much to force a paradigm shift to the immaculate conception theology.

Nevertheless, Mary was the mother of our Lord, not the mother of God and hence the "force" behind the Creation of the Universe. My non Catholic indoctrination in earlier days left me with an impression of Mary as little more than a birthing mother and a compliant, second-level player in the Christmas story relegated to nurse-maiding the baby Jesus once he was born.

But now in more recent years, she has ascended to hero-status in my thinking. The new Mary, I've recognized, is tough, resilient, gutsy, healthfully independent, possessive of a radical gospel agenda. She is the epitome of mother-power. You must like her; you must listen to her. Jesus clearly loved her, and it's obvious that he certainly listened to her … a lot.

Think about this. Mothers "enjoy" nine months of almost exclusive influence upon a child while it remains in the womb. In most cases, the influence continues—little diminished—in the next 2-3 years of life. And what's to be said of the years beyond that?

The things a mother can pump into the life of a child in those first years—for good or for ill—is beyond calculating. And so it must have been with Mary and Jesus.

Mary's so-called "Song" in the Gospel of Luke is probably as close as we might get to knowing not only what she felt about the role that Heaven thrust upon her as the mother of the Messiah but also the agenda she pressed into his soul concerning his destiny. It is quite clear from the very beginning of the story: this Jewish mother had high, very high, intentions in mind for her boy.

I assume that Mary's song—the Magnificat—was a summary of the thoughts and feelings she shared with the followers of Jesus down through the years. One can only imagine that she was asked a million times, "What in the world were you thinking when you encountered the angel? What did you and Elizabeth talk about during those 3 months in the hill country?" Her usual answer? You'll find it in the song.

Many students of Scripture offer that Mary's song was probably among the first distinctly Christian hymns and that Luke placed it in his account of the life of the Lord because it provided such insight as to what this remarkable young woman felt about her baby's future mission.

Mary's "my soul glorifies the Lord … my spirit rejoices" is an expression of worship, an apt description of genuine ecstasy. In the revelation that God has come with favor upon her, Mary has highlighted what is perhaps the greatest claim of the Christian gospel: that God—the creator of the universe—is mindful of even the humblest of people. From his mindfulness comes love, redemption, mercy, re-creation, new birth.

In the angelic visit, Mary, product of an out-of-the-way town (Nazareth) and raised in poverty, had discovered that God knew her name and that he was prepared to lift her from obscurity to a position where she would be called "blessed" for countless future generations. And so a great truth was accentuated in Mary's experience: that God knows (thoroughly and intimately) every human being who has ever lived—the youngest, the most broken and disabled, the sufferer, the one who is of another culture, even the one who is my enemy. Mindful of them! And gracious toward them! And is prepared to redeem them … even if I am not always that charitable.

Mary's song not only highlights God's mindfulness, but it speaks to larger, real-world implications that she foresaw as coming through the future birth of her child. This is no small-thinking young woman who ponders the impact of her child-to-be-born.

The proud (those who assume the world revolves around their whims) will be scattered, she says, reaching back for words found in the Older Testament. Rulers (those who misuse their power) will be overthrown while the humble are lifted up. The poor will be acknowledged and fed while the rich are stripped of their ill-gotten gains. Smells like revolution to me. If Mary had expressed these thoughts in some place other than Elizabeth's home, she might have risked arrest.

What strikes me is that Mary's theology (or spirituality) is both private and public. She does not stop with a personal testimony that God's blessing is upon her. Rather, her faith in the actions of God extends into moral, social, and economic implications of the larger world in which she lived. And here's the kicker. You have to believe that this is the message she would impress upon her son.

Mary had almost 30 years to wield her mother-power. And her mothering was undoubtedly more than simply birthing, nursing, and changing diapers. This woman had influence. She was the scolder when 12-year-old Jesus took off on his own for a short while. Note the strange story of the wedding at Cana where she takes initiative to solve a problem, and it would appear that she changed Jesus' mind about helping out with the wine supply. Remember the day when she organized her other sons and headed off to bring Jesus home because she thought he was getting into too much trouble? No weak woman, this Mary, whether she was right or wrong.

How the Holy Spirit shaped Jesus' consciousness of his mission as the saving Christ is a mystery to me. But I'll bet on this: Mary was a major player in the process. She must have poured the Magnificat agenda into Jesus from the very first day with her songs, her stories, her mother-mentoring. And it shows in his confrontational message to the rich, the proud, and the powerful.

I can imagine Mary saying to Jesus over and over again when they worked together and when she tucked him into bed, "Son, when you grow up, tell the people about God's mindfulness and his compassion … remember: his mindfulness and his compassion … his mindfulness and his compassion."

Mary's fingerprints are all over Jesus' public reading in the synagogue at Nazareth when he first emerges as a young rabbi: "the spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good tidings to the poor."

And nothing has changed when, three years later, he tells the disciples that the "sheep" and the "goats" will be known by their quiet but distinctive engagements with the poor and the vulnerable people of the population ("We didn't even know we were doing these things," they will say). Mary, had she have been there, would have loved these lines.

Which leads me to this speculation. Would Mary be at peace in a branch of the Christian movement that seems to have little to say these days about desperate people struggling with unemployment, foreclosures, immigration issues, indebtedness, and healthcare? Who—from Mary's perspective—would be the modern day parallel to the proud, the rulers, and the rich of her day? And what might she say of them and to them? Just asking.

An impish piece of me imagines Mary viewing the typical manger scene in most churches on Christmas Eve where a lovely young girl, saying nothing, sits with a doll in her arms amidst toy animals and shepherds in bathrobes. I imagine the historical Mary standing up and bursting out, "Hey, there's a heck of a lot more to my life than what you're seeing here. Just ask my son, Jesus."

Where is Mary with her mother-power when we need her?


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We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.