Mary, Mother of Jesus (Fr. Varghese Paul, S.J.)

Mary, Mother of Jesus occupies an exalted position in the Christian Salvation history. And yet there are not too many direct references to her in the Bible!

Mary was the child of elderly parents: Joachim and Anna in Jerusalem. We find this information in the 2nd century apocryphal writing called Protoevangelium meaning the first Gospel. Both her parents are commemorated in Eastern Church from the medieval times. Another apocryphal writing refers to Mary as Mary the Galilean and says that her birthplace was at Sapphires in Galilee.

In the four Gospels Mark and John are silent about Jesus childhood and Marys early life. It seems that Marys parents went to live at Nazareth. Mathew and specially Luke have narrated the birth and childhood of Jesus and with it Marys life as a teenaged girl and them mother.

It is at Nazareth the angel Gabriel appears to the peasant girl Mary. Luke has narrated the event with great literary style: In the sixth month of Elizabeths pregnancy God sent the angel Gabriel to a town in Galilee named Nazareth. He had a message for a girl promised in marriage to a man named Joseph, who was a descendant of King David. The girls name was Mary (Lk 1, 26-27). In a single sentence Mary is introduced as a girl living at Nazareth and she is a virgin promised in marriage to Joseph, who is a descendant of King David. In the same sentence we have also the information that God has sent his messenger Gabriel to Mary.

Angel Gabriel brings a message to Mary. But the message is totally unexpected and unfathomable and beyond Marys comprehension. First, Gabriel greets her; The angel came to her and said, Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you! (Lk 1, 28).

Luke says that with the extraordinary greeting Mary was deeply troubled by the angels message, and she wondered what his words meant (Lk 1, 29).

But the angel understood Marys dilemma and explained: Dont be afraid, Mary; God has been gracious to you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. The Lord God will make him a king, as his ancestor David was, and he will be the king of the descendants of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end! (Lk 1, 30-33).

The extravagant greeting and the mysterious message is beyond Marys comprehension. But when angel Gabriel explained her the message Mary got some inkling of the mission to which she was called. And true to her nature as a religious Jewish girl she asked for an explanation of the heavenly message:

Mary said to the angel, I am a virgin. How, then, can this be? (Lk 1, 34).

The angel is ready with the explanation: The angel answered, The Holy Spirit will come on you, and Gods power will rest upon you. For this reason the holy child will be called the Son of God. Remember your relative Elizabeth. It is said that she cannot have children, but she herself is now six months pregnant, even though she is very old. For there is nothing that God cannot do (Lk 1, 35-37).

Mary got a satisfactory clarification and she said her famous, humble fiat: I am the Lords servant, said Mary; May it happen to me as you have said. And the angel left her (Lk 1, 38).

The next thing we read about Mary in Lukes Gospel is about Marys visitation to her cousin Elizabeth. As told by the angel to Mary, Elizabeth is also pregnant in her old age by special intervention of God. Both the women have their secret to share and try to fathom Gods intervention in their lives.

The two cousins must have already exchanged the news about their pregnancies. Their first greetings of each other tell much about themselves and their unique and privileged roles in the salvation history.

Soon after the announcement of Gabriel, Luke writes: Mary got ready and hurried off to a town in the hill-country of Judaea. She went into Zechariahs house and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Marys greeting, the baby moved within her. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and said in a loud voice, You are the most blessed of all women, and blessed is the child you will bear! Why should this great thing happen to me, that my Lords mother comes to visit me? For as soon as I heard your greeting, the baby within me jumped with gladness. How happy you are to believe that the Lords message to you will come true! (Lk 1, 39-45).

In visiting Elizabeth and in her breaking forth into the hymn of praise (known as Magnificat in Latin) we get an inkling of Marys character.

Mary recognizes herself as the Lords lonely servant and her exalted position as Jesus Mother that all people will call me happy. She is all praise for the Mighty God because of the great things he has done for her. At the end of Marys Magnificat, Luke notes that, Mary stayed about three months with Elizabeth and then went back home (Lk 1, 56) Mary was at the service of her cousin sister Elizabeth when she needed Marys help most at the critical time of her final stage of pregnancy and delivery.

When the time came, Elizabeth and Mary gave birth to their sons within six months of each other in towns not too far from each other. Elizabeth gave birth to John in Ein Karem and Mary to Jesus at Bethlehem.

The two birth stories are interesting; but it is difficult to make out what is real and what is legendary. There are differences in the narration of Luke and Mathew about the circumstances of Jesus birth at Bethlehem. According to Luke Joseph and Mary came to Bethlehem to fulfill the demand of Roman census because Joseph was of king Davids family and Bethlehem was Davids city.

Mathews narration indicated that Joseph and Mary lived at Bethlehem that the wise men from east saw the star which they had followed from the east stopped over the place where the child Jesus was (Mt 2, 10). The wise men went into the house and saw the child his mother Mary and they worshipped him offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

At the birth of Jesus many things happened which Mary did not understand fully like the visits of the shepherd and their story of angels breaking the news of Jesus birth to them and of the men from the east who told her about a star guiding them to Bethlehem. Marys response as Mathew records was that, Mary remembered all these thing and thought deeply about them (Mt 2, 19).

I had the privilege of visiting Bethlehem twice in 1977 and in 1998 and ponder over the mystery of incarnation kneeling at the cave where Jesus was born in a manger and Mary laid the child wrapped in swaddling clothes.

According to Mathew after the visitors from the East left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said Herod will be looking for the child in order to kill him. So get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you to leave (Mt. 2, 13).

As instructed by the angel Joseph took the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. But Luke does not mention the visitors from the East nor the flight to Egypt. Instead Luke narrates about the naming of Jesus and his circumcision after a week and then after 40 days the presentation of Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem.

The time came for Joseph and Mary to perform the ceremony of purification, as the Law of Moses commanded. So they took the child to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (Lk 2, 22). Mary in obedience to the Law of Moses fulfilled the 40 days of her purification and brought the first born son Jesus to the Temple to present him to the Lord.

Commending on the passage Ronald Brownrigg writes in Whos Who the New Testament, So it was that the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, as is demanded in the Book of Exodus (13, 2). Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord. Mary and Joseph took with them the poor mans offering demanded in the Book of Leviticus (5, 7) at purification: a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons (p. 165).

The presentation of Jesus in the Temple is specially marked with the prophesy of an old priest Simeon about Jesus and his Mother Mary. Taking Jesus in his hand Simeon glorified God saying that his eyes have seen your salvation and described him as light for revelation to the gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel. (Lk 2, 29-32). Then addressing Mary Simeon said to her This child is chosen by God for the destruction and the salvation of many in Israel. He will be a sign from God which many people will speak against and so reveal their secret thoughts. And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart (Lk 2, 34-35).

According to Luke Mary and Joseph returned to Israel from Egypt as instructed by an angel and the stayed at Nazareth. But according to Mathew Mary and Joseph returned their home at Nazareth in Galilee after the purification and presentation ceremonies. There the child grew and became strong; he was full of wisdom, and Gods blessing were upon him (Lk 2, 40).

We hear again about Mother Mary and Jesus at the age of 12 when Jesus and his parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. After the festival Jesus unknown to his parents remained in the Temple. After a whole day of return Journey Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus was missing as he could not be found among their relatives and friends. Immediately they returned to Jerusalem looking for Jesus. Then, Luke tells us, On the third day they found him in the Temple, sitting with the Jewish teachers, listening to them and asking questions. All who heard him were amazed at his intelligent answers. His parents were astonished when they saw him, and his mother said to him, my son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been terribly worried trying to find you.

He answered them, Why did you have to look for me? Didnt you know that I had to be in my Fathers house? (Lk 2, 46-49).

Mary and Joseph did not understand Jesus answer to their question why have you done this to us. Mary must have been perplexed with Jesus mysterious answer. She did the next best thing as a good mother. His mother treasured all these things in her heart (Lk 2, 51).

We do not hear about Mother Mary till the event of the marriage feast at Cana. But from the fact that Jesus is called and identified as a carpenters son we can assume that Mary, Joseph and Jesus formed an ordinary Jewish family of carpenters at Nazareth. But Marys must have been a very religious family. The knowledge of Jesus about the Jewish Scripture reveals that Jesus as a boy and an young man must have studied the Scripture (Old Testament) under the watchful care of Mary and Joseph at home as he also picked up the skills and workmanship of a carpenter.

At the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee Jesus attended it with his disciples and the Mother of Jesus was also there indicating two things. It must have been probably the wedding of their close relatives or of close family friend. Second, Joseph is not mentioned suggesting that he must have died by that time.

Mary must have involved in the feast more than an invited guest that she noticed that the hosts have run short of wine and she brought the fact to the attention of Jesus with a simple statement, They have no wine left (Jn 2, 3).

Jesus response is remarkable. Calling Mother Mary woman Jesus tells her that his time has not came. The word woman is the same word Jesus used from the Cross entrusting her to John and John to Mother Mary.

Though Jesus said that his time has not come, he with the loving compulsion of his Mother Mary did the first sign or miracle of converting water into wine. Mother Mary has complete trust in her Son Jesus. Hence, she instructs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. Mary is indeed a true believer.

We encounter Mother Mary during the public ministry of Jesus only once. All three synoptic Gospels of Mathew, Mark and Luke narrate the event: Jesus was still talking to the people when his mother and brothers arrived. They stood outside, asking to speak with him. So one of the people there said to him, Look, your mother and brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak with you.

Jesus answered, Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? Then he pointed to his disciples and said, Look! Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does what my Father in heaven wants him to do is my brother, my sister, and my mother. (Mt.12, 46-50).

Here Jesus tells the crowd of people around him that whoever does the will of the heavenly Father is his brother, his sister and his mother. In identifying ordinary people as his mother Jesus does not slight his Mother but on the contrary he values and honours her doubly as Mary is his mother both physically and above all by doing the will of God the Father. So Mary is the mother of Jesus both physically and spirituality. With her fiat she proves herself as an outstanding example of doing the Fathers will.

The last time we meet Mother Mary in the four Gospels is at the foot of the Cross. Only St. John portrays Mary by name standing by the foot of the Cross and sharing the agony of her son Jesus hanging on the Cross. We may assume that Mother Mary is included among the women mentioned by the other 3 evangelists. But John not only portrays Mother Mary and the disciple Jesus loved by he also entrusts them a solemn Mission of caring for each-other. The biblical scholars have seen that through the disciple John, Jesus has entrusted all his disciples and the entire humanity to the care and protection of Mother Mary; and similarly through Mother Mary, Jesus has entrusted the entire Church to the care and protection of his disciples. At the foot of the Cross Mother Mary is supreme example of Mothers love and also of true discipleship of commitment and dedication to Jesus.

In the New Testament the last specific reference to Mother Mary is in the Acts of the Apostles. The Acts says, They (the Apostles) gathered frequently to pray as a group together with the women and with Mary the Mother of Jesus and with his brothers (Acts 1, 14). Here Mother Mary is mentioned after giving the names of Jesus 11 disciples as if Mary is a less significant person than his 11 apostles. But the important fact is Mother Mary is there as one among them, praying with them and awaiting Holy Spirit. We see Mary as the unifying force as she is there not alone but with his brothers, that is to say, thanks to Mary, those who refused to welcome him and accept him in his own village, now have turned up and wait with Mother Mary for the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit promised by Jesus. Here portraying Mother Mary as one among the Apostles and other disciples Luke tells us that Mary stands with us, the sinful human race, even though Mary was born Immaculate and she remained sinless throughout her life as Holy Mother Church teaches us.

Mary is one with us, the entire human family and yet she is the Mother of God, Mother of the Church founded by Jesus, her son. Mother Mary is not mentioned any where else in the New Testament except that there is indirect reference to her in the book of Revelation in the vision of John the Divine of Ephesus. There was a woman she was soon to give birth, Then she gave birth to a Son, who will rule over all nations with an iron rod. But the child was snatched away and taken to God and his throne. The women fled to the desert to a place God had prepared for her (Rev. 12, 1-6).

Mother Mary is praised and homage is paid to her for her willing cooperation in Gods plan of Salvation. But she is not worshipped as only God is worshipped by the Christians, not Mother Mary or for that matter any other saints in the Catholic Church. (contact the author: यह ईमेल पता spambots से संरक्षित किया जा रहा है. आप जावास्क्रिप्ट यह देखने के सक्षम होना चाहिए. )

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