Sunday, April 21, 2013

Mary as Mother

If I am to accomplish what I set out to do here, I know one of the questions I will have to address is that of Catholic devotion to the Virgin Mary.  Frankly, that intimidates me, although not for the reasons you might expect.  It is simply that there is much, and I do mean much that can be said about Mary, and yet our Protestant brothers and sisters are (generally) careful to say as little about her as possible.  Mary is seldom mentioned at all, unless it happens to be December.  In December, Protestants become a hair more Catholic.  ;)  The statues come out, songs about Mary are considered widely acceptable, and a sermon or two about her might just be preached.

My grandmother's Nativity.  Nice, no?

Then January comes around, and she is packed neatly away with the rest of the Christmas stuff for next year.  (This may sound a hair snarky, but think about it for a moment, dear friends.  If it is not okay to talk about Mary or have images of her or songs about her any other time of year, why the exception for Christmas?)

I've decided the only way to tackle the subject of Mary (while keeping the posts a reasonable length) is to write a series of posts on this single topic.  Today, we start with Mary as Mother.

Mother of Christ

This one is easy.  Frankly, we can all agree that Mary was the mother of Jesus.  Unless you happen to not be Christian at all, but really, there's enough historical evidence for the existence of the man, and who His mother was.  Those who don't believe Jesus ever existed are just being obstinate.  The question is not whether He existed.  It's who He was.  But I digress.  We agree on Mary as the mother of Christ.  Where we part ways is on the implications of that fact.

Jesus honored Mary.  As a first-century Jew, Jesus would have been extremely familiar with the ten commandments, which include this:
 "Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee."  ~Exodus 20:12
If one believes (and I've never met a Christian who didn't) that Christ led a sinless life, it naturally follows that He honored His mother.  I've heard it preached that the term "Christian" literally means "Christ like" or "little Christ."  If He honored His mother, why shouldn't we?

Mary's influence on Jesus is clearly visible in the Bible, if one takes the time to notice it.  And why not?  Is any single person of greater influence on a child (in the normal course of things) than his mother?  And would God not have chosen (or, more accurately, specifically created) the perfect mother for His Son, the physical incarnation of Himself?

The first instance I'd like to look at comes from Jesus' childhood.  He was twelve years old, Scripture tells us, when He went with Mary and Joseph to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  And afterwards, His parents traveled a day's journey toward home, while He, unknown to them, remained behind in the temple.  When they discovered His absence, Mary and Joseph were surely frantic.  Here all this time, they had assumed Him to be with the caravan.  Not right there with them, but somewhere in the company of friends and family, headed toward home.  He was, after all, twelve--very near the traditional age of manhood in His culture.  They would not have been concerned to have Him out of their sight.  Not until night began to fall, and they could not find Him.  So, they turned around, and headed back to Jerusalem--another day's journey to get back--to search for their son.  Only after three days had passed did they find Him, sitting in the temple with the "doctors" or learned men of Jerusalem, both asking and answering questions, and amazing all who heard Him speak!  And here is the conversation we're told occurred between Mary and her Son (taken from Luke 2):
48 And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.49 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?50 And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
Here is Mary, reacting as any mother might.  "Son, why have you done this to us?  We've been looking for you everywhere!  You worried us to death!"  And Jesus' baffled response:  "Why were you looking for me?  Didn't you know I must be about my Father's business?"  It seems, from His response, that Jesus assumed His parents would know where to find Him.  But clearly, they didn't yet understand this, so, He went home with them, and was subject to them.  Consider, if you will:  He was, in the mystery of the Trinity, the Son of God, and the physical incarnation of God.  And yet, when His mother came looking for Him, He went home with her, and placed Himself in subjection to both her and St. Joseph, until He grew to manhood.

Second, we might look, several years in the future, at a certain wedding feast, in Cana.  Though we never know the identity of the couple, Mary, Jesus, and Jesus' disciples (because by now, He was 30, and had begun to attract followers) were guests.  (I'm going to stray from my usual path, and give you the NKJV here, because it's easier to read and understand.)
And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom.10 And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!”
Notice what happens here.  Only partway through the wedding feast, the hosts run out of wine--a social faux pas worthy of some embarrassment.  And Mary comes to Jesus.  He has never done anything particularly miraculous before this, but His mother knows who He is.  And she brings this request to her Son.  Not so much a request even.  Just a statement of a problem, with the underlying assumption that she'd like Him to do something about it.  And what does He say to her? Many have criticized Jesus for His words to Mary here.  "Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me?  My hour has not yet come."


But Mary is unperturbed.  She simply turns to those serving at the feast and gives them one simple directive:  "Whatever He says to you, do it."

That's it.  She isn't put off, and she isn't put out.  It seems Jesus has turned her down cold, but Mary still expects Him to do something.  (Pretty sure we could all take a lesson in faith here.)  And. . . He does.  At the request, and simple faith, of His mother, Jesus performs His first miracle.



Mother of John

The next "Mother" role Mary would be called to fulfill was that of mother to the Apostle John.  After His betrayal and arrest, as He hung dying on the cross, Jesus placed His beloved mother in the hands of the "disciple whom He loved," John.

26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!27 Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.    ~John 19:26-27
 One might notice that John is, in fact, the only disciple, even of the Twelve, to turn up at the foot of the cross.  The others have scattered and hidden, fleeing in fear, even after making bold
claims that they would sooner die with their Lord than desert him.  (One might also notice that John is the only one of the Twelve NOT to end up martyred.  Just sayin'.)

But, back on topic, Jesus looks down from the cross, and sees His mother, and His dear friend.  Joseph has now been dead for a number of years, and Jesus is Mary's only child.  She will need a son to care for her, protect her, and provide for her.  And so, Jesus entrusts His precious mother to the care of His friend.  And, in a way, I imagine, His friend to the care of His mother.  :)

And from then on, John took her into his home.  He cared for her, as a son would be expected to care for his widowed mother, until her death.  

Mother to the Apostles

I will start this section by admitting freely to you that I have little here to offer save personal speculation.  I still wish to include it.  You're free to ignore it and mock me if you will.  But consider my speculation before you do so.

When I was young, my friends were in and out of our home constantly.  I had friends over far more often than I actually went anywhere.  And my mom "mothered" every single one of my friends, some more so than others.  She became a second mother to them, someone they could turn to for help, for advice, or simply to talk through some thorny issue when they felt uncomfortable doing so with their own parents.  How many of us can remember our own mothers doing something similar, I wonder?  Becoming an honorary mother, whether in advice, or simply in affection, to those we attached ourselves to.

Is it, then, unreasonable to suppose, that to Jesus' disciples, particularly those He was closest to, his inner circle of Twelve, Mary became a kind of surrogate mother?

The Acts of the Apostles places her in the upper room with them, following Jesus' ascension.  She would have been there when the Holy Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost, and she would have been a vital part of the early Church.  According to tradition, Mary would have been less than fifty years old at the time of Jesus' ascension.  I don't believe she just sat back and waited to die.  No, she would have held a special place in the early Church, and in the hearts of Jesus' dearest friends--that of a spiritual Mother.


Mother to All the Church

Now we're heading back out of the mists of my speculation and taking a direction where I can give you something concrete to hold on to.  :)  But I think I'll open with logical speculation anyway.

If the Church is a family, and God is our Father, that makes Jesus our Brother, and, in fact, makes all of us, as believers, brothers and sisters.  (Remember that post about saints?)  Most have no objection to this concept.  But ask yourself this:  If the Church is a family, where, in the dynamic that I have just described, is its Mother?  Would any of us really be so foolish as to suggest that a mother is an unnecessary element of a proper family?  And God's family is more than simply proper; it is perfect.  So, surely there must be a mother.  But who is she?

I think we all know what I'm about to say here.  Some are cheering, some are cringing, and others are pondering this truth for the first time.  The Mother of the Church is none other than the Mother of our Lord, the Virgin Mary.  If He is our Brother because we share a Father in God, how could His Mother not be ours as well?

But turn, if you will, to the book of Revelation, chapter 12.  All of it is worth reading, and there's little doubt to be had, even for those of us who are mystified by this particular book of Scripture, that the woman spoken of is Mary, and the child she bears is Jesus.  But, that said, I'd like to call your attention to the final verse, verse 17:
17 And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
That's us, Church.  We are "the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ."  

Mary is our Mother, too.  Maybe it's time we stopped ignoring her.


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