The Woman Who Is the Mother of God

Mary at the crossIn celebrating Mary, we celebrate the mystery that a human woman is the Mother of God. This is an explosive phrase. Nestorius is famous for his rejection of it and many other people have had trouble with it since. Why would God be willing, even want to have a human mother? Does this make Mary a goddess? Not at all. It is Mary’s humanity that makes the phrase a paradox, and it is Mary’s humanity that makes her a model to be imitated. Let us look briefly at the few glimpses of the human called Mary that the Bible offers us.

Mary’s famous fiat in response to the extraordinary words of the angel reveal Mary’s character as one full of obedience. Not obedience in the sense of being a mop in the hands of others, but obedient in the sense of taking responsibility for a profound mystery, knowing she will encounter misunderstanding and worse from others.

Right after the visit from the angel, Mary did what a wise person would do: she hastened to visit a trusted person who could help her cope with, if not understand, this mystery. As it happened, Elizabeth had already encountered a like mystery herself and was able to give Mary her full support. Although most scholars don’t think Mary herself composed the famous hymn that she utters, the words are appropriate to her character as they are filled with praise for God’s mercy “from generation to generation.” (Lk. 1: 50) Moreover, by having her own world turned upside down by the child in her womb, she knew that the whole world was about to be turned upside down.

After Jesus was born and the shepherds came to visit the child and told her what the angel had told them, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (Lk. 2: 19) With these words, I can’t help but think of Mary as the first Christian contemplative. To reflect quietly on such a mystery is something all of us should do, to let that mystery sink into our bones, into our inner being. After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, Mary was among her son’s disciples, constantly devoting herself to prayer. (Acts 1: 12) By then the mystery had deepened: the child she carried in her womb had been murdered and yet was alive in an incomprehensible way. A lot more to ponder in her heart. These two verses form an arch of prayer and contemplation encompassing Mary’s life and that of her son.

Mary’s ongoing obedience expressed in her fiat not only showed itself in her contemplation but also her solicitude for Jesus. When Jesus turned up missing, like any anxious parent, she and Joseph searched all through Jerusalem until they found Jesus in the temple. The twelve-year-old seems to have implied that if his parents had understood him, they would have looked in the temple sooner. Years later, Jesus’ family tried to restrain him because other people said Jesus was “out of his mind.” (Mk. 3: 21) Mark doesn’t say if Mary was among those trying to restrain Jesus, but it seems likely she was involved. Again, there is a difficulty in understanding Jesus, but we also see here solicitude for Jesus’ safety as those who were saying Jesus was out of his mind were threatening Mary’s son.

Mary’s solicitude extends to others at the wedding in Cana when she notices that they have run out of wine prematurely. This seems to be a small matter, but one who is solicitous in small things is solicitous in greater things. And one greater thing is that in John’s Gospel, the wine seems to symbolize the renewal of Israel leading to the renewal of all humanity.

Most movingly, Mary’s solicitude took her to the foot of the cross where her son died an agonizing death. This time there was no taking Jesus away from those who thought he was out of his mind. She could only be present, pondering the terrible event in her heart.

Earlier, when Jesus was speaking to the people and he was told that his mother and brothers wanted to speak to him, Jesus replied that “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mt. 12: 50) By following Jesus to the cross, Mary was clearly doing the will of Jesus’ heavenly Father, thus proving that she was his mother in the fullest sense. and also proving that she is the Mother of us all.

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