Mary – Session 4

INTRO When the Roman Emperor was all powerful in the world and acclaimed and worshipped as a god and saviour,, Luke describes the birth of the True God, the True Saviour, born in the power of infinite love – a far greater power than the power of force and might. This child is the fruit of God’s great love for the world and Mary’s great love and abandonment into God’s hands. The angels of heaven rejoice to tell the Good News, and the poor, the shepherds, are the first to witness Divine Love born into the world. Meanwhile, Mary, that Woman of faith, Woman of Love, ponders and treasures the Word and the Event she experiences in the birth of Jesus. Her faith (like all authentic faith) extends far beyond her understanding – hence Mary is forever the great witness and great disciple of Faith for we the Church to emulate. Mary shows us how to be a People of Faith, how to abandon ourselves with a great trust into God’s hands and so become a sign of God’s love.  Now we turn to reflect on Mary’s next steps on her Journey of Faith.

[1] The Circumcision and Manifestation of Jesus, Light of the Nations (Luke 2: 21-40). Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah (together with John the Baptist) are all portrayed as the ‘anawim’, the humble, faithful poor of the Lord, the Remnant of Israel. Luke in a way perhaps surprising for the Gentile author for a Gentile world, describes them as faithful to the Law and its requirements. Primary in those requirements was circumcision of the male children as the sign of being part of God’s Covenant People. This obedience to the Law, the traditions of their people, expresses Mary as the Faithful Daughter of Zion. Jesus would later say that He has come not to abolish the Law but to fulfil it (Matthew 5: 17, expanded into 17-48), fulfilling the Law by transcending it into limitless Love. Mary and Joseph fulfil the Law with great love and true obedience. One of Luke’s themes (emphasised further in Matthew’s Gospel) is that Jesus is not the contradiction of the Covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Covenant with Moses’ people at Sinai, but Jesus is the completion, the fulfilment of the purpose of those covenants. Circumcision had become the physical sign of the inner bond between God and His people – Jesus, the Divine Word made utterly Human in our Flesh, the Universal Brother, is the fulness of that covenant bond between not just one ethnic group, but with all humanity – in Him God’s covenant love extends and includes every human being (whether they know it or not) – the ancient Covenants are fulfilled in the circumcised Son of God, our Brother, ‘flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone’. The loving obedience of Mary and Joseph is further stated, however gently, by naming their son, ‘Jesus’ the ‘name the angel had given him before his conception’ (Luke 2: 21). Heaven has given this child his name, declaring already what His mission is.  This parallels the birth and the naming of John the Baptist – the two stories both reflect and also contrast each other to express (as in the Annunciation stories and the Visitation) the superiority of Jesus over John the Baptist.

[2] What is in a name? In our Scriptures a great deal! When God gives a name that name expresses in some way their role in God’s loving design for the world.  The prophets Isaiah and Hosea both give names to their children that speak of the Word God has given them to speak to their People. Moses (named by Pharoah’s daughter who adopted him) speaks of his destiny  – ‘she named him Moses because she said, “I drew him out of the water”’ (Exodus 2: 10). The key moment of Moses mission (Exodus 14: 15-31) was leading the people dry-shod through the waters of the of the Sea of reeds into freedom! Mary means ‘the exalted one’ and Joseph is named after the ‘man of dreams’ who protects his people (Genesis ch 42-45). And when God changes a name, it signals a new beginning, indeed a conversion – Abram and Sarai become Abraham and Sarah, Simon becomes Peter (the ‘rock’ of faith), Saul the persecutor become Paul the Apostle and Evangelist. The name ‘Jesus’ – ‘Jeshua’ in Hebrew, means ‘Yahweh saves His people’ – and of course the divine and holiest name ‘Yahweh’ means ‘I am Who I am, I among you’

[3] 40 days later, according to the Law, ‘the day came for them to be purified’ Luke 2: 22-38). Here Mary and Joseph are pictured as going beyond the strict requirements of the Law in two ways – firstly only the mother had to offer the sacrifice for her ‘purification’ but Luke says ‘they’, including the righteous Joseph; and secondly it takes place in Jerusalem, the Temple, which the Law did not require. There are echoes here of Hannah presenting her son, the boy Samuel, in the Sanctuary of Shiloh, to be embraced by Eli the priest in preparation for his crucial role as the Prophet who would anoint the first Kings of Israel (1 Samuel 1: 22-24). Jerusalem, the City of the Temple, Zion the dwelling place of God where He had made His home – this in a sense is a ‘homecoming’ for the infant Jesus; but Luke describes through the words of Simeon to Mary the shadow of the coming Passion and death – the sword that pierces her heart. Jerusalem is central to saving work of Jesus, the place of conflict, Crucifixion and Love’s Victory in the Resurrection. Mary will return to Jerusalem to stand at the foot of the Cross, supporting, grieving and ‘pondering’ the death of her son and then to be with the Church born from the side of Christ crucified and in the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost Day.  The Law required the mother to bring a one-year old lamb and a pigeon or turtledove – the lamb to ‘redeem’ the first born male child – literally ‘the first to open the womb’ (Isaac was ‘redeemed’ from death at Abraham’s hand by the sacrifice of a ram Genesis 22: 11-14)  and the pigeon or dove as a sin offering for herself. This couple bring not a lamb – though of course they do because Jesus is the true lamb! – but the offering allowed for the poor – two pigeons or turtledoves. The Lamb of Sacrifice, the Redeemer of the world, is brought by the poor of the world in Mary and Joseph. The Poor bring redemption to the world! Mary is always the sign of the ‘poor’ whom God makes the ‘exalted ones’, and as the greatest and first disciple and Sign or Exemplar of what it is to be the Church is a constant challenge to the Church to be in the words of Pope Francis, ‘the Church of the Poor the Church for the Poor’. Jesus who at the Annunciation ‘will be called holy’ is now ‘consecrated to the Lord’, which also echoes Hannah’s consecration of Samuel to the Lord at Shiloh. 

[4] Simeon and Anna appear led by the Spirit (Luke 2: 25-38). The Spirit overshadows the community of the ‘anawim’ the faithful humble poor remnant of Israel that these two elderly figures symbolise. They are both Prophets, filled with Messianic hope for their People. They both proclaim something of the identity of Jesus, and Mary learns more about the child she has brought into the world and also what lies before her – the piercing of her heart, the sharing of the pain of the Cross, the pain of the world. The Spirit of God is active, revealing Jesus to His people and to all the Nations through these two poor ones, Simeon and Anna. Jesus is proclaimed to be the fulfilment of Israel’s hopes precisely by being the Light of the Nations. Being a servant and sign of Universal Salvation is the mission and destiny of the Covenanted People of God, even if they have resisted that vocation and mission. And it is not only Israel that has done that!! How often have we the Church resisted the Spirit and not lived up to our calling to be missionary disciples the Church’s calling to be a ‘communion for mission’? Furthermore, Luke here declares one of the underlying themes (or perhaps unresolved questions) of his two works – the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles – the relationship of the Jewish people with Church of Jesus Christ. Paul (Luke’s mentor) always went to the synagogues of the diaspora Jews to proclaim Good News to them first, before turning to the Gentiles. As Luke’s Gospel begins at the Temple (the annunciation to Zechariah), so Luke’s Acts of the Apostles concludes with Paul witnessing in Rome and annunciating the Good News to the Jewish Leaders there.

AFTERWORD Throughout Luke’s infancy narratives we find emphasised: community formed by the Spirit, events twinned (two annunciations etc), collaboration between pairs of people (angel and Zechariah, Zechariah and Elizabeth, angle and Mary, Mary and Elizabeth, unborn John the Baptist and unborn Jesus, Mary and Joseph, angels and shepherds, Simeon and Anna). It is the divine pattern, never working alone but always in collaboration – in the God from all eternity in the Trinity, Jesus gathering His disciples and then sending them on mission in pairs, Paul and Barnabas on mission together. Is our Church collaborative in decision-making and ministering? How do we reform the clericalism that has misshapen and harmed the Church and denied the ministries and charisms of the baptised and confirmed? How do we empower shared ministry and governance in our parish communities?

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