MARY – SESSION 11

INTRO As we have seen, Mary appears only twice in John’s Gospel, but very crucially! At the beginning, with the First Sign of Glory at the Marriage Feast of Cana and then towards the end of the Gospel at the foot of the Cross, the Hour of Glory when He is ‘lifted up’. Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, she is absent during Jesus public ministry. This suggests that her appearances at the beginning and the end are especially symbolic. Let us now explore Mary at the foot of the Cross. But first, let us look at two icons – the first with the beloved disciple and the Crucified Christ, the second the praying, weeping Palestinian Mariam of Peace that we have seen before …

[1] ‘Woman, behold your son’ (John 19: 26). To our ears for Jesus to call any woman ‘Woman’ sounds rather insulting or derogatory, but in the contemporary culture of the Middle East in Jesus time, it was not. In John and the Synoptics it was a normal way of addressing a woman especially in public. However,it is unheard of that a son would address his mother in that way in Jewish or Greek culture of the time. As mentioned already, these two references to Mary are at crucial moments in the Johannine Gospel story, and so it is very likely that the use of ‘Woman’ has a special significance. It seems to evoke Eve of Genesis ch 2. The prologue alludes to the creation story in Genesis ch 1, and this is followed at the beginning of Jesus ministry with the Woman (Mary) reversing the disobedience of Eve. Eve did what the serpent told her to do – Mary instructs the servants to do as Jesus tells them. Perhaps in Mary’s request to Jesus she is prompting Him to do as His Father tells him – the Hour to begin His work has arrived. This is further emphasised by the fact that the author has constructed John ch 1 and 2 over seven days (as creation in Genesis ch 1), and again the Risen Christ comes to the disciples over another sequence of seven days in John ch 20.  Genesis 3: 15 predicts that there will be enmity between the serpent and the woman and that her seed would crush its head (the serpent of course symbolising the devil). John’s Gospel sees the Crucifixion as Jesus’ victory over ‘the Prince of this World’ – the devil is crushed. This is graphically illustrated in Resurrection icons of the ‘Harrowing of Hell’ that we contemplated on Easter Monday. Whether this was interpretation was the intention of the author is a matter of debate, but since the early Fathers of the Church, this has been seen in the deep levels of symbolism that the Fourth Gospel brings us.

[2] The Mother at the foot of the Cross (John 19: 25-27). At one level, Jesus is caring for his widowed mother (presumably with no other children otherwise there would be no necessity to ensure her care after his death). Jesus showed his care for his family of disciples in sending the Advocate, and in praying for them (John ch 17). This also suggests that Mary is seen as part of his family of disciples, rather than separate – it is the constant witness of the four Gospels that Jesus gives precedence to the discipleship family above the biological family. But then Mary is the model of discipleship in John. There are four women at the foot of the Cross, as there are four executing soldiers also (John 19: 23). Here is the contrast between worldly power  and unbelief (the soldiers) and divine power (the faithful women), between those who remain in darkness and those journeying into the Light. We must note that it was the women who had the courage to stand with Jesus, not the apostles (and the unnamed ‘beloved disciple’ is almost certainly not John the Apostle). And as Mary in Luke ‘ponders these things’ the Church of today must ponder the implications of the women’s faithful witness and the absence of the male apostles! The synoptic Gospels place the women at some distance and do not highlight Mary’s presence – John deliberately ‘alters’ this oral tradition – at the foot of the Cross and placing Mary centre stage of this part of the Passion. Nether Mary nor the ‘beloved disciple’ are named. This in itself is significant, for they become representative of the community of disciples – both in different ways model disciples of Jesus – bound to Him with a great love (because they re greatly loved), faithfully standing by Jesus in the Hour of the Passion, when the others deserted. Both are eye witnesses of what happened and its significance (the blood and water from the side of Christ as well as the Last Words). It would seem that both Mary and the ‘beloved disciple’ were founding members and inspiration for the Johannine communities. Shortly after this episode, Jesus says his final words ‘It is accomplished’ (or ‘completed’) (John 19: 28). What is completed? Yes His love has been made perfect and the revolution of Love has begun. But this ‘love made perfect’ is precisely in the love shared with the community of faith and discipleship, now gathered at the foot of the Cross. In His dying, the future of the Christian community is set in place and assured. Mary is mother to this family of disciples (of which family we are members by our rebirth in baptism). Mary in accepting the ‘beloved disciple’ as her new son is accepting to be Mother of the Church, Mother of a New Humanity, a New Order, and a New World – for this new family is the sacrament and servant of this emerging new world by virtue of the ‘love you have for one another by which the world will know you are My disciples’ (John 13: 35) – the loving Oneness that enables the world to believe (John 17: 22-23). The Fulness of Divine Love in Humanity is precisely the ’Hour of Glory’ – that which is ‘lifted up’ for all the world to see and be healed (see John 13-15, followed by the famous v 16 – ‘God so loved the world’). So Mary, Jesus biological Mother is now given a  new spiritual motherhood of the community of Christ’s disciples. Jesus has given birth to the Church through the blood and water flowing from his pierced side and heart: and Mary symbolises the Church (the Body of Christ) giving birth to and being Mother of disciples who are brought to birth in the waters of Baptism and nourished with the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist the Church celebrates. Mary symbolises the Church as Mother bringing to birth and nurturing generation after generation of missionary disciples. (So why does the Church choose not to nurture so many whom it has brought to birth in baptism by denying them the Eucharist?)

AFTERWORD Perhaps after Mary as Mother of the Word made Flesh, the most fitting title for Mary in the Church’s devotion is one that has flowed from the reforms and insights of Vatican II – Mary, Mother of the Church. We need to recapture on the one hand the Mary who is one of us, among us, a Pilgrim with us, a sister disciple as well as a mother; and on the other hand the one who challenges the Church to a true Mother, never rejecting, always including and loving nurturing, never refusing to feed and welcome and heal. We must not use the language of ‘Mother Church’ if we are not prepared to feed all who come around the table and are not prepared to love and gather those who are in so-called irregular relationships, of diverse sexual identities, and feed those currently denied the Eucharist because refuse to change human regulations about those eligible for ordination.

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