MARY – SESSION 9

INTRO We have explored the so-called ‘Infancy Narratives’ which occur only in Matthew and Luke. They are quite different – Matthew, the most Jewish Gospel, emphasising Joseph’s role, situating Jesus within the context of Jewish history and expectation; Luke, the Gentile Gospel, emphasising Mary’s role (and that of the community of the ‘anawim’ – the humble faithful poor of the Lord, the remnant of Israel), situating Jesus in the wider world (eg in Luke the genealogy begins with Adam, unlike Matthew which begins with Abraham). Now we turn to how Mary is portrayed in the Public years of Jesus’ Ministry, in firstly the Synoptic Gospels and then in the Johannine Gospel.
The Catholic Church world-wide is observing ‘The year of the Word’, which is part of the reason I have been exploring the Scriptures and how they came to be written in this series of talks each day during ‘lockdown’ and while our church’s are sadly closed.   So, let us remind ourselves of the purpose of each Gospel. They are essentially proclamations of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus – that is the core and the ‘Passion and Resurrection’ Narratives were the first to be developed, just as they were the first to be preached (the so-called ‘kerygma’), and their intention was not give information but to draw people to faith in Christ. They are not histories of the key events not biographies of Jesus – they are the faith proclamation and preaching of the witnessing Christian communities. The Gospel was preached for decades before there were any written documents, like the Gospels. In other words the story of Jesus was handed on by word of mouth long before it was written down. During those first missionary decades before the Four Gospels took shape, the Apostles and other evangelist preachers developed the narrative about the public ministry of Jesus and His teaching, always in a way that prepared those listening to them for the great proclamation of His Death and Resurrection, and helping them to understand the transformation of their own lives that began with their experience of New Life in the Risen One. And lastly of all some early Christian communities (but not all) developed the Infancy narratives in order to proclaim who Jesus is, not just what Jesus did.  Again they were a kind of ‘prologue’, introduction composed in the light of the community’s experience of Jesus risen among them. Having reminded us of this context, now let us look at Mary’s role during the public Ministry of Jesus 

[1] ‘Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven are my brother and sister and mother’ (Matthew 12: 46-50). In reality, Mary play a very background role during the ‘Public Years’. She occasionally appears ‘in the wings of the stage’ as it were. She is never central – Jesus and the group of disciples are always centre stage. Hers is a gentle hidden supportive role. Indeed, given the strong family culture of Judaism (to this day) this might seem surprising. When a woman in the crowd praises the mother of Jesus – “blessed the womb that bore you and the breasts that suckled you!’ ( ), Jesus replies that more blessed are those hear the Word of God and keep it. Yes, Mary is precisely the disciple who ‘heard the Word of God and kept it’ –  As Luke is fond of telling us she ‘pondered and treasured’ the Word spoken by the angel, her cousin Elizabeth, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna. She did not fully understand but she trusted and walked, like all disciples, by faith not by sight. Mary’s lack of understanding is frequently expressed during Jesus’ Public Ministry: Mark describes Jesus’ blood family wanting to take him aside because they thought he was mad! But Mark’s ‘agenda’ in that earliest of the Gospels is to portray the disbelief or lack of faith of everyone who encountered Jesus – the woman at the tomb are confused, the apostles do not believe He is risen. Jesus always challenges us with the question ‘Who is He?’ Always Jesus in Mark is an enigma who raises questions more than gives answers. He is a mystery beyond us. Only gradually does it emerge among his disciples (and that right at the very end) who he really is and and the revolution he has brought to the earth. So it is not surprising that in Mark even his family (presumably including his Mother) do not understand him, and even try to impede His mission! Mark’s Gospel records dramatically the rejection of Jesus by the Nazareth community , mentioning specifically his own relatives as rejecting him as a Prophet (Mark 6: 4)

[2] Meanwhile, Matthew and Luke (whose Gospels developed later than Mark) are more positive in their presentation of Mary – she is quietly in the background, as she expresses what it is to be part of the ‘family’ of disciples – receiving and seeking to live the Word, the Will of the Father. Yes Nazareth rejects Jesus (powerfully in Luke 4 after Jesus declares his Mission in the synagogue and challenges their attitudes to the Gentile world – they even try to kill him then at the outset of His ministry, fore-shadowing the conflict and Passion to come), Matthew in ch 13: 57 excludes the Markan phrase ‘and among his own relatives’, but speaks only of ‘his own country and in his own house’ (‘house’ meaning household or community rather than immediate family). In the Gospels, Jesus’ humble parentage son of the carpenter Joseph and Mary his wife is used as a reason to reject Jesus’ Word (eg Matthew 13: 53-58). But Mary is constant in her faith in Him whom she does not understand but embraces with love and trusts God in the midst of everything that happens. There is a quiet dignity about Mary throughout the Public Ministry and the Passion of Christ. Mary is throughout the exemplar of a disciples faith – journey with questions and lack of understanding, but primarily with love and trust in the One who calls.

[3] Who is the real family of Jesus? Jesus is gathering a new family, a new community. Before he begins his ministry in earnest, he gather disciples around him. They are more than students, and co-workers, they are a new and revolutionary family gathered around the Word that re-shapes our lives. In a culture so involved with family – the family table is as much a place of worship as the Temple of Synagogue – Jesus words about preferring Him to mother, father, sister brother etc is scandalous (Matthew 10: 34-39). The fundamental decision of our lives is the decision to follow Christ, to become part of his new family of discipleship. Mary is the Mother of this new family (the meaning of her acceptance of ‘the beloved disciple’ as her new son and he, representing the Church, as his new mother). Our love for our own particular blood family is to be gathered around this more fundamental love, the birth of a universal family, the birth of a universal love!

AFTERWORD If we ponder and treasure the Word as Mary does, if we accept the call to be disciples of Jesus, Word made Flesh, the Word of the Father’s Universal Love made flesh in Jesus, if we accept the call and gift of being ‘reborn of water and the Spirit’ into the Body of Christ, the new family that makes flesh in history in the unfolding evolution of our world: this choice means that part of our journey of repentance (our changing of direction which is ‘metanoia’) is to place the Gospel and the Universal Love of God before our culture, our family, our tribe, our nation. That is the call to make the Kingdom of God come on earth as it is in heaven! In the West especially we have created an individualist and in many ways self-centred culture – we are an ‘atomised’ society. In other parts of the world where there is strong family and tribal or caste identity and culture, those very good ties too often make us deaf and blind to the challenging universal love of the Gospel. And our nationalisms that erect walls of exclusion, barbed wire fences of defence agains the foreigner are utterly contrary to the Gospel and the Kingdom and we need to proclaim that loud and clear, as disciples of Christ and servants of the Kingdom!

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