Sunday, May 8, 2011

To a very special Mother

Fundamentalists and Evangelicals sing in truth, "What a friend we have in Jesus!" But I wonder what their Friend thinks about the way they talk about His Mother.

You may read the Bible. You may read it so much that you can rattle off whole chapters from memory without missing a word. But if you don't have a proper love and reverence for the Blessed Virgin Mother, then either you don't truly understand what you read, or your relationship with Jesus is way off. Or both.

Yes, Marian devotion can be overdone, just as you can have an inordinate or improper love for your own mother. But the opposite is just as true. "As a protestant," Randy at Speak the Truth in Love writes, "I looked at Mary and saw a concubine. Someone who performed a biological function. A surrogate mother. I was told to look at her and marvel at how amazing a thing she did. God using her body to bring Jesus to the world. That contemplating that was dangerous. It might lead me to worship Mary."

Yes, Randy has come past that point. And to be fair, there are Protestants who love Mary as well. "You Catholics don't have sole claim on her," one woman said, and I for one am willing to share. But to regard Mary as important only for her uterus? That wrongs not just Mary — and all women should take umbrage at it — but God as well.

For what does the angel say to her? "Hail, full of grace [kecharitōmenē], the Lord is with you! … Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God" (Lk 1:28, 30).

First, if we read Scripture aright, we notice that God doesn't just pick people at random; even Saul, who fell into resentment and evil, had qualities that God needed to establish Israel as a kingdom. Just by the fact that God chose Mary to bear His Son, we should automatically know that she's remarkable in some way.

The angel's word — kecharitōmenē, the aorist passive of charitoō — confirms it for us: Mary is not only full of grace, but the grace was bestowed in the past and is ongoing. Indeed, she's no ordinary woman, far less a mere concubine!

Second, when Zacharias doubted Gabriel's announcement, he was stricken dumb (vv. 18-20). But when Gabriel tells Mary she'll bear a child, she doesn't doubt it; her question isn't "How can this be?" but "How shall this be" (v. 34)? She believes and accepts right away; she just wants to know the logistics of the matter.

Then there's the matter of her fiat: "Behold, I am the handmaid (doulē, lit. "slave, servant") of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word" (v. 38). She doesn't ask what's in it for her; she doesn't let the fearsome responsibility frighten her into refusing. She keeps the word of the Lord, not only obeying it but guarding its integrity; Jesus says she's blessed because of this and not only because she physically mothered him (Lk 11:28).

How, then, do we really gauge his reaction to his mother? We look at the wedding at Cana. He came to fulfill the law of Moses (Mt 5:17); what do we read in the law but the commandment, "Honor your father and your mother" (Ex 20:12; cf. Dt 5:16)? He addresses her as "Woman", not in indignation but in respect (see the Thayer's Lexicon entry for gynē); when she ignores his objection[1] and tells the servants, "Do whatever he tells you to," he changes the water into the greatest vintage ever drunk.

Why? To fulfill the commandment … and because he's a nice Jewish boy who loves his mother.

But her fiat is her model to us, to say "Yes" to God even when it means a sword will pierce our souls (cf. Lk 2:35). For she was there at his birth, at the foot of his cross, and at the beginning of his Church on earth.

What did Martin Luther say about her motherhood to us all? "It is God's consolation and overflowing goodness that man should be honored with such treasure: Mary as his true mother, Christ as his brother and God as his Father" (Luther's Works, 10:71:19-73:2). Protestant theologian John de Satgé concurs:

She is the climax of the Old Testament people, the one to whom the cloud of witnesses from the ancient era look as their crowning glory, for it was her response to grace that their Vindicator came to stand upon the earth. In the order of redemption, she is the first fruits of her Son's saving work, the one among her Son's people who has gone all the way. And in the order of her Son's people, she is the mother.[2]

Saint Ephraim the Syrian sang in his Nisibene Hymns, "You alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others, for there is no blemish in you nor any stains upon your Mother. Who of my children can compare in beauty to these?" And St. Justin Martyr wrote the first known words explicitly comparing her obedience with the disobedience of Eve: the New Eve of the kingdom of God, mother to all Christians as Eve had been mother to all humanity.

Karl Keating tells the story of a priest who gave a speech at an interfaith gathering. After his speech, he talked for a bit with the minister seated beside him. During the conversation, the minister asked, "Have you made Jesus your personal savior?" The priest replied. "Yes, I have. And have you made Mary your personal mother?" The minister's jaw slackened a bit, and after a pause, he said, "I never thought of it that way before."

Indeed. If we are one in Christ, then we are all her sons and daughters.

Happy Mother's Day, Regina Angelorum!

[1] Is it really an objection? It's possible to read oupō hēkei hōra mou as a question: "Is my hour not arrived (i.e., isn't it time to reveal myself)?"
[2] Down to Earth: The New Protestant Vision of the Virgin Mary, p. 111.