Early Christian communities never thought of Jesus' mother without reflecting on their own relationship with her son. No biblical theologian reflects better than Luke, the author of Sunday's Gospel (Lk 1:39-56).
Luke makes Mary the "type" of the Church, the perfect Christian. Starting with her Annunciation and continuing throughout the Gospel, he depicts Mary as the person who consistently does what Jesus expects all His followers to do: "Hear God's word and carry it out."
Christians faced many problems after Jesus' death and resurrection; problems which might surprise us. As we hear in the second reading (I Cor 15:20-26), some of Jesus' first-century disciples even doubted that imitating Him would eventually lead to their resurrection from the dead. They prompt Paul to pen the words we hear today.
"For just as in Adam all die," Paul writes, "so, too, in Christ shall all be brought to life." All humans die because they're one with Adam, who died. But those who become one with Jesus live because He lives. Paul believes life after death revolves around building a relationship with someone who already has passed from death to life.
The first reading (Rev. 11:19, 12:1-6) reminds us that many early Christians were called to live faith in the midst of persecution; some were even killed because of their relationship with the risen Jesus. Yet the Christian community -- described as "a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" -- is expected to keep giving birth to Jesus, no matter the danger, even when its members are forced to flee "into the desert" to escape persecution.
Eventually, those who continue to follow and bring forth Jesus will see "salvation and power come" into their lives, no matter the pain or death they experience.
Pointing to Mary as the ideal Christian, Luke reinforces Paul and the author of Revelation's belief. No matter what happens, Mary continues to do what all Christians are encouraged to do.
For instance, some would think that, having been told by an
"impeccable source" that she's to be the mother of God's Son, she might be dispensed from "doing windows." Yet, as another Christ, she immediately goes to help her pregnant relative Elizabeth. Luke believes no work or ministry is below the dignity of one who brings forth Jesus.
According to the late Rev. Raymond Brown, Luke gives the reason for Mary's generous behavior by adding one verse to an already existing Jewish-Christian hymn. The hymn is the well-known "Magnificat." The verse: "For God has looked upon His lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed."
BY adding the verse, Luke surfaces an experience which all God's followers expect to have and personifies it in Mary. We believe in a God who constantly lifts the lowly, fills the hungry and helps us with promises of mercy. But in no one are those saving acts more perfectly found than in Mary, the perfect Christian, the one who hears God's word and carries it out.
Though we have no scriptural reference to Mary's Assumption, we've seen that, by the mid-80s, the third evangelist employs her as a model to help his community better understand its relationship with her son. His theology implies that any reward Mary receives comes not from her physical relationship with Jesus but from her faith relationship. Faith in God's word prompts her to act as Jesus wishes His followers to act. Just as Mary could never have anticipated the great things which eventually flowed from her actions, neither can we.
The feast of the Assumption reminds us that faith insights continue throughout salvation history. That's why our sacred authors never thought our understanding of God's word and actions could ever be limited just to their writings.