WORD OF FAITH
Mary, the perfect disciple
BY REV. ROGER KARBANFROM A READING FOR AUGUST 15, THE ASSUMPTION OF MARY
'There was a woman whose dress was the sun and who had the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars...' Rev. 12:1
If Luke hadn't written his two-volume Gospel, we'd probably have no parishes dedicated to Mary.
Matthew barely mentions Mary. Mark describes her as being part of a family delegation going to "take charge" of Jesus because they believe He's gone off the deep end. John places her in two narratives, presuming she converted to "Christianity" between chapters 2 and 19.
But, from the very beginning of Luke's writing up until her appearance in Jerusalem's upper room on Pentecost Sunday, Mary is depicted as the perfect disciple of Jesus: the person all Christians should be imitating. (In the 1960s, the bishops at the Second Vatican Council employed Luke's image of Mary when they included her in their document on the Church.)
Luke's definition of the perfect disciple is short and uncomplicated: it's simply someone who hears God's word and attempts to carry it out.
Not only does the evangelist describe Jesus' mother performing these two actions, he also employs others to point out her uniqueness. Notice what Elizabeth says about Mary in Sunday's Gospel (Luke 1:39-56): "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."
Example for all
Turn to chapter 11 and hear the Jerusalem-bound Jesus' response to the "woman from the crowd" who yells, "Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed."
Jesus yells back, "Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it." Mary isn't to be praised because she's His mother, but because she's the perfect disciple.
In his must-read "Birth of the Messiah," author Ray Brown contends that the three major canticles which Luke places on the lips of Mary, Zachariah, and Simeon are actually prayers frequently used by Jewish/ Christian "Anawim" (the "poor ones"). Though Luke seems to have used someone else's prayers, he adds a line to each canticle to make it fit snuggly into its Gospel setting.
It's important to note Brown's comments on the Anawim: "Although this title may have originally designated the physically poor (and frequently still included them), it came to refer more widely to those who could not trust in their own strength but had to rely in utter confidence upon God: the lowly, the poor, the sick, the down-trodden, the widows and orphans.
"The opposite of the Anawim were not simply the rich, but the proud and self-sufficient who showed no need of God or God's help."
Lean on Him
Luke believes that Zachariah, Simeon and Mary fit the category of these Jewish/Christian Anawim. They recognize God as the one force in their lives who can raise them from their state of helplessness and actually bring about the life which God's word promises.
This is how the evangelist presents Mary, proclaiming her "magnificent." She really is one of us, someone who totally relies on God.
In some sense, Paul, in our I Corinthians (15:20-27) passage agrees: If Jesus' mother has risen from the dead, it's not because she's God's mother. But, like us, as followers of Jesus, she's made her son's faith her own. That means whatever happens to Him, happens to her - both death and resurrection.
Though the vast majority of Scripture scholars contend that the Book of Revelations' "woman clothed with the sun" (Rev. 11:19, 12:1-6,10) refers more to the church than to Mary, she, as the exemplary member of that community, encourages us not only to give birth to her son daily (the risen Jesus in our midst), but also warns us about the suffering we'll have to endure for doing so.
There obviously are elements in some of today's "Mariology" with which we ordinary Anawim can't identify. Fortunately, our biblical authors knew nothing about those elements.