This meditation appeared in the Baptist Times recently. I follow it with some of my thoughts as I tried to compose it and some suggestions for reflection and prayer. We pick up the story of Mary, mother of Jesus sometime after his ascension as the disciples gather in the Upper Room. (Acts 1)
Mary, the Mother of Jesus
Mary quietly left the room and made her way to the wall of the city where she could see Olivet. She sat down carefully and lent against one of the great stones left by the builders. The pinnacle of the temple soared above her and she watched the birds launching themselves into the wind as it swirled up from the valley below. She could smell the desert – heavy with heat.
So she would see him no more. He spoke of a return but she did not think it would be tomorrow. Where had the years gone?
His birth on the street over in Bethlehem and that stinking manger. It didn’t get any better for days. How had he survived? How had she? But when they left Herod’s Judaea things got better.
The early years in Nazareth were so good. Now they seemed a taste of heaven compared to what he had put her through when he left home.
That old man was right about her son he really did bring the best and worst out in people. So many misunderstood him, even the people he grew up with. The first years of admiration were soon forgotten. He was a prophet but not in Nazareth.
There was the time they thought he was deranged, even possessed and summoned the family to take him into their care.
But that didn’t last long. He was a healer. He was a traveller. He wouldn’t be bossed around. She could have told them that – look what happened when they took him to Jerusalem as a twelve year old.
Mary stretched her neck to look up at the sky. It was slowly darkening and the first glow of the setting sun was lighting up the white rock of Olivet. It reminded her of fire and blood. The fire of betrayal and the smell of his blood as it dripped from his crucified body.
She pulled her cloak over her head and gradually the prayer came. It was the prayer she had made all through the years.
Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.
But now she added:
Lord, I have treasured all that has happened and now it is too heavy for me. I can carry it no longer.
Now he has gone from my sight. Who will carry it for me?
For Mary knew what it meant to be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and now his disciples were to receive the same gift. It was costly.
It was a time for handing his memory over to them. She hoped they would care for her child as much as she had.
The sound of sandals scrunching the stones on the path startled her. She was relieved to see it was the disciple Jesus had blessed with a special love. He helped her up. Together they went to his place.
It was the night before Pentecost.
For your consideration
Mary, the mother of Jesus is a tricky subject. Right from the very beginning she has been an object of veneration; indeed in the gospel according to Luke she is greeted by Gabriel, an angelic messenger as being in the favour of God. Whole systems of theology, understanding of church and Christ have been built around her or more particularly the Virgin birth. This raises questions about how to interpret the Bible.
Today I hear it said that we should just let the Bible speak for itself. I believe that is an impossibility. There is no reading of the Bible that does not pass through the experience, intention and the faith-community of the reader. This is sometimes called a lens of interpretation.
Mary’s story in particular has been scrutinised through various lenses such as Feminist Theology and Liberation Theology. Each bring important insights to the more conventional responses to her story enshrined in hymns, paintings and prayers.
Letting the Bible speak for itself sounds a good thing. It would appear to be free from any lens of interpretation. Yet it is not. For any interpreter of the text brings to it the questions he or she wishes to employ. Simply stating that we can just let the bible speak for itself does not mention the ‘lenses’. This might not be deceitful but it is an incomplete explanation of what is going on.
Now back to Mary. There cannot be any lens-free interpretation of her role and life arising from scripture. Each ‘lens’ is a human construction. Some work better than others. Some have been used for centuries others are very new.
I am doing no different through my question ‘what happened next?’ For some this may be artifice and fanciful speculation; I hope for others it might help place Mary in the midst of their discipleship. This is what Luke does at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles. She is barely mentioned but provides a telling footnote as the story of Jesus becomes the story of the church.
In my meditation I have set out reminders from various references to Mary in the gospels. I treat them as part of her experience. I feel uncomfortable when I introduce the story of the Beloved disciple and Mary from John’s gospel to what is in reality a retelling of Luke’s version of her post-birth experience of Jesus.
It’s the sort of harmonisation of gospel material which I find tantalising but in the end obscures the intention of the individual authors.
I leave it to you the reader to agree or not with how I end the mediation.
For your reflection
- Select a number of your Christmas cards from this year which depict Mary. What do you think they make of Mary?
- Can you enter into the experience of being burdened by the treasures of past experience?
- What characteristics of being a disciple of Christ may we see in his mother?
- Thanksgiving for positive effects of the veneration of Mary
- People who are caught in relationships they cannot understand
- People who are expected to interpret the bible