February 29, 2008

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical women: Mary, the mother of God

John F. Fink(Twenty-ninth in a series of columns)

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the greatest of all the biblical women. It’s more than fitting, therefore, that there is more about her in the Bible than any of the other women. I will, therefore, devote three columns to her.

Although there are legends about Mary’s birth and childhood in the Protevangelium of James, we first meet her in the Gospels in Matthew and Luke when she is a teenager living in Nazareth. She was betrothed to Joseph; that is, they were married, but had not yet had the celebration at which Joseph would take her to his home.

One day, the angel Gabriel appeared to her and told her that, of all the women in the world, she had been chosen to be the mother of the Son of the Most High. Mary was curious, though, to know how that could be since she had taken a vow of chastity. Joseph, believed to be older, apparently agreed not to have sexual relations with her.

Gabriel replied that Mary would remain a virgin because the Holy Spirit would come upon her and her son would be the Son of God. Obviously, therefore, she would be the mother of God. She must have been satisfied because she accepted: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). With her fiat, she became pregnant.

The angel had also told her that her relative Elizabeth (believed to be her aunt) was also pregnant. Mary trusted the angel’s word and immediately set out to visit her. How did she tell Joseph that she had to take a trip to Judea, a trip of five to seven days, and that she would be gone three months? Did she, a teenage girl, travel alone in one of the caravans that made the trip? Luke doesn’t tell us, but it’s pretty apparent that Mary was a very self-sufficient young woman.

When she arrived at Elizabeth’s home, Elizabeth was inspired by the Holy Spirit to praise Mary: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk 1:42). She recognized Mary as “the mother of my Lord.” Then Luke inserts Mary’s Magnificat, a hymn of praise that might have been a Jewish Christian hymn. In it, Mary says, “From now on all ages will call me blessed” (Lk 1:48).

Mary presumably remained with Elizabeth until Elizabeth’s son, who would become John the Baptist, was born, then returned to Nazareth. It was probably at this time that Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant. How could he not believe that she had been unfaithful to him? He knew that he wasn’t the father, so what other explanation could there be? He decided to divorce her quietly.

Then, in a dream, Joseph learned that there was indeed another explanation. An angel appeared and told him that “it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her” (Mt 1:20). That was enough for Joseph, who took Mary into his home.

(Next week: More about Mary) †

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