March 7, 2008

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical women: Mary, mother of Jesus

John F. Fink(Thirtieth in a series of columns)

This week, I’ll continue the story of the greatest of the biblical women—Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Last week, I noted what the Bible tells us about Mary through the Annunciation and the Visitation, and Joseph’s acceptance of the word of an angel that Mary’s baby had been conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a town in Judea, so Joseph and Mary again had to make a weeklong journey similar to that which Mary took when she visited Elizabeth—from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee, down the east side of the Jordan River to Jericho to avoid traveling through Samaria, then up to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

As we all know, Bethlehem was crowded, and Joseph and Mary found shelter in a cave, where Jesus was born. I need not go into the details of the visit of the shepherds, and later the magi from the east. Both groups were inspired to recognize that God had come into the world.

Mary is present next during Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple when he was 40 days old. She and Joseph were following the Mosaic Law that required a woman who gave birth to a son to be purified 40 days after the birth. Until then, she was forbidden to touch anything sacred or to enter the Temple area.

During this visit, Simeon was inspired by God to recognize Jesus as the

long-awaited Messiah. But he also warned Mary that she, too, would suffer—“you yourself a sword will pierce” (Lk 2:35). The Church considers this as the first of Mary’s seven sorrows.

Although Luke tells us that the Holy Family returned to Nazareth, Matthew’s Gospel tells us about their flight to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod. This is the second of Mary’s seven sorrows. Matthew says that they remained in Egypt until after Herod’s death, when they returned and settled in Nazareth.

There’s nothing more about the Holy Family until Jesus was 12 years old, although Luke says that each year they made the long trip to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. Mary and Joseph were raising Jesus in the traditions of Israel, as a faithful Jewish boy.

When Jesus was 12, though, he stayed in Jerusalem when his parents joined the caravan for the return trip. We can imagine Mary and Joseph thinking that he was with his friends. What 12-year-old boy would stay with his parents? When they realized that he was not in the caravan, they returned to Jerusalem, where they found Jesus in the Temple in the midst of the teachers.

“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk 2:51).

The loss of the Child Jesus was the third of Mary’s sorrows. The last four sorrows involve her son’s Passion and death—his carrying his cross to Calvary, his crucifixion, his being taken down from the cross and laid in her arms, and his burial, which we will consider next week. †

Local site Links: