By Sarah Levesque (Rated G)
During the octave of the birth of Jesus, I think it is fitting that we look at His mother, particularly today, on the eve of one of her feasts in the Catholic Church. While I have written multiple articles on Mary and I expect to write more, today let’s simply take a look at the Gospels.
Matthew’s Gospel dwells more on Joseph than Mary in the first chapters, merely saying that Mary was betrothed to Joseph and found to be with child of the Holy Spirit, and that Joseph was told to take her into his home (1:16, 1:18, 1:20). She is mentioned briefly when the Magi visit (2:11), when the angel tells Joseph to take his family to Egypt (2:20), and again in Matthew 12, when someone tells Jesus his mother and brothers (adolphi; close relatives – same word used to describe the relationship between Abram and Lot) have arrived, to which Jesus says “…whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (12:50). We see her for the last time in chapter 13, when Jesus’ countrymen were astonished at His teaching, saying “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary?” but that is all.
Mark’s Gospel mentions Mary for the only time in chapter 6 verse 3, when Jesus has returned “to his own country” and those who heard him exclaimed “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary…?”
Luke’s Gospel is far more focused on Mary, following her from the Annunciation (1:26ff) to the birth of Jesus (2:1ff). When the angel appears to her, the first thing he says is “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” (1:28). And when he tells her God’s plan, she says “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” As soon as she understands her part in the plan, she agrees to it. In the very next verse, we see that Mary, unprompted, has gone to help her cousin Elizabeth during her last months of pregnancy. Luke tells us “When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? …And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord,’ (1:41-45). It is at this point that Mary, echoing Hannah of old, proclaims her Magnificat (1 Samuel 2:1-10, Luke 1:46-55). Chapter 2 of Luke tells us that after Mary witnessed the shepherds’ worship of her baby, she “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart,” (2:19). Later, during the Presentation of the Lord, Simeon tells Mary “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (2:35). Later still, when Jesus is twelve years old and stayed behind in Jerusalem, we see Mary seeking him. When she finds him, she says “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously” (2:48). And though she didn’t understand Jesus’ answer, she “treasured all these things in her heart” (2:51). Luke, like Matthew and Mark, also includes the scene where Jesus says those who follow him are his family (Luke 8:21). This is the last Luke mentions her directly.
John’s Gospel is the only Gospel to tell us about the wedding of Cana, Jesus’ first miracle. He tells us that this miracle came about because Mary told him of the problem – the wine had run out – and told the servants ““Do whatever he tells you” (2:5). After the miracle takes place, Jesus, His mother and the rest of His following go to Capernaum (2:12). Like the other Gospel writers, John includes the incredulity of Jesus’ countrymen, who say ““Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” (6:42). And it is John who tells us that Mary was at the foot of the cross throughout Jesus’ passion and death (19:25), and that Jesus told his beloved disciple John to care for her (19:26-27).
But Mary saw her son again, for Acts 1:14 tells us that she was with the disciples at Pentecost, and if she was with them there, she would have been with them at the Resurrection too, though Luke (the author of Acts as well as his Gospel) merely says the Resurrection was witnessed by “the women who had come with him from Gallilee”, Cleopas and his companion, and the eleven “and those who were with them” (23:55, 24:18, 24:33ff).
What does all this tell us about Mary? She said ‘yes’ to God as soon as she understood her role in His plan. What she did not know she did not dismiss, but pondered or treasured in her heart. She knew her Scriptures, it seems, as she echoed the ideas of Hannah’s song. She followed Jesus’ ministry, and she was there at His death. As Jesus gave her into the care of John, she must not have had any other relatives to take care of her upon His death, thereby staying with him until Pentecost and beyond. Let us follow in the footsteps of Mary, listening to God, doing His will and following His plan, running unprompted to help others, bringing to His attention our problems, following Him our whole lives, and studying His word and pondering it in our hearts.