Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Mary, Did She Know...?

Between some health things and Mother's Day, our posting schedule got shifted a bit.  So, even though it's Tuesday, make believe it's Monday.  Wait!! Do we really want to do that?!?  LOL

Sorry.  I couldn't resist.  But let's get serious. Sunday I shared a LifeNote about Mary, for Mother's Day.  And, while I gave the two most common overviews of how Christianity views her, I also expressed some doubts that either had it fully right.  That led to an brief online discussion with one gentleman who threw in some a passage that I really feel is a prime example of a place where interpretation went wrong.  

Today, let's look at it all and, maybe some more, to see why I come to my conclusions.  That's not an "I'm right and you're wrong" study we want.  I could very well be wrong.  But here's a chance to think and meditiate on it, pray about it, and discuss it. At worst, it'll give us more to meditate on, at best I might get some misconceptions clarified and corrected.  And, hopefully, we'll draw closer to God.

I started Sunday's LifeNote post suggesting that one form of Christianity elevates Mary too much, while the rest may not hold her in sufficient esteem.  I believe the truth about Mary is somewhere in the middle.

I began Sunday's LifeNote by noting that Mary wasn't randomly selected, she didn't win some heavenly lottery, she was chosen.  That's clear in Luke 1:26-33.  Prophecy from the Old Testament pointed to a young girl, at least assumed to be a virgin because of her age.  Mary fulfills that.

Luke 1:34-35  Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?  And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

We also know that God's perfection and sin can't coexist in the same place.  But, thanks to salvation, we can confess our sins and we're cleansed of them.  At least momentarily.  When Luke 1:37 tells us "For with God nothing shall be impossible.", can we not consider that Mary was likely in a state of momentary sinlessness leading into conception?  And couldn't God give her the extra assist she'd need to remain that way through her pregnancy?  That makes both Catholic and Protestant tradition correct.  Mary sinless when it was required, but a sinner, like the rest of us, in everyday life.

When we get to Sunday's discussion of the wedding at Cana, we see a unique picture.  Today's diplomats, politicians, and military people might say Jesus "broke protocol".  There was an order of things and the wedding was prior to the scheduled beginning of Christ's public ministry.  It wasn't ministry time, yet.  But Mary had no qualms asking Jesus to change the water to wine.

Mary obviously recognizes the full nature of her son and His capacity to do what she asked.  And, by faith, she not only thought He could, but that He would do it.  That Mary asked Jesus to do this says something about what she believed their relationship to be.  I know I can't picture anyone else asking Him, much less getting Him to comply.  Can you?

Then, there's the kicker.  Jesus did it!  He changed the water into wine.  Ahead of His public ministry, when He did all the other recorded miracles.  And it truly was special!  If you attend a wine tasting, participants rinse their mouth with water between glasses of wine, to clear the palate. Otherwise, some of the flavor and nuance of previous glasses of wine would mask at least some of the true nature of the wine now being tasted.  But this was a wedding party.  No rinsing between glasses.  And the wine Jesus produced was so spectacular that the guests noticed it, despite having all the normal wine first.  

Would Jesus always make that quality of wine?  Was it random and another batch might be of lesser quality?  As God, could He only make top level wine, incapable of varying that?  Were the bride and groom special friends, so Jesus decided to bless them?  We really don't know any of that. But I lean toward believing that was because of His relationship with Mary.  She's mom.

That's when my discussion started, with this passage:

Matthew 12:47-50  Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.  But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?  And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!  For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

Evangelicals all seem to want to take that as indicating that here was an example that Mary was a sinner.  The gentleman who added that passage to the discussion suggested it pointed to a lack of obedience.  The first thought that came to my mind was Jesus on the Cross made sure that Mary was taken care of, when He was physically gone.  Perhaps so we'd recognize Mary wasn't excluded by the above passage.  That got me a two part response.

We'll look at the second first.  "Jesus doesn't exclude anyone, but the whole reason for His statement in Matthew 12:48-50 was exactly that his mom was excluding herself."  Interesting statement.  Mary the willing sinner?  But there's nothing there (or in the parallel passage) that indicates she was "off".  So, let me throw out another possible interpretation.

When we read the examples of how Jesus taught and how He thought, He often got His disciples to focus from a different angle and there were no negatives toward family.  Could this be the same? People were telling Jesus that His family needed to see Him.  The entire Bible points toward God and having a spiritual priority.  So, why wouldn't this be another teaching moment?  Yes, these were His family, but the disciples needed to view them as Jesus family because they did do the will of God, not because they had an earthly relationship.

The gentleman had another good point about Jesus making sure Mary was cared for.  He suggested that, as the eldest son, Jesus was taking care of a familial responsibility.  Because Joseph is last mentioned about the time Jesus was 12, many assume that he had died.  Yet, we attribute so much not being mentioned as because we didn't need to know.  Rationalization, in either case?  Could Jesus have made an extreme effort, despite the pain and agony on the Cross, because of a special relationship with Mary?

If Joseph was deceased and Jesus was doing His sonly duty, can we assume that's all it was?  We say "God is love."  We recognize love as part of His nature, Him as the epitome and examplar of love.  And yet, here, we're willing to change an unchanging God into a mere elder son performing a duty?  If God loves us so much that He'd go to the Cross for our salvation, is it a stretch of the imagination that there might be a more personal connection with Mary, who bore Him as an unborn child?

A side note was brought up about the assumption.  Why, I'm not sure.  It wasn't a part of anything else in the discussion.  But the comment was made that it would likely have been mentioned by John if it had actually occurred.  On the other hand, Karl Keating of Catholic Answers makes a point.
Remember, in the early Christian centuries, relics of saints were jealously guarded and highly prized. The bones of those martyred in the Colosseum, for instance, were quickly gathered up and preserved; there are many accounts of this in the biographies of those who gave up their lives for the Faith [for example, the bones of St. Peter and St. Paul were widely known to be preserved in Rome, and the sepulcher of David and the tomb of St. John the Baptist are both mentioned in Scripture]. Yet here was Mary, certainly the most privileged of all the saints ... but we have no record of her bodily remains being venerated anywhere.
In both cases, each side of the argument was that there was no mention.  And there's the answer for both.  Israel was a male dominated society.  We've spoken before about the fact that women held a much lower position in society.  I suspect women of that day might have appreciated a few vocal feminists to change that.  Whether the assumption happened or not, it might not have been recorded, because it involved a woman.  

Then, of course, there is John 3:13, "And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven."  Jesus own words.  There's an argument that this passage refers to Jesus' Resurrection, but the original word used for "ascended" leans neither toward a source or a cause.  So, it could easily be negating the assumption.

Finally, yes, Mary knew she was a sinner in need of salvation.

Luke 1:47-50  And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.  For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.  For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.  And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. 

She called Jesus "Saviour" and spoke of her "low estate".  Can we assume that "low estate" is strictly a financial and social condition?

Those are some of reasons why I believe Catholicism has gone overboard about Mary, while Protestant Christianity doesn't give her enough of a place in our faith.  Which may be partially in reaction to the split from Catholicism.  

Then there's human nature, the flesh, our sin nature, whatever you want to call it.  We have a tendency to become invested in our own viewpoints, maybe to the point of unintentionally injecting our own bias into our research.  Scientists have to be careful of that.  How much more so for studies with as much emotional impact as religion?  Indeed, we've seen the same evidence used to support opposing views about Mary.

I'm suggesting that, when we really remove the "I believe" and replace it with "the Word says", there's something different than the arguments those opposing views think is truth.  Am I missing something, here?  What do you see in this?

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