>photo © 2009 Tilemahos Efthimiadis | more info (via: Wylio)
Two disclaimers: First, I’m not a Bible scholar. Let’s get that out of the way right now. I’m not especially high, nor especially low, in the church. I’m a layman, and thus what follows are merely the opinions of a layman. Please take it as such. Consider what you read to be my impressions, and feel free to draw your own conclusions. Second, I’m blogging from a mobile platform, and this is causing some wonky formatting issues. I hope to have this resolved soon. Don’t let this detract from your enjoyment of the piece.
In my mind, Mary–when we meet her–is just an average ancient middle eastern girl. She knows the score about jwhere babies come from, but takes the angel at his word. The circumstances rather compel it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think an angel has ever appeared to me asking me to carry out a special mission from God. I imagine if one did, my response would be much the same as Mary’s: “let it be to me as you have said.” Is that faith, or resignation? Or merely acceptance of fact? Mary didn’t pick the mission–God did. So whether she believed it, or not, she was chosen. To my mind, this was a mighty tall order for a 13, or 14, year-old girl. I don’t know about you, but personally I’ve never been called on to give birth to the Messiah.
Like our own lives, Mary’s was filled with highs and lows. She goes from the high of being chosen by God to the low of being sent away to the Zechariah and Elizabeth Crisis Pregnancy Center. From the high of the Magnificat to the low of almost being put away by Joseph. Interestingly, despite the difficult travel conditions (as a man I can’t really wrap my mind around what it’s like to be pregnant)–from Nazareth to Bethlehem on donkeyback over dirt tracks–there is no faith-affirming visit from a heavenly messenger. No, after being told there’s no room in the inn, after giving birth in a stable, and laying her new son in a manger, no angels appear to either Mary, or Joseph. No–they appear to the shepherds, who are watching by night. While the shepherds are enjoying the show, Mary is suckling the babe, trying to recover from childbirth, and changing the first of many diapers. The only further affirmation Mary and Joseph get of their unique mission at this point is from some smelly field hands, coming to worship their baby. (Insofar as we know, the only other time God sent an angelic messenger was in Joseph’s dream–warning him to take his family to Egypt). The shepherds depart.
The next we see Mary and Joseph, they are presenting their son at the temple as proscribed by law. Here they encounter both Simeon and Anna, who both seemed to have had promises from God about the coming of Messiah. What does the text say of Mary? That she “pondered these things in her heart.” What’s to ponder? The angel appeared to her, she knew the score. Both Simeon, and Anna, gave powerful “messages.” I suspect the sheer busyness of life interfered some. Imagine with me for a moment: you are a new wife, new parent, and still just a teenager. Like we would be, I suspect Mary felt a tad overwhelmed at the turn her life had taken. And it only got busier from there.
Roughly two years later, the wise men appear at their doorstep, offering gifts, and worship, to their toddler. How odd this must have seemed. Then almost immediately following, they had to pack it up for Egypt–barely escaping Herod’s purge. Had they had any other children at this point? We don’t know. Moving is bad enough in our modern era–I can’t imagine the logistics of what their move entailed even with just one child in that day and age.
So they sojourned in Egypt for a couple of years. I imagine–though we aren’t told such–that when they returned to Israel, and settled in Nazareth, it was with a larger family.
The next peek into their quotidian lives occurs when Jesus was twelve, and they–along with extended family–traveled to Jerusalem for Passover. The holiday is celebrated, they pack up and leave, assume Jesus is with extended family, and get a day’s journey out of Jerusalem. It’s only then that they realize He isn’t; so they return–and find Him in the temple. To paraphrase, they ask “What the heck did you think you were doing son? How could you do this to us?” Very parental questions, those. I’ve asked the like a time or two myself of my children. Never, however, have I been answered with (again, a paraphrase) “Yo, didn’t you know I have bidness from God?” Likely, if so, I wouldn’t much appreciate such a reply. Neither did Mary and Joseph: they didn’t “get it.” Somewhere along the way, in the midst of providing for a burgeoning family, I suspect they forgot who their eldest was. If not forgot, then maybe the sheer busyness of life pushed aside the transcendent fact that Messiah was in their midst. I think it is much the same with us.
At some point during the ensuing eighteen years–when we next see Jesus–Joseph apparently dies. Whether by accident, incident, or of old age, we don’t know. But insofar as we do know, there is no report of a resurrection. The Son does not bring his stepfather back to life. How did Mary, who by this time, had enough other children that the Scriptures reference “brothers and sisters,” feel? How was her faith doing? Perhaps I exaggerate a bit, but what was it like to raise the Messiah as a single parent? Let alone to be widowed in your 30s, or early 40s? I realize Scripture is scant on these details, and it may be eisegesis, but I don’t think we are forbidden from speculating. (I can’t imagine how I would be doing if, God forbid, I lost my wife. And then had to provide for, and raise, my kids on my own). I think it would at least be prudent to bear this context in mind as we consider Mary’s next appearance in the Scriptural timeline.
The next we see Mary, she is at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus, who has apparently already begun His public ministry, is there with His disciples. The report comes in that they are out of wine. Mary looks to Jesus, perhaps pondering in her heart, wondering if He will do something. Is this a faith-filled request, or is she perhaps looking for a sign such that she hasn’t seen since Gabriel appeared to her all those years before? Some kind of affirmation? I submit that this is possible, and thus rather than showcasing her influence as the “mother of God,” this verse highlights Our Lord’s tenderness towards a heartbroken woman. Despite it not being “His hour” yet, He performs the miracle anyhow, turns the water into wine. And perhaps in the process reaffirms the message Mary received those many years before. Though it was not yet His time, He did it for her sake. What do you think?