Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mary, come into my office please.

Mary's status as the Mother of God (the Theotokos) is a source of heartburn for many. To better understand the benefits & costs of such favored status, let's look at some status history:

After God established his Covenant with Abraham, his descendants enjoyed the status of being God's people, His children, His sons and daughters:

"....your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you."

But that status came with obligations:

God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.

Keeping the Covenant was first indicated by circumcision. Over time, other obligations accrued, including the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law.

So while being a Son of Abraham was a good thing, without observing God's ordinances that status wasn't good for much. It could even be disadvantageous. God did a whole lotta rebukin' of people who enjoyed his favor; the word 'rebuke' shows up 77 times in the KJV......

God rebuked Moses:

"The LORD said to Moses, "Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink."

So Moses....and Aaron gathered the assembly....and Moses said, "Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?" Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them."

God rebukes King David through Nathan for his sins involving Bathsheba and Uriah:

"Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife.... Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me...Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun." Yikes....that's harsh.

God rebukes Sons of Abraham through Jeremiah:

For when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt....I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you. [But] Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit.......ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not.

And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim.

Isaiah rebukes King Hezekiah:

Isaiah said to Hezekiah, "Hear the LORD: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon."

John the Baptist rebukes some more Sons of Abraham:

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits of repentance:

And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Jesus counter-rebukes Peter the rebuker:

From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.

But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offense unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.

Jesus rebukes Mary:

While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, " Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed." Based on a similar quote by Jesus in Luke 23, that must've been a common phrase to compliment a child and parent.

But He said, "Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it."

Sorry to say this is not a rebuke of Mary, who as far as the whole chapter is concerned, isn't even around to be rebuked. Why would Jesus suggest that His mother isn't blessed? Does he want to rebuke Elizabeth as well? (Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb)

No. Jesus' point is not that his Mother isn't blessed. His point is that her blessedness doesn't come from her status as His mother, but from what she does; she heard the Word of God, and observed it. Jesus is telling the crowd that blessedness comes from faithful works, not status. And notice he doesn't say, "...blessed are those who hear the word of God and believe it." Jesus knows real belief, real faith is shown by one's fruits, one's actions.

Jesus makes the same point in this example in Mark 3:

Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.”
But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.” Jesus essentially restates John's critique of the Pharisees, but in a positive way: works count, not status. He's not excluding his mother & brother, but showing how others can be included.

Jesus rebukes Mary again:

And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:
And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, "They have no wine." Jesus saith unto her, "Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come." His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.

We tend to understand Jesus' use of the word 'woman' to be blunt, an admonishment, but the Gospels never have Jesus address his mother as "mother." Other people call her His mother, and He refers to her as 'my mother' (saying 'my woman' wouldn't do). But the only two times he addresses her directly, he says 'woman.' Once is at Cana; the other on the cross: "Woman, behold your son." Sorry, no rebuke.

But then Jesus says, "what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come." This I do find brusque, but not accusatory. Thus far Mary has only made an observation. Jesus sounds like he's going into Rabbi mode, by asking a blunt question and waiting for a response before He does or says anything else. It's an opportunity for Mary to say or do something. Then Mary famously says to the stewards, "do whatever he tells you." Sorry again, no rebuke.

But some people say Mary was trying to run things at first, and only after being rebuked did she humbly bow out of the situation, leaving the rest to Jesus. Looking at other cases where people ask Jesus directly for a miracle, I don't think so:

"And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean."

"Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw."

"And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them."

"My little daughter lieth at the point of death: I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed"

"When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death."

"And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay."

All these people by a combination of words & actions said, fix this, Jesus. Did Jesus rebuke any of them for their effrontery, trying to tell Him what to do, presuming on His power & goodwill? Of course not. And could Mary have said anything milder to Jesus than, "they have no wine"? No. At worst Mary is guilty of asking Jesus to help someone else...a classic case of intercession, and hardly rebukable.

In conclusion I try to imagine myself, with my selfish worldview, rebuking anyone I love for observing to me that someone else has a problem I could help with. I don't think I would; how much less likely would Jesus be?

So don't worry about Mary's status; instead, use her as an example of what to do, just as Jesus suggested.

*Mary, I just wanted to tell you what a fine job you've been doing.....