Early Life of Mother Mary - Part 2

Early Life of Mother Mary - Part 2

The Gospels give only a fragmentary account of Mary's life, mentioning her chiefly in connection with the beginning and the end of Jesus' life. Matthew speaks of Mary as Joseph's wife, who was "with child of the Holy Spirit" before they "came together" as husband and wife (Matthew 1:18). After the birth of Jesus, she was present at the visit of the Magi (Matthew 2:11), fled with Joseph to Egypt (Matthew 2:14), and returned to Nazareth (Matthew 2:23). Mark simply refers to Jesus as the son of Mary (Mark 6:3).

The Gospel of John contains no infancy narrative, nor does it mention Mary's name; she is referred to as "the mother of Jesus" (John 2:1-5; 19:25-27). According to John, she was present at the first of Jesus' miracles at the marriage at Cana in Galilee, although her name is not used (John 2:1); the attempt to see Jesus while he was teaching (Mark 3:31); and the station at the cross, where, apparently widowed, she was entrusted to the disciple John (John 19:26). Even if one takes these scenes as literal historical accounts, they do not add up to an integrated portrait of Mary.

The Gospel of Luke and the Acts however give us the essential framework for the beginning of an authentic study of Mary. The first mention of Mary is in the story of the Annunciation, which reports that she was living in Nazareth and was betrothed to Joseph (Luke 1:26); the last mention of her (Acts 1:14) includes her in the company of those who devoted themselves to prayer after the ascension of Jesus into heaven. She appears in the following incidents in the Gospels: the Annunciation; the visit with Elizabeth, her kinswoman and the mother of John the Baptist, the precursor of Jesus (Luke 1:39); the birth of Jesus and the presentation of him in the Temple (Luke 2:1); the Passover visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12 years old (Luke 2:41). She continued to be at all the key events in his life, even at his death and when Jesus' promise of his Spirit was given at Pentecost There is no one person who ever had such a close relationship with Jesus in all of these stages of his life. Her role, quietly in the background gave support and encouragement to the work of Jesus.

Luke's narrative of the nativity includes the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary foretelling the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38) and her visit to her kinswoman Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist

Luke 1:26-38: The Annunciation Account

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,
27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary.
28 And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you."
29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
30 The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.
32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.
33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
34 Mary said to the angel, "How can this be since I am a virgin?"
35 The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.
36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who is said to be barren.
37 For nothing will be impossible with God."
38 Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 2:1-7: The Birth of Jesus

1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.
2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3 All went to their own towns to be registered.
4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judaea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.
5 He went to be registered with Mary to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.
6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.
7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for him in the inn.

This is a very well known account, but what of the conception and birth of Mary?
Her entry into this world is no less miraculous and her childhood equally reflects the power and presence of the divine all pervading power of God Almighty.

According to apocryphal writings Mary spent her childhood from age 3 ˆ 12 in the temple. The medieval representation of this shows Mary wearing a sash whose both ends are knotted in such a way that they are hanging loose and low. The sash is a typical attribute of the virgin in the temple and symbolises Mary's chastity and virginal and exclusive dedication to God later on.

To have knots in one's garment keeps danger at bay. Knotting and untying are faculties of the divine (master of human destiny) and also of Christ (he freed himself from all earthly "attachments" and bonds). There are customs according to which the robes of the fiancés are knotted together to suggest a common destiny. This occurs in many eastern traditions where the bride and groom literally "tie the knot" during the marriage ceremony. His scarf is tied to the end or her gown (or sari). However, the most significant meaning of the sash is that of both virginity and motherhood combined, as a consequence of God himself tying and untying the knot of Mary's dedication of herself to Him. Again the importance of chastity and purity is reaffirmed.

It is quite evident that the Gospels of Luke and James give us good grounding for the beginnings of an in depth study of Mary and her true identity.

As early as the 2nd century, Christians venerated Mary by calling her Mother of God. During the controversies of the 4th century concerning the divine and human natures of Jesus, the Greek title Theotókos (Mother of God) came to be used for Mary in devotional and theological writing. This suggests the divine nature of Mary and her true place within the Holy Trinity.

Closely related to the title Mother of God is the title Virgin Mary, affirming the virginal conception of Jesus (Luke 1:35). God, not Joseph, was the true father of Jesus. In the Marian devotion that developed in the East in the 4th century, Mary was venerated not only in the conception but also in the birth of Jesus. This conviction was expressed clearly in the 4th century, baptismal creeds of Cyprus, Syria, Palestine, and Armenia. The title used was Aieiparthenos (ever-virgin), and by the middle of the 7th century the understanding of the title came to include the conviction that Mary remained a virgin for the whole of her life. This notion reinforces the idea that Mary was not touched by this world, indeed her purity of spirit, body and mind signaled her attachment to the realms of the Gods. The passages in the New Testament referring to the brothers of Jesus (for instance, Mark 6:3, which also mentions sisters; see 1 Corinthians 9:5; Galatians 1:19) have been accordingly explained as references to relatives of Jesus or to children of Joseph by a previous marriage.

In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, various Christian writers began to express the belief that, because of her intimate union with God through the Holy Spirit in the conception of Jesus, Mary was completely free from any taint of sin. In 680AD a Roman Council spoke of her as the "blessed, immaculate ever-virgin."

During the late Middle Ages (13th century to 15th century), devotion to Mary grew dramatically. Mary came to be depicted as the one who interceded for sinners. As the fear of death and the Last Judgment intensified following the Black Plague in the 14th century, Mary was increasingly venerated in popular piety as mediator of the mercy of Christ. Her prayers and pleas were seen as the agency that tempered the stern justice of Christ. People turned to Mary for God's compassion.

Aji Thomas David


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