As Christmas approaches, Ian Robins reflects on the woman upon whom everything depended
– a woman misrepresented through sentimental piety and a horror of sexual devotion.
I am overwhelmed by the sheer courage of Mother Mary. Popular Catholic piety hides
the true nature of her earthy character and its costs.
Somehow she coped with an improbable and illegitimate pregnancy and the cultural
alienation which that involved Full marks to Joseph and to the BBC TV “Nativity”
series some years ago which demonstrated the awful dilemma at the end of the seventy
mile journey to Bethlehem. Of course there must have been relatives there, but none
of them would welcome the presence of a ritually unclean pregnant woman.
Like most women of that culture she was to be the mother of a large family, and
her precocious first-born son could behave like a naughty boy. It seems that when
her husband Joseph died, Jesus became the family bread-winner and then abandoned
the family business under divine impulse, and in support of his cousin John’s campaign
for the reformation of the nation. His later involvement in his own campaign for
“the kingdom of God” attracted such popularity in an occupied country that the whole
family were potentially in danger. Both the Jewish and the Roman authorities were
alarmed at the potential threat of this upstart celebrity.
Mary thus found herself with a quarrelling family, but in defiance with some of her
sons she loyally followed Jesus in the tense atmosphere of his final risky challenge
to Jerusalem. When all but one of his cabinet had deserted she was at the foot of
the cross on which he was dying – and significantly she needed someone other than
the family to care for her in her bereavement.
I wonder how much of her womanly wisdom came through to us in Our Lord’s lifestyle
and teaching, and indeed whether it was her sustaining presence
which enabled the fearful company of his friends to hold together until Pentecost?
References: Matthew 13, 55. Luke 2,48. Mark 6,3. John 3,22. Mark 3,31. & John
6,14. John 7,1-6. Mark 10,32-33. John 19,25-27. Acts 1,14.