A Mary Moment Monday post

Recently, one of my oldest friends asked me for some insight on the Virgin Mary and the Passion.

She’s not Catholic, but she reads my blog anyway (like I said, one of my oldest friends). She had an “assignment” at her church, and she was preparing a talk considering Mary’s role at the foot of the Cross for a Lenten service.

I was delighted that she agreed to let me share it here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Mary and the Passion

By Wendy Swantek

crucifixion botticelli

When I was asked to give this message, there were several different perspectives that I could have selected.  When Mary was suggested, I thought, “Yeah!  That’s the one – there should be lots of stuff in the Bible about Mary during the passion!”  Then I dutifully went home and looked through each of the gospels and do you know what I found?  One passage.  One lonely, nondescript passage in John’s gospel.

Let’s start out by sharing some of what we know about Mary at the cross.  We know she was there.  John tells us that in Chapter 19, verses 25-27 of his gospel:

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Common artwork and religious icons show this type of scene.  In case there are any iconographers here, I know that these are actually drawn in a very specific way in order to communicate a story because most very early Christians were not literate.  This was their way of learning the stories and people in the Bible.  All that aside, I don’t understand why Mary is always so serene, peaceful, and often younger-than-Jesus-looking.  To me, this makes not one iota of sense.  Why not?  Because Mary was HUMAN!  And if you look closely at her life with Jesus, she experienced many of the same emotions that all parents experience from conception and through our children’s lives.

If we take a look back to what we hear during every Advent season, when Gabriel visits Mary and gives her the “big news”, we get a sense that her reply was disbelief as she says in Luke 1:34,38: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” and then acceptance when she continues, “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.”

Then, Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth and shares the news of the visit from the angel, and the news of her pregnancy.  She ends up singing one of the most enduring of all praises to God that the church has known:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”

Mary is thanking God for her blessings; for all that He’s done for her, all that he will do for her.  All in all, a pretty normal reaction when you’re expecting a child.  There is disbelief, acceptance, and praise for the miracle of life.  Never mind that the average pregnant woman isn’t carrying the Savior.

Now, if I’m in Mary’s shoes (or sandals?), I’d be thinking that this “Mother of the Savior of the World” gig won’t be so bad.  She had a rough start, first having to explain her pregnancy to her betrothed (who didn’t coldly walk out), let alone everyone else.  Then came the census and she rode from Nazareth to Bethlehem on a donkey, while nine months pregnant – come on, we think it’s bad to ride in a car for two hours when that pregnant.  Imagine a days-long trip on the back of a donkey!

Then the magi came and it wass revealed that they (Mary, Joseph and Jesus) all need to flee to Egypt so that they can stay alive.  THEN she (and Joseph…) leave Jesus behind at the temple.  Alright… maybe I need to amend my statement to say that she had a very rough start.

Now I’m no Bible scholar, but I am a mom.  And I can imagine that during these times, and likely many others, Mary’s prayers to God could have started, “REALLY??!!!….”  They were just as impassioned and gritty and authentic as our prayers are today – by no means sterile, with perfect eloquence and grammar.

I’m pretty willing to bet that she felt what many parents today feel – excitement, fear, concern, worry, pride, want for her Child to do His best.  I wonder if she went through the events I just talked about with the thought, “I won’t have to worry about this once He gets older…”  Little did she know that when He got older He would wander in the wilderness getting tempted by Satan himself for forty days.  I get nervous when Alex goes to his friends’ house up the street, can you imagine if he was wandering around, say, the Grand Canyon for almost a month and a half?  By himself?

What do you think it would be like to have to be the parent of a truly perfect child?  I suppose pretty easy in the discipline department.  On the other hand, did Jesus ever begin pointing out less-than-ideal traits in her character (in a loving way, of course)?  Do you suppose she was ostracized by the other moms?  I imagine there would have been grounds for that given the virgin birth, and that no other person – let alone child – could measure up to His perfection?  She could have led quite a lonely, isolated life.

Do you suppose that Mary was concerned that for most of his life, her son was “just” a carpenter?  Didn’t that angel say something about him being a savior?  Sounds kind of like when young adults go off to college, get a good degree and then can’t find a job other than waiting tables.  Sure, you are meeting your bills waiting tables, but weren’t you supposed to be the next Bill Gates/Michael Jordan/Jane Goodall rolled into one handsome/beautiful package?

Truly, we don’t know a lot about Mary during Jesus’ growing-up years, but based on what we do know it’s safe to say that she trusted God entirely.  She trusted Him for safety, provision, hope, and for a Savior-son – and for all of that FOR her Savior-son

What about proud moments?  We could all fill a book about those… The day our children were finally toilet trained, when they could tie their shoes on their own, first soccer goals, home runs, first times turning water into wine…. Wait, your kid can’t do that?  Mine can’t either – but Mary’s could.  Let’s look at the story of the wedding at Cana in John 2:1-11:

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Now, as I read this, I see a number of very human parental things happening.  First, I’m sure Mary just looooved that her son asked her, “Woman, why do you involve me?”  Seriously… Did He just call his mom “Woman”?  Then, He continues saying essentially, “So what, why are you telling ME this.  Am I supposed to care – to do something?”  Mary doesn’t argue because she knows His heart – it is perfect after all – but shows faith and trust that He’ll do the right thing.  We know how the story ends, and when all was said and done, imagine the pride that she felt knowing that her Son had just performed His first miracle!

The entry into Jerusalem is another moment where it seems that Mary could have felt some pretty big pride.  Imagine the masses of people who are celebrating your son’s entrance into town.  It isn’t every day that there is a parade in your honor or that people lay down their coats for your donkey to walk all over.  Little did anyone (except Christ himself) know what events were on the horizon.

The ordeal of Jesus’ persecution and death are so horrific that nearly all of his followers abandoned him, yet Mary, Mary Magdalene and his apostle John remained.  What enabled Mary to remain with Jesus and persevere through this suffering?  How does the answer to this question speak to our lives today? 

Mary’s love for Jesus as his mother, and her faith and hope in his divinity enabled her to endure the path to his death.  And 2000 years later it is this same love for our fellow man and faith in God that enables us to persevere through any suffering the world may present.  Often when someone else is suffering, the best way we can help is in simply being with them, and praying for them.  We wish we could do more, yet often we cannot cure the illness or remove the injustice that causes the suffering.

Mary knew she couldn’t stop the torture and death of her son, yet her love for Jesus compelled her to remain with him despite the suffering this caused her.  It was depicted in the movie The Passion that Mary’s suffering was so intense that she had to be supported by Magdalene and the apostle John as she lingered between consciousness and unconsciousness.

The intensity of both Mary’s suffering and her love for her son are vividly portrayed in the scene where Mary and John scurry through the narrow streets in an attempt to see Jesus. Close your eyes and imagine this scene: Christ appears from behind the buildings ahead. His body weakened by scourging and the crown of thorns; he bends under the weight of the cross and falls to the rocky street. Mary stops short of the scene. She slumps on a doorstep, sighing in grief, immobilized by shock and fear. She knows that her son is divine. She knows that this was to be his earthly fate. But she remains a human mother watching her child suffer.

She is brought back to action by a flashback in her mind. It is an image of Jesus as a little boy, falling and calling for his mother. Stirred by that memory, she runs to her son weighed down by the cross and comforts him. Although Mary couldn’t save Jesus from death, she did everything that she could, and we can only imagine how much Mary’s simple act of love meant to Jesus in the midst of his suffering.

Mary was the mother of literally, the perfect child!  But she was also a parent and a human, just like the rest of us.  She felt the same things as the rest of us.   The words of Archbishop Fulton Sheen were particularly striking to me as I was researching:

“Thirty-three years ago Mary looked down at His sacred face; now He looks down at her. In Bethlehem heaven looked up into the face of earth; now the roles are reversed. Earth looks up into the face of heaven – but a heaven marred by the scars of earth. He loved her above all the creatures of earth, for she was His Mother […]. He saw her first on coming to earth; He shall see her last on leaving it. Their eyes meet, all aglow with life, speaking a language all their own. There is a rupture of a heart through a rapture of love, then a bowed head, a broken heart. Back to the hands of God He gives, pure and sinless, His spirit, in loud and ringing voice that trumpets eternal victory. And Mary stands alone a Childless Mother.  Jesus is dead!”

I see Mary’s perspective being one that looks much more earthly and real than the image I shared earlier; raked with grief, streaked with tears, eyes that silently cry to God, “What is WRONG with you – SAVE him!  He is your SON!”, but in the same breath realizing that this was the plan from that very first star-filled night in Bethlehem.  I see Mary as the human face of what God was feeling as he watched his son die the most horrific death known in the history of man.

What does all this tell us about God?  Why does any of this matter?  Well, like it or not, for better or worse He is faithful.  He provided for the Holy Family during their flight to Egypt.  He kept Jesus safe in the temple… after all; it was “His Father’s house.”  He kept the promise that Jesus would be more than “just a carpenter.”

It also tells us that God’s timeline isn’t our timeline.  It may take thirty-odd years, three months or three days for him to fulfill His promise to us.  He loved us all so much that he would put his own child through the scourging, carrying of the cross and crucifixion so that we wouldn’t have to endure that, and much worse.  He loved us so much that even though we are fallen, imperfect souls, He wants us to share his paradise with us.

Wendy Swantek is wife to an amazing husband and mom of two energetic (and entertaining!) little boys. She’s trying to navigate through the potholes of life in northeast Ohio. Wendy is a lifelong member of the United Church of Christ, and tries to do her best to live her Christian faith daily by loving God, growing spiritually, and serving others.

Wendy’s been my guest here before: Mothering Boys and Life in the Mission Fields.

image: Sandro Botticelli, c. 1497