CHAPTER 17: Mary
We have so often over-reacted against others’ error to the extent that
we ourselves almost fall into error. A classic example of this is
in our perception of Mary. We all tend to be children, and therefore
victims, of reaction. Our recoil so often blinds us to some aspects
of value in the things we reject. Over reaction against Roman Catholic
abuses can lead us to almost overlook the woman who was and is to
be blessed and honoured above all women; the woman whose genes and
parenting contributed to the sinless Son of God. Gen. 3:15, the
classic prophecy of the birth of Jesus, is actually a specific prophecy
of Mary the woman who would give birth to the Lord. It
was not to be merely " a woman" but the
seed of a specific woman, the Hebrew implies- the
woman, i.e. Mary. Her spiritual perception is really something to
be marvelled at, bearing in mind it was developed and articulated
in a teenager who was likely illiterate. All this said, Elisabeth
Fiorenza sums up the other side of the reality of Mary: “The [correct
image of the] young woman and teenage mother Miriam of Nazareth,
probably not more than twelve or thirteen years old, pregnant, frightened
and single… can subvert the tales of mariological fantasy and cultural
femininity. In the center of the Christian story stands not the
lovely ‘white lady’ of artistic and popular imagination, kneeling
in adoration before her son. Rather it is the young pregnant woman
living in occupied territory and struggling against victimization
and for survival and dignity. It is she who holds out the offer
of untold possibilities for… christology and theology” (1).
17.1 Mary: Our Representative
Mary is set up as the representative and epitome of all Israel / the
people of God should have been. She was the seed of David, the daughter
of Zion from whom Messiah came. The “highly favoured…blessed” woman (Lk.
1:28) is the daughter of Zion of Joel 2:21-27; Zeph. 3:14-17; Zech. 2:14,15;
9:9. She “rejoiced” as the daughter of Zion was to rejoice at the coming
of her king. She was the “servant Israel”, the “handmaiden” (the female
form of “servant”) who was now “holpen” by God (Lk. 1:54). “Blessed be
the fruit (LXX offspring) of your womb” (Dt. 28:1,4) was the promise made
to Israel- and these words are applied to Mary in Lk. 1:42. She was who
the people of Israel were intended to be, and thus she becomes our representative.
Brother Peter Watkins in his excellent book Exploring The Apocalypse
even sees the woman of Revelation 12 as a symbol of the church expressed
in terms of Mary- for it was her who gave birth to “the man child” Jesus,
who is to subdue the nations with a rod of iron (Rev. 12:5 = 2:27; 19:15).
The stars around her head would, if we let Scripture interpret Scripture,
refer to Israel (Gen. 37). There are many links between Revelation and
John’s Gospel, and thus it may be significant that in Jn. 19:25-27 Jesus
calls Mary “Woman” and then in Revelation, He uses the same title for
the “woman” who bears the man child. Yet the point of Revelation 12 is
surely to show us from Heaven’s point of view the huge disruption in the
universe caused by the birth of Jesus that night in Bethlehem. A baby’s
birth, brought about by the quiet faith and indefatigable ambition of
a teenage girl, shattered the whole cosmos. This is really what happens
when we perform acts of faith based on slowly developed spiritual understanding.
We do things which have cosmic consequences. We can, e.g., perform a baptism
at which the whole cosmos becomes electric as all the Angels rejoice over
a repentant sinner. But the view from here is that we’re just standing
in a cold, muddy stream in some isolated valley in Europe or Africa or
Argentina or Mongolia.
Notice how some of the Lord’s very first words on opening His ministry
were “Blessed (Lk. 1:48) are they which do hunger (Lk.
1:53) and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled (Lk.
1:53)” (Mt. 5:6). Clearly He is alluding to His mother’s own description
of herself. It’s as if He stands up there before the hushed crowd and
lays down His manifesto with those words. This was the keynote of what
He had to say to humanity. Everybody was waiting to hear what His message
really was. And this is what He said. He was saying ‘This, guys, is what
I essentially and most fundamentally seek to inspire in you’. And He saw
His dear mother as the epitome of the converts He was seeking to make.
I lay great store by this allusion. For it makes Mary, at least at the
time of the Angel’s visit, truly our pattern. She heard the glad tidings
and believed that word in faith, holding on to it in her heart (Lk. 8:15,21).
She was a model for all who hear the Gospel. It could even be that the
language of Lk. 1:32,33,35 is framed in such a way as to make Mary appear
to be the first person who heard the gospel about Jesus.
Mary’s quotations and allusions to the OT are nearly all from the LXX,
and it is almost certain that she would have been familiar with some of
the Apocryphal books bound up with the LXX at that time. Consider the
words of 4 Ezra 9:45, where Zion speaks as a barren woman: “God heard
your handmaid and regarded my low estate, and considered my distress and
gave me a son”. Clearly she saw herself as the representative of Zion.
Moses told Israel that God “has done great things in you” [cp. In her
womb?] (Dt. 10:21). She felt that God had helped her “His servant Israel”-
alluding to Ps. 98:3 LXX “He has remembered His mercy to Jacob”. Unto
us, Israel, a son was to be given (Is. 9:6 cp. Lk. 2:11), but
it was actually given to Mary.
Later Scripture seems to allude to Mary’s words of praise in Lk. 1 and
set her up as a representative of us all. She speaks in Lk. 1:49 of her
“low estate”, alluding to Ps. 136:23, which describes us all in
this way. In Lk. 2:19 we read that she “kept” God’s words in her, yet
the Lord in one of His allusions to His dear mother says in Lk. 5:38 that
we must preserve or “keep” [s.w.] the new wine of the Gospel in us. The
Lord saw His mother as a pattern for us all. When He heard the comment
“Blessed are the breasts which you sucked!”, His comment is to draw attention
rather to the spiritual side of Mary: “Blessed are they [like My dear
mother] who hear the word of God and keep it”. Thus He held her up as
an example to them all; she shouldn’t be marvelled at just because of
the fact she carried the Son of God (Catholics take note) but rather because
of her reflective and tenacious attitude to the word of God.
Bro. Paul Wyns has spotted the following connections:
Blessed is he that readeth, and they
that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things that
are written therein. (v.3)
Blessed are they that hear the word
of God and keep it. (v.28)
Seven spirits (angels) before the
Contrast – seven unclean spirits
invited into the house. (v.24-26)
The resurrected Christ – I was dead,
and behold I am alive for evermore. (v.12-19)
The sign of Jonah the prophet. (v.29-32)
The seven golden candelsticks. (v.12,13,20)
The parable of the lighted candelstick.
The lesson for us is that the Lord even in His Heavenly glory alluded
to his dear mother’s attitude, and held her up as the pattern for all
His people. She had an eternal influence upon Him. Even in His Heavenly
glory, the incidents of that day in Lk. 11, and the example of His mother,
remained with Him. This is surely a trmendous incentive to parents- their
influence on their children may be a factor in how their children will
Mary felt that through her being granted the honour of bearing Jesus,
the hungry had been filled (Lk. 1:53). The Lord in Lk. 6:21 alludes to
all this. He speaks of how blessed [=Mary] are the hungry who will be
filled, using the same three words as in Lk. 1- blessed was Mary,
the hungry, who was filled in her stomach. He
states that there is a blessedness upon all of us who believe (Jn. 20:29)-
just as His mother was proclaimed blessed for her belief (Lk. 1:45).
Mary was “highly favoured” (Lk. 1:28); yet the only other place the word
occurs is in Eph. 1:6, where we are told that “He has made us
accepted [highly favoured] in Christ”. Thus in the thinking of Paul and
the Spirit, Mary is to represent all of us.
Mk. 15:40,41 makes the point that the women who followed the Lord in
fair weather times in Galilee also followed Him to the darkness of the
cross: “There were also women beholding from afar: among whom were both
Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the little and of Joses,
and Salome; who, when he was in Galilee, followed him and ministered unto
him”. Mt. 13:55 makes it apparent that Mary the mother of James and Joses
is clearly enough Mary the mother of Jesus- for He had brothers of those
names. She had followed Him to Cana, and now, she faithfully followed
Him to the cross. But Rev. 14:4 alludes to all this by saying that all
the redeemed follow the Lamb wherever He goes. Thus Mary and the ministering
women, following even to the cross, become typical of us all. Not only
following the Lord in popularity, but also in the real and radical demands
of His cross.
Mary Sees Herself As In Christ
Yet not only did Mary see herself as representative of Israel; she also
felt a strong connection between herself and her Messiah Son. Any woman
would feel this connection and identity with her child; but in Mary’s
case, her child was the Son of God, Messiah of Israel. And she had the
spiritual ambition to see herself in some way, thereby, as Messiah. Consider
- Lk. 1:38 “the handmaid of the Lord” uses the Greek female form for
“servant of the Lord”, a clear title of Messiah.
- She appropriates words spoken in the spirit of Christ to herself:
“You have reduced the proud to lowliness like a wounded thing: and by
your powerful arm you have scattered your enemies” (Ps. 89:10 cp. Lk.
- She refers to herself in saying that God has helped His servant Israel
in remembrance of His mercy; yet His Servant was Messiah, according
to Isaiah’s servant songs (Lk. 1:54,55).
- Lk. 1:28,42 “blessed among women” alludes to Jud. 5:24, as if Mary
was already as Jael who had killed Sisera, an incident typical of the
Lord's destruction of sin with the hammer of God's word. Mary is tied
up with her son's victory- for He was part of her. There is a
parallel between Mary and the " fruit of thy womb" , they
were both to be blessed together (:42), as if God recognized this link
between the mother and Son. The fact He ‘allowed’ this, rather than
just using a cold ‘channel’ for His purpose, is simply surpassing in
- Her words of Lk. 1:47 “my spirit shall rejoice in God” allude
to Ps. 63:11: “But the king shall rejoice in God; every one
that sweareth by him shall glory: but the mouth of them that speak lies
shall be stopped”. Mary parallels herself with “the King”, seeing
herself as connected with Messiah.
- “The servant of the Lord" would rejoice in God: “I will
greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God"
(Is. 61:10), and yet Mary as the female " servant of the Lord"
also rejoices, sharing the joy of her Son.
- Lk. 1:48 has Mary rejoicing: “All generations shall call me
blessed”, alluding to how in Ps. 72:17 “all nations shall call him
[Messiah] blessed”. Mary is equated with her son, Messiah, and she recognized
this. He was part of her.
- Mary understood that through her conception, God had put down
the mighty from their thrones and exalted them of low degree
(Lk. 1:52). This clearly alludes to Ez. 21:26, where the princes are
to be put down and him that is low is to be exalted, i.e. Messiah.
But Mary felt that she had been exalted; thus she shared Messiah’s exaltation
because He was in her and she in Him. We too are in Him, and we should
feel something of the pride and joy, along with the suffering, that
comes from that identification. She parallels her low estate
with them of low degree (Lk. 1:48,52)- perhaps referring to
her and Jesus?
- She appropriated the promises to Abraham’s seed [which according
to Galatians 3:16 is one man, Jesus] to her personally (Lk. 1:55).
Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Jesus- Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet:
Critical Issues In Feminist Theology (New York: Continuum, 1994)