Author Discounts Mary's Essential Greatness

Anthony Zimmerman
Lengthy letter to the editor
The Priest
August 1992
Reproduced with Permission

Editor: By heaping faint praise on Mary as "one of us," thereby intending to render her more accessible to ordinary folk, the Rev. Owen F. Cummings (TP/May '92) unfortunately discounts her essential greatness. The Bible presents a Mary who is more than "probably a widow, who does not understand what her son, Jesus, is about ... who is struggling ... and perhaps at times doubting ... (who) like any Jewish mother ... most have had, along with Joseph, hopes and dreams for this remarkable boy. Then came a series of faith-testing crises. She lost her husband in death. Her son did not marry in the way that Judaism expected of Jewish men. He remained single, and she had through Him no grandchildren in whom the name of the family would be continued, an aspect so important to Jews. The name will not be remembered (Cummings, page 17).

Mary stands taller in the Bible than his reductive image.

God's Message

Genesis 3:15 pre-evangelizes a woman and her Offspring who will avenge humanity against the serpent: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, and head, and you will strike at his heel."At Cana, and again at Calvary, Christ significantly calls His mother "Woman." The meaning could not have escaped her. By denominating her so, Christ assured her about her mission.

That her Son is the One whom Israel is awaiting she knew from God's message: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will over shadow you; hence, the holy offspring to be born will be called Son of God... He will rule over the house of Jacob forever and his reign will be without end"(Lk 1:32-33). Mary believed: "Blest is she who trusted that the Lord'swords to her would be fulfilled,"praised Elizabeth. "Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"(Lk 1:45; 43). Mary then praised the Lord borrowing words from Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel: "My spirit finds joy in God my savior."There is no sign here about doubts.

Matthew does not have Mary reveal her secret to Joseph. She waits for God to make that revelation. What person, holy and just though he be, could believe without God's revelation that his spouse conceived a child by the power of the Holy Spirit? This is an object of faith, a supernatural gift which only God can impart. God therefore reveals the mystery to Joseph: "Joseph, son of David, have no fear about taking Mary as your wife. It is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child."(Mt 1:20). Henceforth Mary and Joseph can communicate about the mystery and affirm each other.

Remembered by God

Mary may have encountered difficulties when adjusting faith to stern realities, but we know that "Ten thousand difficulties do not one doubt engender." For example, if Jesus is to sit on the throne of David His father and rule over the house of Jacob forever, why should a mouse like Caesar Augustus summon them to Bethlehem for the census? And why should there be no room for them in the inn? Is that the way God treats His Son?

On the Holy Night God remembered them. Shepherds told what the angel had spoken: "This day in David's city a savior has been born to you, the Messiah and Lord"(Lk 2:11). Mary treasured these words and reflected on them. Simeon affirmed the revelation once again, and lifted the veil on what it would mean to Mary: "And you yourself will be pierced with a sword" (Lk 2:35). She felt a pang of the sword soon after when Joseph woke her in the night to flee with the Child into Egypt.

She learned that her Son could be a stern teacher even to His mother. When she reprimanded: "Son, why have you done this to us? You see that your father and I have been searching for you in sorrow." He responded curtly: "Did you not know I had to be in my Father's house?"(Lk 2:48-49). He was cutting apron strings.

Not Doubting

The scene at Cana indicates profound communications between Jesus and Mary, surpassing our ability to follow. When she told Jesus that they have no wine, His response sounds to us not only like a refusal but it appears to imply a reproof that His mother might better mind her own business. "Woman, how does this concern of yours involve me? My hour has not yet come"(Jn 2:4). She reacted typically now. "Woman" he had called her, so Woman she will be! "Do whatever he tells you," she says to the waiters. A woman with doubts doesn't push herself so. Her Son responded magnificently. Good wine flowed, and plenty of it, from those immense water jars.

With this fuller revelation in mind, we do not see Mary "doubting" in Mark 3. She was concerned that Jesus should eat properly, though crowds pressed, a very legitimate motherly concern (Mk 3:21); and that she should like to speak with Him was also quite natural (Mk 3:3 1). That she "doubted" anything at all Mark does not state. Besides, the Holy Spirit did not close the Shop of Inspiration when the ink dried on the Gospel of Mark.

Lauding her for not refusing to give up on her "puzzling son" (Cummings, 1). 17) diminishes her dignity by faint praise. This Woman stands beneath the cross precisely because God intended her to be there. She and her Son maul the head of the serpent, which bites the heel. Nails bite the hands and feet of Jesus; a sword pierces the heart of Mary.

Finally, Christ hails victory: "I will tell of your name to my brethren and praise you where they are assembled" (Ps.22).She looks up. "Woman, there is your son" (Jn 19:26),says Jesus. She understands. She nods. She is now the Mother of the Church.