Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Gospel According to Mary, Part Three: Trials and Travails

The second Sunday of Advent brings us into touch with Mary's trials and travails on her hero's journey. They are, in a sense, the typical trials of a parent; I know this because I subjected my parents to more than their fair share of such hardships. But Mary's challenges were extraordinary because of the extraordinariness of her call. Mary was the mother of the Son of God who was also the son of Mary; if that's confusing to you, imagine how confusing it must have been for her. Enjoy this week's look at Mary the hero, and perhaps give some thought to how the trials and travails you're facing today may relate to the hero's journey that God has set you on.

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Mary endures the typical trials of raising a boy, we can be sure, but she also faces the growing awareness of the scope of her son's heroic journey, and so she must contend with the gradual surrender of her son to the mission of God. At twelve he leaves his parents to take his place among the teachers in the temple. At thirty he enters into public ministry and is driven out of his hometown. He becomes an itinerant teacher, which is to say a homeless, jobless vagabond. He is ridiculed as “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners.’”

These may seem like Jesus’ trials, not Mary’s, but consider the context. When Jesus is chased out of Nazareth his neighbors name him as the son of Mary; his shame falls on her. Another family faced similar scandal when their blind son was cured by Jesus; out of fear for their repuation that family chose to distance themselves from their son, for “anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue.” In the wake of Jesus’ bizarre behavior, his family’s honor was at stake; to stand with him would be to endure isolation from the larger community. Mary suffers on her hero’s journey as she chooses to attend to her son.

Meanwhile, the mystery of Jesus’ divinity is only gradually being revealed, and in the process his ties to his earthly family are steadily fraying. “Even his own brothers did not believe in him,” speculating instead that Jesus was "out of his mind.” While strangers flock to him, some members of his family pull away from him; but more to the point, Jesus' attention shifts from them to his disciples, so that for all practical purposes, Mary no longer has a guaranteed audience with her son.

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