Reinventing Mary

A colleague on Facebook posted a link to this article about Mary.  The article is interesting in how it wants to recast Mary – or cast her for the first time – from Scripture as a modern feminist ideal.

God woos Mary, seeking her approval.  He does so because of her amazing grace, some special combination of moxie and pluck that has caught God’s eye, compelled him with the idea that now is the time, because this is the girl.  Mary is the leading figure in the nativity, not God.

I’ll warrant that there are plenty of banal sermons that have been given for centuries that utilize Mary in the other direction, to use her as an object lesson for feminine obedience and subjugation to authority, particularly male authority.  This is wrong.  The point of the Annunciation is not to make women meek and submissive, just as the point of the Annunciation is not to empower women by cultural standards.

The point of the Annunciation is the plan and purpose of God the Father to reconcile creation to himself through the Incarnation of the eternal Son of God.  Mary is the means for this.  It is God’s plan which makes Mary magnificent, not herself.  It is God who imbued Mary with any and every grace she bears.

Mary was a woman.  She is a woman.  She is only a woman.  Not in the dismissive sense, as though compared to a man she is of no account.  But rather, in the fullest sense of the word, Mary is a woman.  This is a good thing!  A creation of God the Father.  Loved by him.  Redeemed by her Son, Jesus the Christ.  Strengthened by God the Holy Spirit.  It is in her normality that women today should find hope.  They do not need to rouse themselves to some cultural definition of greatness to earn the awareness of God, to merit his love and favor.  He created all women, just as He created all men.  He loves us all.

The author wants to make Mary exceptional so that women today might seek to be similarly exceptional.  No washing dishes for Mary!  Nothing so boring or humdrum or mundane!  Mary the world traveler!  Mary the adventurer!  I wonder how much of Mary’s travels she would have gladly skipped, how many of her adventures she would have done without?  The author wants to dismiss one role that women have and do have – that of mother within a household – and substitute a different set of duties and exercises that are somehow better, more noble, more fitting of Mary.

She must be older, since women these days marry and have children later in life.  Away with cultural norms that differ from this!  Let’s not dwell on life-expectancy or other issues that would explain why a girl younger than 16 might be married and having children.  Any such notion is a blatant suggestion of divine pedophilia, exploitative in the extreme!  We can’t have today’s women feeling guilty if they wait longer to have children!

Mary is strong and independent.  She owns her body and can decide if and when and how she wants to become pregnant – just like today’s modern, enlightened woman.  Mary is actually a forerunner of procreative independence.  No need for a husband, a community, anything other than the desire to have a child!  Mary is the most famous unwed mother!  She should be emulated!

All of which avoids most of the Biblical testimony about Mary and Joseph and their situation together, not just Mary alone.  It ignores why Mary might be visiting Elizabeth in the first place – not just to verify the angel’s claims but also to be out of town and out of sight now that she’s with child.  Recasting fear and terror and flight as a bold sense of adventure and a desire to see the world is dishonest to the text, just as dishonest as using the text to justify a woman’s inferiority to a man.

The Annunciation is not a story of female empowerment or female subjugation.  It is the story of a good God who fulfills his promises to men (prophets, Patriarchs) and women (Eve).  It is the story of a God who utilizes everyday, ordinary people in order to accomplish his miraculous will, just as He uses ordinary water, ordinary bread, ordinary wine – to continue to create and feed and sustain his people. It is God saving all of us because we cannot save ourselves, no matter how empowered or plucky we might be.

Any attempt to recast the story of Christ for own purposes – on either end of any spectrum – is sinful and dangerous and just plain ridiculous.  It is this very tendency towards re-appropriation that we need to be saved from ourselves, rescued.  By a baby, born to Mary.  By the Son of God, born to the theotokos, the mother of God.  Via the unimaginable and the unthinkable, by the unduplicable and unemulable.  To destroy our biases not affirm them.  To set us free to be subjects of the King of Kings.  It’s his story, not Mary’s and not ours.  Always has been.  Always will be.

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