"Hail, favoured one: the Lord is with you." But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered what sort of greeting this might be.The girl who is to become the mother of Jesus is addressed as favoured. Whatever the exact meaning, this greeting meant more than "hello!" The saying astonished Mary, how was she favoured and in what way was the Lord with her? Still, she was not frightened or shocked at the sight of an angel, just troubled at his words. It is as if the angelic vision was not a surprise, perhaps Mary was accustomed to such happenings? The angel continues:
'"Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God."This speaks of some kind of merit, of God having looked upon His lowly handmaid and seeing that she was worthy of a singular vocation: to be the instrument of the incarnation. Mary replies:
"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word."She willingly co-operates with Divine grace as befits a creature: by conforming her will to the vocation that she has received. She is confident that God's will for her is for the best. She accepts the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and becomes the God-bearer. Mary then visits her cousin Elizabeth:
When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? ..... blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."Holy Spirit leads Elizabeth to recognize what God has worked in Mary, even before she has been told. Elizabeth accurately identifies the origin of Mary's merit: her faith; her open-ness to God's grace; her trust and willingness to surrender to God's care and concern, for her and for all that He has made. If Mary had not accepted the message of the angel, she would not have become the Mother of Christ. Her willingness to go along with God's proposal to her was the foundation of her divine motherhood.
Elizabeth is inspired to extol Mary as "Blessed among women." This surely means that Mary's role as Jesus' mother was a privilege. Not a luxury to be revelled in, nor a status to be paraded before others: but still something to be aspired after. Every jewish girl of the century was hoping that she would be the mother of the Messiah. Mary was indeed blessed, favoured and privileged just by virtue of her motherhood. This privilege has inevitable consequences for the character of the relationship between Mary and her God. These can be seen at work in the response of Elizabeth to Mary's visit. Elizabeth considers that it is a privilege simply to meet her cousin, now that she has this new role.
"Son, why have you treated us so. Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously." He said to them, "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" They did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.Here we have the first of a number of texts which show a certain distancing of Christ from his mother. Some readers may see even a rebuke or rejection, but let us look at the text objectively.
The mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." Jesus said to her, "Woman, what have you to do with me? My hour is not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."This text shows Jesus' mother interceding with her son for someone else's need. Jesus seems to be surprised, taken off guard: almost affronted. His apparent rebuke is followed by an act of quite faith on her part. The outcome is well known. Mary seems to change the game plan of her son. She prompts him in his mission. Before she speaks it was not the hour of the Son of Man, when she speaks the Messiah "manifested his glory" by revealing himself to the world in "the first of his signs". Mary is not only the instrument of the incarnation, but now the instigator of this epiphany of her son.
It is worth commenting on the style of Jesus' address to Mary. He calls her Woman, an odd manner in which to address his mother, even if he is trying to correct her perception of the nature of his mission. It is yet more odd that he should so address her, when he promptly accedes to her request! The explanation is simple yet profound. Jesus is recorded as addressing his mother in the same manner on one other occasion: when she stands before him at the foot of the cross. On both occasions, it can be perceived that he addresses her formally, as befitting an office or station; rather than personally, as his beloved parent. This role is truly that of Woman. Just as Jesus is named by St Paul "The Second Adam", so is Mary "The Second Eve". This can be better discussed in the context of the redemption, and will be taken up again there.
"Who are my mother and my brothers?" Looking around on those who sat about him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whosoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."A repudiation by Christ of his mother? How so? All that Jesus points out here is that human blood ties (family values) are of little significance in the Kingdom of God. What counts is the response of a human soul to the divine vocation: the offer of friendship. As we have already seen, Mary is a prime example of a soul co-operating with Divine Grace, and so "doing the will of God."
I discuss the question as to whether Jesus had brothers and sisters later.
A woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and blessed the breasts that you sucked!" But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"This is an important text. Like the previous one, it cannot be seen as a repudiation of Mary: according to Luke she did "hear the word of God and keep it". It is however, another repudiation of blood ties per se. Later in this paper I shall make much of the fact that Mary is Jesus' mother. It is important to realize that the motherhood that matters is a spiritual and inter-personal motherhood. It is the motherhood that is equally of the adoptive parent or the genetic. The fact that Jesus took physical substance from Mary is important only that it makes him truly human. That fact does not set up any particular dynamic between Jesus and Mary. Jesus shares his flesh with the whole of humanity, through Mary. His humanity is not so much Mary's but ours!
Of course a dynamic does exist between Jesus and Mary. We shall see this at the foot of the cross. It is based on the relationship established between child and parent. It is between two persons: an encounter and mutual discovery. It is love.
On this account of the dynamic existing between Jesus and Mary, it is inevitable that a similar dynamic must exist between Jesus and Joseph. It doesn't matter at all that Joseph made no genetic contribution to Jesus' physical make-up. Joseph was Jesus' human father every bit as much as Mary was his human mother. Moreover, he was a "just man" [Mat 1:19] and also "heard the word of God and kept it" [Mat 1:24]. The implications for the dignity and significance of the role of Joseph in the Divine Economy was first pointed out to me by Paul Hammond, well before he became a Catholic; when he had no devotion to either Mary or Joseph! The Church is only gradually becoming conscious of this facet of the Apostolic Tradition. God the Father's begetting of God the Son is of an entirely different order to that in which Jesus took substance from Mary. It does not conflict in any way with the paternity of Joseph, the Father of God.
He said to his mother, "Woman, behold your son!" Then he said to the disciple, "Behold your mother."Mary is implicated at the beginning and end of Jesus' public ministry. We have seen how she initiated it at Cana, now we see her taking part of it on herself at its end. Imagine the anguish that she bore as she watched the life blood of her beloved Messiah-son drip away and heard his ever more laboured breaths. Surely a sword pierced her soul that day [Lk 2:35] if not before. It was her vocation then to be the first believer to "complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" [Col 1:24]. Apart from the simple care that Jesus has for these two dear figures: his mother and the beloved disciple, his words constitute Mary as the Mother of the Church, in the person of John. Jesus commits to her motherly care (as a second Eve: the mother of all living [Gen 3:20]) all his friends and exhorts them to acknowledge his mother as theirs.
"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; it shall crush your head and you shall strike its heel."This verse is variously rendered into english. The pronoun "it" is often replaced by "he", apparently because the male pronoun is used in the Greek Septuagint. By contrast, Jerome used the feminine pronoun in his latin version, the Vulgate. As far as I can determine, the Hebrew original is ambivalent. Though I favour, on doctrinal grounds, the use of "crush" and "strike", many translations use the same word, e.g. "bruise" in each place. As far as I can determine the Hebrew uses the same word twice.
The word protoevangelium means first good news, for this verse is the first glimmer of God's plan of salvation. The serpent is told that he and his minions will inflict minor, non-fatal injury on the descendants of Eve. Eve is promised a final victory over the power of Satan. As St Paul comments:
.... I would have you wise as to what is good and guiless as to what is evil; then the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet .... [Rom 16:19,20]Of course, St Paul well knew that the offspring of Eve who truly crushed the head of the serpent was Jesus.
Obviously, "the woman" referred to by God is primarily Eve. However two considerations suggest that there is intended a further and deeper meaning:
"As Eve by the speech of an Angel was seduced,
so as to flee God, transgressing His word, so also Mary received the good
tidings by means of the Angel's speech, so as to bear God within her, being
obedient to His word. And, though the one had disobeyed God, yet the other
was drawn to obey God; that of the virgin Eve the virgin Mary might become
the advocate. And, as by a virgin the human race had been bound to death,
by a virgin it is saved, the balance being preserved, a virgin's disobedience
by a virgin's obedience."
[St Iraenius, the pupil of St Polycarp, who was the pupil of the Apostle John: "Against Heresies"]
Let no-one call Mary the God-Bearer, for Mary was but a human being; and it is impossible that God should be born of a human being.This caused a great sensation. The people saw this as a clear rejection of the divinity of Jesus. Nestorius, who was perhaps neither overly intelligent nor well informed, proceeded to defend the position that his friend had adopted. It doesn't seem that Nestorius really doubted the divinity of Jesus: however, he may have wished to play down the idea of the incarnation. St John tells us that "The Word became flesh". Nestorius baulked at the idea of Jesus' humanity being so united with his divine nature as both to be possessed by His One Person: that of the Eternal Son of the Father. In Nestorius' teaching there was a clear splitting of Christ into two distinct entities: the Son of God and the Son of Mary. The first divine, the second human. This was not orthodox belief and in the year 451, the Fathers of the Oecumenical council of Chalcedon declared:
We .... confess our Lord Jesus Christ .... the same perfect in Godhead, the same perfect in manhood .... begotten of the Father before the ages as touching the Godhead, born of the Virgin Mary, the God-Bearer, as touching the manhood, one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures ..... not as if Christ were parted and divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten God...The title God-Bearer, Theotokos in Greek, was joyfully employed by the assembled bishops to declare the exact manner of the incarnation. The Eternal Word really did take upon Himself the nature of a man and really was born of a human maid, who loved and nurtured Him as her son, and whom He loved as His Mother. There is simply no way to avoid the titles "God Bearer" and "Mother of God" without watering down the doctrine of the Incarnation: either making Jesus into an inspired prophet; or a phantasm that had merely the appearance of man, but could neither sympathize with our condition nor suffer and die with and for us on the Cross. An instinct to reject the proposition: "Mary is the Mother of God" may be founded on a wholesome repugnance with the idea that God has any origin, still less an origin in a human creature! This is, of course, not what the doctrine of Mary's Divine Motherhood teaches. Mary is indeed Mother of God, by virtue of the Incarnation.
The mystery of intercessory prayer is revealed here. God is omniscient and benevolent. He knows what is good for his creatures whether or not they ask for His help. He does not need to wait to be asked or told what to do! It is obviously a waste of time, from this point of view, imploring God to work some miracle or other. Nevertheless, God chooses sometimes to inspire us to ask for His help and then answers the very request that he places in our hearts. This has two gracious purposes: to confirm our faith and encourage us; and simply to ennoble us by involving us in his Life and causal activity.
For there is one God, and there is One Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all .... [1 Tim 2:5,6]This has no bearing on the question of Mary's intercessory role, unless christians should not pray for each other! Either it must be admitted that Mary and the saints can mediate for their friends still alive on Earth [Apoc 6:9-11], or else praying for anyone must be avoided!
.... all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God [Rom 3:23]Taken literally and out of context, this clearly contradicts the doctrine of Mary's Immaculate Conception and sinless life. However, it would simultaneously make Jesus into a sinner too. Clearly, the "all" has at least one exception: Jesus Christ. The Church maintains that it had at least one other: Mary. Of course, in context the "all" really refers to Jews and Gentiles as races, rather than individual persons [Rom 3:9,10].
A complication in the analysis is the fact that the names Mary, James, Judas, Joseph and Simon are so common in the group of Jesus' disciples. Two Apostles are called James. One is distinguished as the brother of John and the other as the son of Alphaeus. The true name of the Apostle commonly known as St. Jude was Judas. His name is generally changed to ensure that he is never confused with Judas Iscariot. Peter's original name was Simon (or Simeon, more accurately). The other Apostle of that name is generally distinguished from Simon Peter as Simon Zealot.
The most famous "brother of Jesus" is "James (or Jacob) the Just" [Mat 13:55; Mk 6:3; Jn 19:25; Acts 12:17; 1Cor 15:7]. He was the first Patriarch of Jerusalem, who governed the Jewish Christians even in the days of the Apostles [Acts 21:18; Gal 1:19; 2:9,12] and who it seems presided at the Apostolic Synod of Jerusalem [Acts 15:13]. Personally, I believe (along with the Eastern Church Fathers) that "James the Just": the "brother" of Joseph and Simon was neither "James brother of John" nor "James son of Alphaeus" and hence not one of the Twelve Apostles. Clearly, he was not the brother of John the Apostle, as Luke tells us both that this James [known as "the Greater"] was martyred in the early days of the Jerusalem Church [Acts 12:2] and also that "James the Just" was active and influential in the Jerusalem Church years later [Acts 21:18].
It is, however, possible to identify "James the Less" (who was the son of one "Alphaeus") with James the Just. This was the common opinion of the Western Fathers of the Church. Clearly, if James the Just "the brother of Jesus" was the "son of Alphaeus" then either "son" or "brother" must have a non standard meaning, unless Jesus was also the son of Alphaeus, which notion is repugnant to all sense!
The main argument that James the Just was the son of Alphaus is that he is regularly presented as having authority on a par with or even in excess of the Apostles. This is not a convincing argument. If he was appointed by the Apostles to be resident Patriarch of Jerusalem while they travelled abroad to found Churches in Egypt; Italy; Asia Minor; Greece and Mesopotamia, then in his own territory - that of the Mother Church of Christendom: Jerusalem - he would have jurisdictional precidence, even over the Apostles. It is also notable that the authors of the letters of James and Jude both refer to themselves as "slaves of Jesus" rather than "Apostles of Christ", signifying that they do not claim this title for themselves. Moreover, the title Apostle isn't as definitive as it might seem. St Mark is often honoured with the title, yet he was not one of the Twelve: he is reputed to have founded the Egyptian Church. Later on a whole class of missionary preachers was known as "apostles", in the sense that the Church still talks about "the lay apostolate", so it is possible that St Mark and St James the Just - being no more than Archbishops (one speaks in terms that evolved later) - were commonly known as Apostles, though strictly speaking they were not so.On the other hand, if James the Just "the brother of Jesus" was not the "son of Alphaeus", then - assuming that the James and Joseph of [Mat 27:56; Mk 15:40, Lk 24:10] are the same as the James and Joseph of [Mat 13:55, Mk 6:3] - we know that his mother was called Mary. Now, it might seem that this Mary should be identified with the Mother of Jesus, and James the Just be revealed as the sibling of Our Lord. This is logically possible, though it beggars belief why the mother of Jesus should have been described as the mother of James and Joseph in the context of the burial of her own son! However, it is much more plausible that "Mary, the mother of James and John" was "Mary, the wife of Clopas" [Jn 19:25].
Incidentally, John also explicitly tells us that the Blessed Virgin Mary had a "sister" that was also called Mary. At first sight this is quite remarkable. How many parents give two of their children the same principle name? However, as we are arguing that "brother" and "sister" doesn't necessarily mean "sibling", but only a close blood relation, this is not so strange as at first it seems.
Hence, it is pretty clearly established that James the Just was not the sibling of Jesus, but at the closest a cousin. This is based on the assumptions that:
But scornful men have coldly said
Thy love was leading me from God;
And yet in this I did but tread
The very path my Saviour trod.
They know but little of thy worth
Who speak these heartless words to me;
for what did Jesus love on Earth
One half so tenderly as thee?
Jesus, when His three hours were run,
Bequeathed thee from the Cross to me;
And oh! how can I love the Son,
Sweet Mother, if I love not thee?
Fr Frederick Faber, of the London Oratory.