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Seasonal Reflection, part III

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Written by Basil on 12/29/2003 5:24 PM. Filed under:

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Jesus, when informed that his mother and other family members wished to speak with him, said, “Who are my mother and my brothers? …Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mk 3.33,35 NJB) There was a time when we interpreted this passage to negate the veneration of the Virgin Mary. We even used this verse to deny that she is properly called Mother of God, but this denial necessarily denies that Jesus Christ is fully God and man from the first moment of his conception in Mary’s womb. This dogma reveals her to be Theotokos — Birth-giver, Bearer, or Mother of God (cf. Lk 1.43) — and it was affirmed by the universal Church at the Council of Ephesus in 431 ad. We wished so fervently to correct the errors we perceived in the Marian devotions of Rome that we ended up denying our own salvation.

This is the time of year when we used to drag Mary out of the closet for our once a year Christmas pageant. Maybe our pastor would preach his one sermon about her and perhaps even chastise us for ignoring her. I’ve heard this one sermon about Mary perhaps five to ten times in my life. Cover stories in recent issues of Christianity Today and Good News are dedicated to this topic, and they hit most of the high points of this one Protestant Marian sermon:

  1. Mary is necessary to orthodox, evangelical teaching
  2. The Catholics were wrong, but we’ve overcompensated.
  3. The Catholics are still wrong, and we don’t want to be Catholics
  4. We’ve short-changed Mary and we need to fix that

I deeply respect each preacher delivering this sermon for having the courage to stand up for Jesus’ mother — and by implication his full humanity. However, the unifying thread of each version of this sermon is that we have not given Mary her due; we ignore her, and we should not. We violate the Scripture that “all generations will call [her] blessed.” (Lk 1.48b NJB) Yet, this cry seems not to be heard in Protestantism itself. We do not find increasing attention being given to Mary within the bounds of Protestantism, though the earliest reformers held the classical view of her. Therefore, those with ears to hear the plea leave their Protestant fellowships and find churches — either Roman or Eastern — that do indeed give the Virgin Mary the place she has classically held in Christian faith.

So, what does our Lord mean in this verse? Some novel interpretations conjoin it to another enigmatic verse which declares, “Leave the dead to bury their dead.” (Mt 8.22 NJB) Those holding this view thereby fantasize that God violates his own commandment, believing that he dishonors his own mother. Seen this way, the proposition is absurd. Rather, classical Christianity sees in this saying of Jesus a reproof of perverted familial piety. Christ denies that family relations hold court when they are divorced from all of the other precepts delivered to us from God, divorced from the demand on the conscience made by Truth, especially by the Christian faith. What might this look like? The Godfather gives us a modern example of the perversion of this natural, divinely ordered good.

On the contrary, Mary represents precisely the truest icon of membership in the family of God. Mary — and her stepson, James, the brother of God (Gr. philotheos) — lead the way as an avant garde in pure devotion to God and faithful observance of his commandments. They fulfill this saying of Jesus in their own lives and in so doing give us preeminent examples to follow in living the commands of their Son and brother.

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