Mary and Her Place in Scripture
by Pirrial Clift tssf
I have barely touched on Mary’s Place in Scripture, the topic of this second part in a series about Mary of Nazareth. I chose to attempt to unpick just a few words in Luke’s Gospel. Not being a theologian myself, I have leaned on D.W. Allen and Max Thurian’s work.
Before the Enlightenment common life and language understood softer boundaries between spiritual and physical realities: the liminal qualities of human existence were acknowledged. Metaphor, allegory, myth, poetry, mystery and hidden implications, spiritual powers, heavenly beings, dreams and visions, instinct and bodily knowing; all were considered valid vehicles of God’s revelations.
The woof and warp of salvation history is a tapestry rich in people who heard God’s voice, responded to dreams, entertained angels, conveyed God’s words to others and performed wonders and miracles: some followed stars or heard voices from a burning bush… a donkey… a cloud… Powerful myths containing kernels of essential knowledge were woven into history, preserving tradition and God’s laws through the spoken word; whilst poetry, running through scripture like a golden thread, opened hearts and souls to truths not easily expressed. Parables – and many other parts of Scripture – present truths packaged like Russian Babushka dolls, inviting the hearer to venture ever deeper into their veiled meanings. It need not surprise us then, that Mary’s place in scripture is woven with similar threads.
Mary’s place is central to the Biblical narrative of salvation history. Abraham, who appeared at the beginning of salvation history, held God’s promise that through him every nation would be blessed. Israel repeatedly failed to be receptive to God’s words. D.W. Allen posits Mary as fulfilling Israel’s supreme vocation when she received the living Word, enabling the birth of the long-awaited Messiah. Isaiah’s prophecy ’Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and he shall be called Immanuel [God-with –us]’ was fulfilled in her.
Luke’s Gospel posits her as the link between the old and new covenants. To him she embodies Israel’s vocation, co-operating with the Creator in carrying the Living Word to full term; bringing God-in-Jesus among us for the salvation of all peoples.
At the Annunciation the Angel Gabriel speaks: ‘Hail (or Rejoice), favoured one’.
‘Hail’’ appears in the NRSV as ‘Greetings’, which does not adequately convey the original meaning, according to Max Thurian, who refers to OT references including Zephaniah 3.14-18 and Zechariah 2.10. ‘Hail’ is used specifically to address the ‘Daughter of Zion’ a female metaphor personifying Israel. He says: ‘the Daughter of Zion is … mystical in that it concerns the union of the Virgin, the Daughter of Zion, with the Lord, her husband: and also eschatological in the sense that it represents the motherhood of the Daughter of Zion and her painful deliverance of the Messianic Hope, or deliverance of the people of God by the coming of the Messiah’. Mary herself, and Luke’s first readers, would have been cognisant of the hidden layers of meaning in that single word of greeting in a way that escapes contemporary readers.
Allen again: ‘Actually at this moment Mary is herself mysteriously Jerusalem and the Temple, the Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant’. He echoes St Francis’ Salutation to the Virgin Mary: ‘Hail, his Palace! Hail his Tabernacle! Hail his Dwelling! Hail his Robe! Hail his Servant! Hail, his Mother!’ Mary, wherein dwelt the King, the Holy One of Israel; covered him with her body, then later became mother and servant to him.
Full of Grace
The particular word meaning full of grace (sometimes translated favour) addressed to Mary, is found in Ephesians [1.6] to describe the abundance of grace poured out through Christ to all the members of his Body, the church. Mary however, is addressed as ‘the’ full of grace; the type or exemplar, of grace.
The Lord is with you
The Lord was with Moses in the ‘thick cloud’ on the mountain when he received the Law of the Covenant and with his people in the OT in the heart of the covenant community, When the Ark of the Covenant was set in the tabernacle, ‘the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.’ Now Mary stands as the new Temple – having been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, the Presence of God dwelt deep in her body. She is the new Ark, the new dwelling place of God on earth. Jesus, the promised Messiah, is the personification of the New Covenant. As the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle, so Jesus, the Incarnation of God’s glory, filled Mary.
Both Jews and Christians being accustomed to being described as ‘children of Abraham’ i.e. inheritor’s of Abraham’s renowned faith. Mary realised God’s promise to Abraham by giving birth to the promised Messiah, whose sacrificial love delivered the promised blessing to all nations.
Mary’s inspirational faith and trust in God are marked by Elizabeth’s prophetic greeting to her in the hill country: “…blessèd is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Mary ‘treasured all these things’ – the prophetic utterances experienced in angelic visitations, Elizabeth’s prophetic greeting, Simeon and Anna’s’ prophecies and Jesus’ only recorded childhood utterance – ‘in her heart’. God’s word spoken and written and God’s Word become incarnate in her womb were treasured by Mary.
In Mary’s, faith and grace, she is blessèd indeed. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Pirrial Clift. tssf