Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Something about Mary


So what do we know about Mary in our first study of the season?

* The genealogy in Matthew (1: 1-17) includes only 4 women. Namely, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah.  Each an outsider in their own way.
            Tamar, a gentile proselyte who conceives twins by her father-in-law Judah
            Rahab, a prostitute who spied for Joshua
            Ruth, a Moabite woman who stayed with Naomi and then seduced Obed the grandfather of David
            And the wife of Uriah, IE, Bathsheba, who committed adultery with David resulting in Uriah’s death.
And then finally  Mary…must be the author alerting  us that there is something unusual in the birth we’re going to hear about
* Matthew goes to great lengths to establish the line of Jesse and then abruptly tells us it leads to Joseph, the husband of Mary so that Jesus’ lineage only appears to be the house of David. Maybe another way of saying this is not the messiah you expect…
* Much to be said about Joseph and his response to Mary’ s pregnancy
            Engagement, often as young as 12, had the full weight of a marriage contract. The woman would stay with her parents until she came of age, physically. All marriage contract obligations, dowry et al, would already have been fulfilled.
            At that time, adultery was the only legal grounds for divorce. And the punishment for adultery was stoning. (Although only in the city….if no one hears a cry for help, it’s deemed consensual and therefore adultery. In the country, no one can hear a cry, so the woman is presumed not guilty…)
            Hillel, however, had a more liberal view. A husband could divorce for anything that displeased him or that he found  unacceptable. And a public pronouncement was not necessary. An announcement of divorce before two witnesses was sufficient, so Joseph could divorce her quietly. Leaving unanswered the question as to what would happen when she showed.
            Joseph is described as righteous, that is law abiding, , we have deeper righteousness. Did Jesus know this story? Are we to remember it when Jesus uses his cast the first stone argument to save the woman charged with adultery?
* The there is of course the virgin question. Much has been made of the fact that Matthew quotes from the Septuagint version of Isaiah which uses the word parthenos (1:23) whereas in Hebrew, the word is alma, or young woman. Although generally that would be the same thing, though in Genesis 34:3 it applies to Dina who just had intercourse with Shechem.  Matthew wants to connect with the prophet, but this could have simply referred to the wife of Ahaz.
* Now…as for Luke, there’s a very different agenda. Luke starts out detailing the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth, Jesus and John.
            Elizabeth the wife of Zechariah, a temple priest, a tall steeple preacher, an establishment professional. And Mary, the poor country cousin? Elizabeth with her own miraculous birth setting  the stage  for Mary’s.  John, who would be forerunner Elijah to cousin Jesus' Messiah.
            An angel brings  Mary the message.  And her ultimate  response, in the words of Luke (and Paul Mc Cartney) is Let it be…

            The song she sings , what we call the Magnificat, (Luke 1: 46-55) goes back to Hannah’s song ( 1 Samuel 2:1-10) and Miriam’s song at the Red Sea (Ex.15:19-30) and Deborah (Judges 5: 1-31) and Judith ( Jdth 16: 1-17). Mary’s song joins that Old Testament feminist liberationist proclamation. There’s no denying it, it’s open  class warfare:
                        51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.

Try as you might, you can’t metaphorize that away. Sorry. It’s gospel.

And ultimately, Jesus is born in a humble dwelling, surrounded by shepherds, the first to be informed. Of course there is resonance with Moses and with David. That romantic mythic memory. But by the time of Jesus, the shepherds were the only ones who did not sleep within the city walls. Despite all Luke will do to ameliorate the better off, the class analysis of the opening of the story of Jesus is undeniable. Mary’s song, in it’s perfect tense, is like Bishop Tutu’s proclamation  at the peak of apartheidt’s power, We have already won.

Where else do we hear that song now?

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