The Gospel According to Mary

In my search for Mary, I tried to follow the dots which took me on side trips that explored the post-biblical data that later Roman Catholicism held. Locking her up as the “Mother of God” actually does grave disservice to her and reduces her only to the primary intercessor (mediator) of the Triumphant Church (Roman Catholicism distinguishes the Triumphant Church as those who are now in the presence of God [i.e., died] and the Militant Church as those still alive and engaged in this world); because of that we miss entirely what she contributes to our faith.

Mary contributes to our faith? Yes, and there is nothing Roman Catholic about it at all, so stop waving the “Catholic conspiracy” red flags in your head.

To help shed light on this, it has to be explained briefly how the Gospels were written. The obvious information we have is that of the four Gospels, two were written by eyewitnesses (Matthew and John) while two by researchers (Mark and Luke). It is generally accepted that Mark was the earliest of the Gospels that was written, then possibly Matthew, Luke, and John. It is also held that Matthew and Luke used Mark as the basic framework for them to weave their own stories. Now the basis for these Gospels to be accepted into the New Testament canon, as opposed to Gnostic Gospels, was the authority behind them. This is obvious with Matthew and John who were eyewitnesses; but what about Mark and Luke?

It is accepted that Peter provided the eyewitness data and possibly the editing by which Mark would arrange and present his Gospel (The technical term used by scholars is "redactor."  The formal study to make sense of this is called "redaction criticism"). 
The language and outline of his Gospel looks too similar to Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:22-36. The Gospels of Matthew and John themselves were not “neutral” presentations of the story, there is a theme and some editorializing that took place for these two eyewitnesses to arrange and present their Gospel to address a particular audience. Luke said that he did some investigative research which involved interview of “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” (Luke 1:2) in presenting the life of Jesus to provide a narrative to someone named Theophilus.

Scholars attempting to make sense of the similarity and differences of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew-Mark-Luke) would point out the possible existence of a document called “Q” (from
quelle; German for “source”) from which Luke got the data unique to his Gospel. That assumes Luke (or someone else) wrote it at a later time when the original eyewitnesses were already gone; but this would make the idea of the investigative research a mere spin for their Gospel to gain legitimacy inside the Orthodox circles. The affirmation is that Luke wrote it with enough eyewitnesses still around to provide data and resource resulting in a unique presentation.

Mary had to be one of those eyewitnesses. For starters, the early chapters of Luke (1-2) were virtually her story. Many details were so intimately personal that no male scribe compiling “Q” would have captured the passion that was in her heart. The narrative simply oozes with Mary’s wit and sense of humor that finds expression, among many stories, in her wondering what sort of greeting “highly favored” meant when the mission she was called to do involves risking reputation, relationships and possibly her own life. “Favored? You gotta be kidding!”

Mary provided the eyewitness data for the first two chapters of Luke,
what is to keep her from providing the narrative for the rest of his Gospel? She was definitely present among the disciples as they journeyed south from Galilee to Judea (Consider also that Luke singles out Mary among many other women in Acts 1.12-14 at the first "business" meeting of the disciples after Jesus ascends to heaven).  Among other nuances, this may explain the preponderance of women stories in Luke that are absent in the other Gospels. It is a result of a woman’s insider perspective that may have been missed by the other male eyewitnesses.

Present from start to finish, Mary definitely qualifies as an eyewitnesses from the beginning—indeed, in her case from the very beginning—and a minister of the word. In this case, I prefer the NIV which uses the “servant.” The ESV uses “minister” which tends to denote a position rather than a role, but the word used (
huperetai) gives the idea of the role of service. Mary was the original person to take that role when she said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38—italics mine) This could very well mean that Mary is “Q.”

More than just providing the narrative, Mary
is the editor (redactor) of the Gospel of Luke as the theme of discipleship is highlighted. Her response to her call (..."
let it be to me"...) and her son’s response to his ("...your will be done...") in Gethsemane are the bookends of Luke’s Gospel (Rosemary Dewerse, 2004). In her narrative, she herself recalls the two occasions where her son puts more value in obedience than motherhood, because that is how she would have it anyway.

“My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (Luke 8:21)

“As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breast at which you nursed!’ But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’” (Luke 11:27-28)

Dewerse points out that Jesus made the Luke 8:21 statements after talking about the Parable of the Sower where he defines the good soil as “those, who hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15) “Hearing and holding fast in the heart” is an echo of Mary “pondering in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51) plus the thirty years of patience she put in waiting for the day her son ventures in ministry. Mary counts as first among the good soil.

Even more than just providing the editorial for Luke, she even goes further to define its theological theme. Until I discovered Mary, Luke has always been—
for me—the poor imitation of Matthew. There are sections like the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, the teaching on prayer in Luke 11, and the parable of the lost sheep, coin and son in Luke 15 which somehow stand like disconnected dots in a kid’s coloring book. I could not connect the dots.

The other Gospels have a key to decrypt their message. Jesus’ announcement of the good news of the Kingdom being at hand in Mark 1:14-15, describes everything else that follows. If you get what he was trying to say in the Beatitudes, the rest of Matthew would make sense. Understand what John 1:1-14 is and the lights go on to who Jesus really is in his Gospel. The dots connected and you can see the picture. But Luke did not seem have a key or preamble—or did he?

Was it Jesus’ opening speech in Luke 4:18-19 where he quoted Isaiah 61:1-2? Was it the parallel of the Beatitudes in Luke 6:20-26? Somehow, the sense that Jesus merely quoted Isaiah and declared an abbreviated version of the Beatitude was what gave this feeling that it is a poor shadow of Matthew; but then I was trained to ignore one person and what she had to say.


Mary’s Magnificat is the preamble to understanding Luke, and with it, she sets the theological agenda that would connect the dots:

“And Mary said,

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in
God my Savior,
for he has looked on the
humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all
generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud
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 empty away.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.’” (Luke 1:46-55)

As a Protestant, I was trained to read only up to the part of rejoicing “in God my Savior.” That has been one of the primary apologetic in response to the Roman Catholic veneration of Mary. She cannot be immaculately conceived, be the mother of God and consequently, assumed into heaven because she herself is in need of a savior. Those are valid arguments but it is not the point. In any event it keeps me from seeing the rest of Mary’s song and understanding the key to Luke’s Gospel.

Of course Jesus opens with Isaiah 61:1-2:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor
He has sent me to proclaim
liberty to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind.
to set at liberty those who are oppressed.
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19).

They are the great things that the Lord has done. The Beatitudes in Luke 6:20-26 sound like the way they do; “blessed are the poor” and “woe to the rich” because he has brought down the mighty and exalted those who are humble at heart. We have stories juxtaposing the social (Good Samaritan) and the spiritual (Prodigal Son). We have women stories on grace (the woman who washed Jesus’ feet) and service (Mary and Martha). The dots are starting to connect and I can now see the picture.

In
reducing Mary to the mother of God, both in its Roman Catholic expressions and in the Protestant Christmas tableaus, we have left out an integral perspective that would make the Synoptic Gospel complete and our message whole: Mary’s theology is social and holistic. Since we left her and her message out, those themes would resurface in theologies that are a little lacking in her grace and mercy either in the Liberal Theology’s social gospel or the Marxist leaning liberation theology.

Finally, in being distracted by non-biblical ideas on Mary, we miss out completely her significance in salvation history. She embodies the beginning of everything new as juxtaposed with Zechariah representing the twilight of the old religious order who missed the point of the angel’s message regarding his son, John, through whom the Old Testament would finally fulfill its purpose by pointing to Jesus. Mary “got it;” she gets the point of the angel’s message and becomes the prototype for all who subsequently follows. In doing so, she becomes the bridge from the old kingdom as a descendant of David to the new as she ushers in—indeed, bears in her womb—the Son of David. Jesus himself declares that fact in Revelations 12 where he makes his mom the metaphorical center of the continuum which began as Israel and finishes as the Church (Revelations 12:1-6).

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