“One Tough Cookie”: In honor of Mary on Mother’s Day

One of the things that impresses me about Mary is the tremendous chutzpah she exhibits when dealing with God. I have imagined her as this retiring and shy country maiden who has everything done unto her according to God’s will….All her actions starting with explicit faith in God, the outcomes placed with complete trust and hope in God, and the executions humble charity expressing her love of God and her neighbor. And, indeed, this is the case, humble, obedient to God’s will, yes, but also assertive and authoritative. Retiring and shy she is not. She is one tough cookie,

The facts speak for themselves. From the beginning, when we are introduced to her as encountering Gabriel, an Archangel, no less, who stands in the presence of God, she was unphased. Gabriel must be an awesome dude. I mean, angels go through Egypt killing all the firstborn in one night, these are the seven legion guys whom Jesus could have called on in the garden, these are they who carry out God’s orders to slaughter and annihilate the unrighteous right and left in Revelation. Yet, unlike her cousin’s husband, Zacharias, who was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him[1] [Lk 1:12], she is unphased by his sight, but more concerned about what he says; she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. [Lk 1:29]. Gabriel’s Do not be afraid, Mary [Lk 1:30] was probably to calm her being startled, her trying to figure out how this guy got in here, who he was and what he wanted…as anybody would be. But she didn’t try to flee nor crumble with fear; she stood her ground and listened.

Her firm clear grasp of reality is blatantly evident in her question: How can this be, since I am a virgin? [Lk 1:34] In other words, she cuts through the highfalutin prophetical language, picks out the main point: And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus [Lk 1:31] and addresses the issue…”We have a slight problem, as far as I know, I need to have intercourse with a man to be conceive and I am betrothed but not wed, so how can this be?

Her assent to Gabriel and God was not some simple “Ok” or “You’re God, do I really have a choice?” Mary seriously considered the terms of the request and knew the ramifications, i.e.. she would be stigmatized as an adulterous woman, either stoned or outcast from her family and her village, she would bring shame on her family, she would devastate Joseph, and she would be forced to live the life of a single mother trying to support herself and her child…not happy prospects. Yet she weighed her options and assented, not just assented but embraced her role as God’s slave, His servant, she was His handmaid of the Lord. She freely chooses to relinquish control of her life and to hand herself totally over to God. If He wished to “overshadow”[2] her for His own purposes, she trusted Him explicitly. Somehow, some way, this was God’s will for her, her God with whom she had found favor; but she had always lived according to His dictates and she wasn’t going to stop now, even if she couldn’t see her way clear to a happy outcome for herself.

One might have thought that just absorbing the implications of this heavenly visit, let alone this announcement which encapsulated the entire salvific history and prophecy of her people would have been so overwhelming that she would have just walked around in a daze for a while. Not Mary. She had things to do, places to go, people to see! She had picked up on the fact that Elizabeth, her aged cousin was “with child”. To Mary, that implied just one thing: that she needed her help. And so off she goes, no thought of the discomfort, the dust, the distance, let alone, the dangers, the possibility of being captured, raped, sold into slavery. Off she goes…120 miles if she skirted Samaria. At least a five day journey by foot, four by caravan going down to Jerusalem, then cutting across the hill country of Judah.

When Mary arrives, miracles happen: When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believethat what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled. [Lk 1 41-45] John leaps, Elizabeth experiences Pentecost and, kazaam, becomes a prophetess.

One might think that Mary would have been completely dumbfounded, totally taken aback by all this…Instead, Mary, true to form in her handmaid’s role, praises God for all that He has done for her and all who fear Him, the lowly, the hungry, Israel His servant, Abraham and his descendents forever. While exegetes question whether she actually sang this song of praise or whether it was “a Jewish Christian hymn that Luke found appropriate at this point in his story,”[3] it is evident that both Luke and his Inspirer, the Holy Spirit, wished to emphasize that Mary was not just a flighty, little teenager. She had a firm grasp of her heritage. On her journey south, she had time to ponder with the Holy Spirit the implications and ramifications of what had happened to her not just for herself but for her people. So she lays it out for us…”pay attention, this is what is happening!”

When she returns to Nazareth three months later, three months pregnant and showing, Joseph freaks. But what does Mary do? Nothing. No “I’m so ashamed,” no “I’m sorry,” no “Hey, I’m the pregnant one here.”   She has rock-solid faith in God; God started this, and she had faith in God that He would take care of her and her child. Even when she gets the news from Joseph, that since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame,[he had] decided to divorce her quietly, [Mt 1:19] she didn’t flinch.

Not to say that she wasn’t affected. She, like her Son, was human in every way but sin…so she was certainly terribly saddened by the anguish and disappointment of her parents and the reviling by her neighbors, and perhaps prayed to God as her Son did later, My God, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will. [Mt 26:39] And her prayer was answered; Joseph was shown the light; after a visit from another angel, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. [Mt 1:24]

Tune in tomorrow for “One Tough Cookie Continued.” In the meantime, a blessed Mother’s Day to you all.

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] ἐπισκιάζω, to “shadow over,” is the same word used by all the Synoptics to describe the theophanies or “appearance” of the “Most High” at the Baptism and Transfiguration. [Mt 17:5; Mk 9:7; Lk 9:34]

[3] NABRE note on Luke 1:46–55. The note also points to the fact that “a few Old Latin manuscripts identify the speaker of the hymn as Elizabeth, even though the overwhelming textual evidence makes Mary the speaker.”

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