Jesus' mother was named Mary. Despite the interest of the Gospel writers in the role of women in the Christ-event, references to this Mary are actually sparse, apart, naturally, from the “birth narratives”. The final NT mention has her in Jerusalem during the waiting period between Jesus’ death and resurrection and his sending of his replacement (the Holy Spirit).
They all came together regularly to pray. The women joined them too. So did Jesus’ mother Mary and his brothers (Acts 1:14, NIRV).
Surely she was still there (as was John) for the momentous Day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2).

There were other Marys in the NT report of Jesus. So, at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion there must have been at least three present in that ugly, though commonplace, scene:
Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.”  And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.  (John 19:25-27, NLT).
 Interestingly, the three Synoptic Gospels mention the other women, and more, at the cross, but not specifically Mary the mother of Jesus. John alone makes her presence clear, though (remarkably) nowhere in his Gospel does he use her name. (He also refers to himself as the loved disciple but does not name himself.)

In the early chapters of Acts we see John in Jerusalem closely associated with Peter in the period after the Day of Pentecost. Where was John’s home? How long did Jesus’ mother Mary remain in Jerusalem after Jesus’ execution and resurrection?  Was she with John? Did she ever return to Galilee? As part of his researches, did Luke find her in Galilee to hear her special story? When did she die? How did Matthew get his information about the birth? These are questions for which the NT provides no direct answers. Other crucial information we do have, courtesy of these two books..

Mary enters the story of Jesus very early in the accounts of Luke and Matthew.

The chronological first mention is with incredible news:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,  to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”[a] But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. (Luke 1:26-29, NRSV).

Hardly surprising that Mary should be confused and disturbed, perplexed or even afraid at this moment. Who was it – did she know?  What did he mean? That she was favoured by God must have been good to hear, but  - coming from an unknown angelic visitor? How could she interpret that experience which presumably and surely was unprecedented? Still there was more:
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:30-33, ESV).

Mary is presented as a recipient of God’s favour (see post,“Grace”). She will be the mother of the Son of the Most High. Her role in the Jesus’ event is by the favour of God. This about-to-be pregnancy must have been shocking news for Mary if she understood it literally. How could Mary integrate concepts of the Davidic Kingship and an eternal rule for her own offspring? These were ideas fraught with danger; a deadly secret in an era of bloody solution to succession questions. (Many interpreters insist Mary was very young, maybe even pre-teen. I have not found evidence to support that assertion, although apparently Rabbis had set the female marriageable age at 13 years. Seems to me an open question.)

What of the processes of human reproduction? Egg fertilization and embryonic development are well-known today in ways undreamed of all those generations ago. Nonetheless, Mary was not ignorant:
Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.  What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month.  For the word of God will never fail.[a] Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her (Luke 1:34-38, NLT).

Mary had not been shielded from knowledge of the universal process of conception. What the angel told her would happen seemed naturally impossible for a virgin. She knew to have a baby she would need to have “known a man” (as the old Bible puts it). Now though, the power of the Holy Spirit brings a different and unimagined possibility.

Mary would surely have heard of the “Most High” and the “Lord”. In reference to God, from Psalm 61 and particularly Isaiah 63, she could have encountered the less frequent expression, “the Holy Spirit”.  (An expression that is also used in the comparably ancient Qumran texts.)  

Mary would well know her community attitudes to pregnancy outside of marriage. Was she concerned about Joseph’s predictable reaction once she began to “show”? How did Mary feel about being “volunteered”, unmarried, for morning sickness and motherhood just then? We readily recognise her surprise and confusion. But, did she feel reluctant or disappointed or repelled? I wonder. However it was that she felt in the moment, we see that she saw herself as the Lord’s “servant” (– the Greek word covers slavery). She will readily align with what God says.

Mary was “engaged” – to Joseph.  We read about his response in Matthew chapter 1.
This is how Jesus Christ was born. A young woman named Mary was engaged to Joseph from King David’s family. But before they were married, she learned that she was going to have a baby by God’s Holy Spirit.  Joseph was a good man[a] and did not want to embarrass Mary in front of everyone. So he decided to quietly call off the wedding.
While Joseph was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord came to him in a dream. The angel said, “Joseph, the baby that Mary will have is from the Holy Spirit. Go ahead and marry her.  Then after her baby is born, name him Jesus,[b] because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:18-21, CEV).
Joseph, a man determined to be faithful to the Law, was also considerate of Mary and her situation. He was faced with “obligation” in contrast with kindness and care. Fortunately Joseph too was able to receive an unprecedented direct message from God and fit in with God’s plan.

How well did Mary grasp of the course of a pregnancy and childbirth? (I suppose it was everyday in her society.) Mary did have “mentoring” available from a respected pregnant relative:  In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country,  where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-40, NRSV) Interesting that Mary spent this time (her first three months) in Judea – a place which was to play a larger part in her pregnancy.

In Luke chapter 2 we see Joseph taking Mary to Bethlehem.
 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,  to be registered with Mary, his betrothed,[b] who was with child.  And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.[c] (Luke 2:4-7, ESV)
Luke does not let us forget the awkward personal situation this (young?) couple experienced. Joseph takes responsibility for a Mary who is heavily pregnant – had they been living together?
Why did Mary go with Joseph? My reconstruction - which has only the value you give it - the wedding had taken place. There may have been a possibility they would not return to Nazareth. Did Mary in any case have no happy alternative? Were community attitudes harsh? What of Mary's own mother or siblings? Was she just entirely alone, apart from Joseph (and God!).
(By the way, there may not have been any kind of stable involved [nor donkey]; feed boxes were found within dwellings. For sure there was no guest room available…)
Things came “thick and fast” for Mary, even unknown shepherd visitors.
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby. The baby was lying in the manger.  After the shepherds had seen him, they told everyone. They reported what the angel had said about this child.  All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary kept all these things like a secret treasure in her heart. She thought about them over and over. (Luke 2:16-19, NIRV)

 She had a great deal to think about and there was more to come. I dare say Mary or someone very close to her was one of the sources Luke consulted in writing his Gospel – how else could he know such things? (I am not pausing here to consider Matthew’s source for the “Joseph” account; certainly a lot of time and energy has gone into the general question of sources for that book.)

Luke includes a little more information about the early years. Various women and men in Jerusalem played a role and gave the parents something to think about. One particular individual, otherwise unknown, was amongst those looking for things to change in his society. He said amazing and alarming things about this baby:
In Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was a good and godly man. He was waiting for God’s promise to Israel to come true. The Holy Spirit was with him. The Spirit had told Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. The Spirit led him into the temple courtyard. Then Jesus’ parents brought the child in. They came to do for him what the Law required. Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God. He said,
“Lord, you are the King over all.
Now let me, your servant, go in peace.
That is what you promised.
 My eyes have seen your salvation.
You have prepared it in the sight of all nations.
It is a light to be given to the Gentiles.
It will be the glory of your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them. He said to Mary, Jesus’ mother, “This child is going to cause many people in Israel to fall and to rise. God has sent him. But many will speak against him. The thoughts of many hearts will be known. A sword will wound your own soul too” (Luke 2:25-35, NIRV).
What was Simeon doing in the temple that memorable day? However that may be, it is clear his words had impact on Joseph and Mary. Simeon has seen Jesus – the child God has sent. Simeon has now seen God’s promised salvation! This salvation is in the open view of everyone and the salvation is intended not only for Israel but specially for non-Jews. Gentiles will look with gratitude to the Messiah from the ancient people.  This salvation is the pinnacle of ancient Israel’s purpose. He (Jesus, Saviour) will impact his people but there will be division in the responses. Mary will suffer heavy consequences out of all this.

At this point I will (somewhat arbitrarily) insert Matthew’s reference to part of the early years. Visitors (men?) came via Jerusalem to the house to worship and give gifts. This brought danger to light.  
When the men went into the house and saw the child with Mary, his mother, they knelt down and worshiped him. They took out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh[c] and gave them to him.  Later they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and they went back home by another road.
After the wise men had gone, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Hurry and take the child and his mother to Egypt! Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is looking for the child and wants to kill him.”
That night, Joseph got up and took his wife and the child to Egypt,  where they stayed until Herod died (Matthew 2:11-15, CEV)

That escape story ends with a return, but not to Judaea(!):
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,  “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.”  Then Joseph[k] got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.  But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee.  There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean” (Matthew 2:19-23, NRSV).
Luke (see above) had previously placed Joseph and Mary in Nazareth. Maybe they had expected being in the “thick of things” in Judaea? Whatever, Nazareth would be their locality.

The final report on Jesus’ childhood is about an unusual family discord when he was age 12. It happened on an annual visit to Jerusalem Passover (from Nazareth) when Jesus remained behind.
When his parents found him, they were amazed. His mother said, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been very worried, and we have been searching for you!”
Jesus answered, “Why did you have to look for me? Didn’t you know that I would be in my Father’s house?”[j]  But they did not understand what he meant.
Jesus went back to Nazareth with his parents and obeyed them. His mother kept on thinking about all that had happened (Luke 2:48-51, CEV).
Mary thought about all that happened - more than I have included - and you can read more in Luke’s account, chapter 2.

There are few other references to this Mary. In one poignant moment she was part of a family “delegation” to try to get things back to “normal” (Joseph not mentioned):
Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him. They stood outside and sent word for him to come out and talk with them.  There was a crowd sitting around Jesus, and someone said, “Your mother and your brothers[f] are outside asking for you.”
Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”  Then he looked at those around him and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers.  Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35, NLT)
Was that statement hard for Mary to hear?

John (alone) recounts an early incident directly involving Mary, which makes puzzling reading:
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.  When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”  And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.[a] Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.  And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it.  When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom  and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”  This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers[b] and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days. (John 2:1-12, ESV)
What was Mary’s connection to their host? It seems Mary was drawing their problem to the attention of Jesus. What did she expect of him? How is his reply to be interpreted? How did Mary interpret what Jesus said? All of the available information is there in the pericope and I think we can draw our own conclusions.

Another time the crowd pointed to Mary’s ordinariness to bolster their unwillingness to give credibility to Jesus. The account supports the idea that Mary was still resident in Nazareth with some family; again no mention of Joseph.
Jesus left there and went to his hometown of Nazareth. His disciples went with him.  When the Sabbath day came, he began to teach in the synagogue. Many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given to him? What are these remarkable miracles he is doing?  Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son? Isn’t this the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” They were not pleased with him at all.  Jesus said to them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own town. He doesn’t receive any honor among his relatives or in his own home.”  Jesus placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them. But he could not do any other miracles there.  He was amazed because they had no faith.
Jesus went around teaching from village to village (Mark 6:1-6, NIRV).
Yes, this is Mary’s son. And he is so very much more. He looks for each to trust him as he is and take him at his word. Mary was true to her promise and, despite any adversities or mis-steps, played her part in God's plan for salvation. Her son, Jesus, yet offers the alterntive to the so easy destruction. He invites individuals into the mercy of God and calls them to God's purpose for life.

Did Paul meet Mary? (It is not recorded in the NT.) Without using her name, Paul has this neat encapsulation of the way of divine deliverance and adoption of individuals into God's family, though I (and possibly, most readers) was(were) not captive to the OT Law in the same way as the original recipients. (But, yes, we share the very same flawed humanity with need of the better way.)
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.  And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our[b] hearts, crying, “Abba![c] Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.[d] (Galatians 4: 4-7, NRSV).

Joseph had been told to name him Jesus (="Saviour"). Shepherds had been told there was a new-born Saviour to find in Bethlehem. Simeon had rejoiced to see the longed-for salvation of God (Jesus). Here was ground for rejoicing by all the people and all people. The priceless gift of eternal adoption will today bring anyone (you?) into family relationship with God.

Mary certainly had much to think of and she was firmly numbered with the followers. How much did trusting Mary know, not only of who this Jesus is but of why and what his coming meant?  There is a modern song (may be a little challenging) which asks the question, "Mary did you know?" - it is available via YouTube:

As a side issue: People may find the “birth narratives” or "virgin conception" hard to take seriously. There are no such traditions in the reports of Mark and John. They have no hint of these stories. In a weighty passage replete with ESV marginal notes, John does tell us the truth about this man:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life,[a] and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own,[b] and his own people[c] did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son[d] from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.[e] For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God,[f] who is at the Father's side,[g] he has made him known (John 1:1-18, ESV).
Solid stuff there! (Other translations may be explored but the challenge will remain: Who, then, is this?)

If, in those early days, as seems likely, each Gospel document was originally and independently associated with a specific ancient location, then it would follow that there were early followers of Jesus who did not know these birth/childhood reports and they were simply left to live with the mystery of a man who was also so much more – their Saviour and Lord, the Lamb of God and Word of God. As the four Gospels became widely available, in time the picture would be filled out by Matthew and Luke. (Then, do Mark and John point a way ahead to anyone who struggles over the “virgin conception”?) Nonetheless, John presents an unavoidable challenge, as does Mark really, if read in totality, I think.

Separate and independent Gospel books? This is a complex question for commentators and books on NT Introduction. (Although I try to avoid speculation and external sources, I may in time put up a specific post.) At this stage I envisage a development something like this: Early disciples were “scattered” far and wide. They would have been quite independent, taking the news about Jesus and freedom from fear wherever they went. They were inspired, equipped and guided by the Holy Spirit. For resource they had the oral account of Jesus and the Greek OT, especially the prophets. To which places they first took that account is a fact largely lost in history. (The best way to get a glimpse of this period is to read the book of Acts.) In time, with Jesus’ return “delayed”, the meticulous oral records were turned into writing – which we know as the four Gospels. Successors would eventually need to adjudicate the role of rival documents - some of which are available today.

Scripture quotations marked (CEV) are from the Contemporary English Version Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NIRV) are taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL READER'S VERSION®.Copyright © 1996, 1998 Biblica. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of Biblica.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NRSV) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

No comments: