What Middle Eastern firebrand praises God for "scattering the proud and casting down the mighty from their thrones"? What kind of revolutionary woman would proclaim God's goodness for feeding the hungry and driving the rich away empty"? None other than Miriam bas Joaquin. We know her better as Jesus' mother, Mary.
We have grown so used to the Mary of popular piety, especially in recent centuries, that we forget the Gospels paint a much different portrait of her. Our statues and pictures of a delicate, fair-skinned and often even blue-eyed Mary are a far cry from what she more probably looked like, given the olive-colored skin, jet black hair and sparkling dark eyes of most women in the Holy Land today. And as the words of the Magnificat show (Luke 1:46-55), Mary of Nazareth was hardly a quiet and passive recipient of God's graces. As the place and role of women in our church and world is debated more intensely, we would do well to revisit what the Gospels say of Jesus' mother.
Mary actively participated in the birth of the Messiah, questioning the angel Gabriel's words before offering herself as God's servant. Her hurried journey into the hill country of Judea not only allowed her to assist her cousin Elizabeth, but also retraced the path taken centuries before by the Ark of the Covenant during the reign of King David.... Luke was showing that as with the Ark of the Covenant, God's presence and glory had once again visited the people, this time through the woman of Nazareth named Mary.
According to the Scripture's scant account however, only once is Mary blessed with the appearance of an angel, and that was at the very beginning. Her coming trials : Joseph's suspicions, the trek to Bethlehem, exile in Egypt, losing the boy Jesus, his arrest, trial, torture and execution as a threat to national security : all these Mary endured armed with nothing but her faith!
For all the honor and importance we bestow upon her, except for her Magnificat prayer, Mary says precious little in the Gospels. Still, the ongoing mission of Mary and indeed of us all is found in her final words as recorded in John when, at the wedding in Cana, she directs people towards her son and says, "Do whatever he tells you."