David A. Davis
April 10, 2022
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Mary, the mother of Jesus, she had to have been there too. Mary must have been there along the winding, jagged pathway that went from the Mt of Olives, through the Garden of Gethsemane, down into the Kidron Valley, and then up the road paved with stones that went up toward one of the massive gates into the city of Jerusalem. She would have been in that crowd. The crowd Luke describes as “the whole multitude of disciples.” Mary would been there somewhere among the people, some of whom threw “their cloaks on the colt” Jesus was about to sit on. Others “kept spreading their cloaks on the road.” Mary, the mother of Jesus had to have been nearby walking with the crowd.
Luke doesn’t name Mary as being in that procession so ladened with meaning. But Mary is far from a minor character in the Gospel of Luke. To describe Mary as “not a minor character” in Luke actually just sounds silly. The young woman who was greeted by the Angel Gabriel sent by God. The one engaged to Joseph. Luke never describes Mary as being afraid in the presence of the angel. No, just perplexed, pondering, questioning, listening and answering. Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.” In the first two chapters in Luke, Mary the mother of Jesus isn’t a minor character. She pretty much is the character.
Mary is hailed by Elizabeth: “Blessed are you among women…blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Mary, here in Luke, is the first to give voice to the profound theologically shaped understanding of the Messiah, of messianic hope, or the very promise that is the coming realm of God. The Song of Mary. The Canticle of Mary. The Magnificat. After Jesus birth, the shepherds offer a bold witness to “the good news of great joy for all the people…born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke writes that “all were amazed at what the shepherds told them.” But you remember Mary’s response. Not unlike her response to the Angel Gabriel, Mary’s response to the shepherd’s was one of pondering and treasuring. Luke portrays Mary at a whole other level when it comes to pondering, to understanding, to knowing what all this means.
All of it. When Mary and Joseph brought the child Jesus to the temple to fulfill the law of Moses, Simeon was guided to the Temple by the Spirit. Luke describes Simeon as “righteous and devout”. Luke tells that it was revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit “that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” Simeon took the child Jesus into arms and praised God. “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” But he didn’t stop there as Mary and Joseph stood there amazed by what he said. Simeon blessed the family and said to Jesus’ mother Mary, “this child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
The careful reader of Luke has to know that Mary wasn’t just amazed by what Simeon said. She would have been pondering, treasuring, listening, understanding, knowing and probably, probably singing that song, her song, in her head right then and there. Simeon wasn’t the only one Mary listened in the temple that day. The prophet Anna, God bless her, she was 84 and never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer day and night. When she saw the child Jesus, she “began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Anna spoke to al, including Mary, who was on a whole other level when it came to knowing what it all meant.
Luke doesn’t tell the reader how many years later it was when Mary and Joseph lost Jesus. When they left him in the temple. When they found him in the temple. When they found Jesus “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” Everyone, including his parents were amazed and astonished. Mary, who yes, was the boy’s mother reprimanded him for wondering away and scaring them to death. The gospel reports that he was gone three days, just like Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday and the third day he rose again. “You did not know I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus, being a bit of a lippy child asked his mother. According to Luke, his parents “did not understand what he said to them.” But at this point, I am convinced Luke included Mary here to polite to Joseph and likely every oblivious father since. Because Mary knew. Mary understood. Luke can’t deny it. The last word Luke offers on Mary for the rest of the gospel comes right then after Jesus references his Father’s house. Luke writes “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” Yes, Mary knew.
In the literary form and device of Luke’s gospel, by the end of chapter two, Mary exits stage left. It is the tradition that includes Mary among the group of women who follow Jesus along the way of the cross as the soldiers force Simon of Cyrene to carry Jesus’ cross. It is the tradition that includes Mary in the group of women who had followed Jesus from Galilee who stood off at a distance watching him die in that spectacle of murder and death before a crowd that couldn’t turn away. But Mary is never named. Mary IS named in Acts, chapter 1. The Acts of the Apostles, perhaps better referred to as Luke-Acts since a consensus among scholars is that Luke wrote Acts. There in Acts 1 as the disciples gather again after the crucifixion and the resurrection Luke reports that “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”
Mary might have left the gospel stage rather early but when it comes to the life, the teaching, the ministry, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus the Son of God, our Savior, Mary’s son, Mary never left. So yes, Mary was somewhere along that path from the Mt of Olives to Jerusalem as the crowds shouted “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Standing somewhere in that procession of paradox as shouts to a king fill the air and the Messiah on the colt is riding to his death. Mary was somewhere not far from her son, not offering shouts but more likely, shedding tears. Still singing her song through a mother’s tears. When you read Luke backwards in Lent, when you start at the crucifixion every day for forty days in Lent, you come to realize Mary’s Song is so much more than a Christmas Carol. The Song of Mary, the Canticle of Mary, the Magnificat, it plays all through Luke. It is the soundtrack of Luke. It defines Luke. It is the gospel according to Luke. When you read Luke backwards, and when you detach Mary’s song just a tad from the angel Gabriel and the annunciation and all the trappings of Christmas, when you play the Magnificat on Palm Sunday, you have to share Mary’s tears. Because she knew. Yes, Mary, “the Mighty One has done great things” for you. But you, Mary, the one who gets all this more than anyone else, you get this maybe in a way only a mother can.
Mary and her song> Her song about the Savior’s radical mercy from generation to generation. Her song about the Messiah’s strength that will scatter and mess with the hearts and minds of the oh so proud. Her song about the Son of God turning over thrones and exalting those who are the lowest on the food chain, the healthcare chain, the wealth distribution train, the generation success chain. Her song about the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God, filling the hungry, the hurting, the neediest, the most vulnerable with all good things promised in abundant life while sending the rich and powerful and the selfish and the loveless and the heartless away with empty hands left only to scratch their heads rather pat themselves on the back yet again.
Mary somewhere in that “whole multitude of disciples” weeping, still singing, knowing full well that everything in that song about her son, God’s Son, our Savior, the Messiah, was going to get him killed by the powers and forces of evil forever threatened by the last shall be first vision, and the exhortation to be a selfless servant of all, and the love your neighbor as yourself non negotiable of the very way of God revealed to us in the Gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit in and through Jesus Christ.
I was having lunch this week with Professor Eric Barreto and I asked him if he thought the content of Mary’s Song came by divine, angel imparted inspiration or as a result of her being a young woman of faith raised in the traditions and teaching of the law of Moses. That Mary would have known how in the Hebrew bible Hannah sings pretty much the same song in the Book of I Samuel as she dedicates her first son Samuel to the Lord. Divine inspiration or knowledge of the faith? Dr. Barreto, without hesitation, pretty much said “yes”. And like Hannah, Mary was dedicating and giving her son forever to the Lord her God. Eric imagines Mary singing her song as a lullaby to the child Jesus. Her own act of faith, love, and sacrifice. What I imagine is when Jesus tells some of the Pharisees who wanted his disciples that day to stop shouting words of praise and adoration to the king, when Jesus says, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out,” I imagine those stones shouting out not with Hosanna’s but with the shout of Mary’s Song.
When you read Luke backwards in Lent, you have to come to the conclusion that the Triumphal Entry was about a whole lot more than palm branches and shouts of Hosanna. When you stand with Mary and your know where this “Triumphal Entry” is headed, how this is going to end, when you come to praise and worship Jesus this side of Easter Sunday, you can’t yet look past the cross or even really see the joy that surely comes on that first Easter Day. Because his death at the hands of the world’s powers, principalities, and empires of darkness and evil is a brutal tragedy. Not unlike the bombing and killing of innocent people in a train station, really.
I don’t think Mary was the only one weeping that day as the procession headed up to Jerusalem. God was weeping as well. And maybe you and I should too.