The Lie We’ve Made of Mary
Is there any worse hatchet job in history than the lie we’ve made of Mother Mary? “Meek.” “Mild.” “Obedient.” It’s all over our theology. Even the hymn we sang today on the Feast of the Annunciation claimed that Gabriel came to “meek and lowly Mary,” made his proclamation, and “gentle Mary meekly bowed her head.”
Tell me, where did that happen? Not in the gospel of Luke.
Refuting the Lie: Mary Takes Charge
Luke tells us Gabriel arrived. He offered greetings, and Mary thought, “Uh, why is this angel here?” So Gabriel explained his mission—blah, blah, blah—and she again asked a question. “How can that be? I’m a virgin.” Today, we interpret this question to mean, how can a virgin get pregnant? But throughout this passage, Luke makes clear that Mary is trying to suss out exactly what God wants of her. She knew where babies came from. Perhaps her question went to the very practical: who was God asking her to have sex with to get pregnant? Either way, she asked her question. She did not bow her head.
So Gabriel explains about the Holy Spirit and, to reassure and/or convince her, cites a personal example: your supposedly-barren cousin Elizabeth is pregnant. So, not to worry. Not only can it happen. You and Elizabeth will be in it the together.
Note: still no head bowing.
What Mary does is restate the conversation. She agrees based on exactly what Gabriel has told her in answer to her questions. “Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” After listening, asking for details, getting her concerns satisfied, she agreed on the terms she had extracted from the Archangel. She and the messenger of God have come to an agreement, a contract even. Mary is a full-fledged participant in the process of bringing God into the world.
Only the most misogynistic of worlds could re-conceive the person driving that conversation as meek and mild and obedient. Asshole church, making a lie of Mary.
Mary Keeps Her Part of the Bargain
Mary doesn’t just birth Jesus. She raises him. Who does she raise? A man great enough to reign over the house of Jacob forever. Who is this man? He whose longest recorded conversation is with the woman at the well. The man who says to the woman in the crowd, don’t praise my mother because she birthed me–praise her because she listens to the word of God. The man who refuses to condemn the woman accused of adultery and instead asks the men in the crowd what right they have to judge her.
Mary raised a feminist. And if you think a head-bowing, meek and mild obedient woman raised this radical son, you are not a scholar of the Bible. You’re a person whose misogyny scrambles the words on the page and distorts Jesus’s story. You cannot see the woman in front of you, the singer of the Magnificat. You have made a lie of Mary.
Why Mary was Chosen
One last question: do you think Mary was the first person Gabriel appeared to? Or were there others? The women who rejected the call. Or those who wished to accept it but with bowed head. Did God say to Gabriel, do not pick them. They will not last. They have no skin in the game, zero buy-in. Like seeds scattered on rocky soil, they will not put down roots. When the troubles start, they will wither. Find a woman who is strong enough to raise a defiant son. And Mary, our Mary, was chosen because she said, Wait a minute. You have to explain this better. And we got Jesus.
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Mary was very courageous. She knew that she, as an unmarried pregnant woman, could be stoned to death, yet she said yes, after the angel answered her question.
Ellen Morris Prewitt
Such a good point. And it goes to the knowledge behind her question, how can this be? What exact risk am I taking on? Oh, okay. Let it be as you say. What it took to say yes…