1. A humiliated girl
Who was Mary? The enthusiastic fan base she’s generated in some sections of Christianity can obscure for us the drama and shock of this well-known story. The endless artworks and famous depictions can make us think of an attractive if modest young lady, strangely familiar and reassuringly (or disturbingly) Caucasian.
In fact, if she were around today, she would probably be described in police reports as being ‘of middle eastern appearance’, and, as women in that context usually married very early by our standards, it is most likely that she was only about thirteen or fourteen years old when the events in our passage took place. In our sexually permissive culture, we’re probably more shocked by teenage pregnancy than extra-marital pregnancy. Yet in a culture that took marriage vows more seriously, for Mary to be engaged and pregnant was a serious scandal, threatening her already meagre social and economic future.
A serious scandal for Mary and her family, but barely noticeable by anyone outside her village, a town so small that it had not been mentioned in written accounts until this point. Mary was merely an unmarried pregnant teenager from a repressed race in a small backwater settlement of an unstable region on the edges of the Empire. A nobody. Her one claim to fame of any kind is that her fiancé is a distant descendent of a local king dead for 1,000 years. And even he, according to Matthew’s account, was seriously considering calling off the engagement. Who was Mary? Eight times a nobody: female in a patriarchal culture; barely older than a child; unmarried; about to be ditched by her fiancé; a despised Jew in a land ruled by foreigners; from a hick-town; in a volatile and far-flung province of a hostile empire; and now shamefully pregnant.
But God chooses this nobody to turn the world upside down. God chooses this nobody to become the most celebrated woman and the most popular namesake in history. God chooses this nobody to bring to life the author of life. God chooses this nobody to nurture the comfort of the world. God chooses this nobody to raise the one whose voice will one day raise the dead, to teach the eternal and divine Word to speak, to cradle in her arms the one by whom the cosmos is held together. God notices this nobody.
Mary, the nobody, favoured by God out of his sheer grace, has been picked for a unique and crucial role in the climax of the human drama – she is to usher in the most important scene in which the playwright himself steps on stage. And her response is to simply trust: “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
Fifteen points for the artist or location of the image above. But you can only guess one.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
1. A humiliated girl