Chapter One: Grace and Devotion to Mary
Chapter Two: Mary, Holy Objects and God
Chapter Three: Primary Teachings - Mary the Virgin
Chapter Four: Mary and Jesus
Chapter Five: Deeper Teachings -
Chapter Six: Teachings Not Yet Declared Dogmas -
Jesus and Mary
A Mediator with our Mediator
Chapter Seven: Final Thoughts and Reflections
of the Holy Spirit
of Jesus Made Present
and Church Unity
Consecration to Mary Individual and
Litany of Mary's Faith Journey
© Copyright, J. Roy MacIntyre 2009
The relationship between Jesus and Mary is essential in our study of Christ, yet it is too seldom examined and meditated upon. As a result, many people who think Mary's role unimportant to the Good News as a whole misunderstand the relationship between the person of Mary and the Person of Jesus. This is true even of many with a broad knowledge of the Gospels.
Jesus spent over 90% of His earthly life with Mary His mother, from His conception to the beginning of His public ministry. Even in His public ministry Mary accompanied Him (Jn 2:12). However, we find very little in Scripture of what happened in those private years or of Mary's role in Jesus' public life.
Jesus was born into the family of Joseph the carpenter at Bethlehem (Mt 2:1) and the three moved to Nazareth in Galilee (Mt 2:22-23) after having escaped the threat of Herod in Egypt (Mt 2:13-15). We know that Joseph and Mary were close adherents of the Law by their attending to the dedication of Jesus – the firstborn male, the purification of Mary (Lk 2:22-24) and their regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the Passover feasts (Lk 2:41).
One of the family's pilgrimages is recounted in Luke (2:41-52) when Jesus was 12 years old. Jesus, apparently feeling the call to ministry remained behind in Jerusalem to set about "doing His Father's business (Lk 2:49)". However, when Joseph and Mary found Him, Mary, not Joseph, spoke to Him, reprimanding Him for having stayed behind by Himself. I can think of two reasons why Joseph remained in the background here. Mary was anxious and Joseph wanted to afford her the opportunity to express herself to Jesus. And secondly, St. Joseph must have recognized the special relationship between Jesus the Messiah and Mary, his mother. It is likely Joseph felt some distance from this mother/Son duo because he recognized the significance of their relationship in God’s plan of redemption. Nevertheless, Mary attempted to include Joseph, for instance, when she referred to Joseph as Jesus’ father – ", your father and I, (Lk 2:48)."
The distance between Joseph and the mother and Child comes because Jesus is the Messiah and Mary is the mother of the Messiah. This would seem to somewhat dwarf Joseph's role as protector of, and provider for, the Holy Child and mother. Nevertheless, this should not be seen in any way to diminish Joseph's authority as head of the home; nor should it imply that Joseph did not have a deeply intimate relationship with his wife and the Child he fostered. It simply means the role of Mary was much more tied to redemption than Joseph's role. The difference between the role of Joseph and Mary should become more obvious in what is presented below.
The response of Jesus to Mary, His mother, when He was found in the Temple demands some closer investigation. Jesus knew the commandment to "honour your father and mother" (Deut, 5:16 & 27:16) and would certainly fulfil this commandment to the limit, so we cannot assume that His reply to Mary, "I must be about My Father's business" was a rebuke. It was rather a statement of Jesus' desire to begin His public ministry. However, it also seems to indicate a detachment from His earthly family for the sake of the work of God (see also Lk 14:26).
There seems to be no puzzle to me that the parents of Jesus had some difficulty understanding why a boy of 12 should begin a public ministry (Lk 2:50), even if he had been initiated into manhood (usually at age 13). I believe to go further and say they did not know who He was, as some have said, implies an unnecessary assumption and belies the facts that both parents knew about His true identity (Mary Lk 1:32 & 35; Joseph Mt 1:20-21).
It seemed to me that Jesus was anxious to begin His public ministry and complete it as He later indicated in Luke 12:50, "great is my distress till it is over". There should be no question that Jesus Himself knew who He was in referring to God as His Father, here, and later, as He indicates in John 5:19, "(Jesus) can do only what He sees the Father doing: and whatever the Father does the Son does too."
We can see from this that it was in God's providential will that Jesus stay in Jerusalem to attempt to begin His ministry. However, we can also see what authority God had given to Mary and Joseph that, in a sense, they could change the mind of God. There is a lesson in this for us. The whole incident was arranged by providence to teach us something of who Jesus is and the significance of family life. Jesus remained obedient to His parents, observing the 4th commandment, and remained with them until once again God revealed to Him, through Mary (Jn 2:5), that He was to begin His public ministry at age thirty.
The passage about the finding in the Temple concludes with a statement about Jesus growing in wisdom, stature and grace. Jesus' growth in wisdom and stature refers to His connatural development. In a sense, this describes the process of God fitting into the natural physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual development of a growing boy. Grace here refers to His loveableness in the sight of God and of people including spiritual holiness, graciousness, tact, charm, and attractiveness. This, rather than denying His full divinity, points out the reality of His human experience and thus, makes Him a genuine model for every human person.
A final point about Jesus' remaining in Jerusalem is that it shows the compassion of God. Jesus knew that He would eventually have to leave home and begin His public ministry. Considering what was in store for Him in the world this incident of His remaining in Jerusalem and His restoration to His parents does two things. It prepares Mary for His eventual leaving and helps her get ready to give up her son. Secondly, in this instance He is given back to her for another 18 years, something she can rejoice over, be grateful for and something for which she can give glory to God as she ponders the mercy of God in her heart.
The loss of Jesus and the finding in the Temple is also a precursor of Jesus' death and resurrection in that he was lost for three days as he would be in the tomb for three days. This can be seen as a mercy given to Joseph, as well, since he would not be alive at the death and resurrection of Jesus. As Joseph and Mary sought Jesus sorrowing, Mary would seek Jesus in her grief over the time of His death until His resurrection. So the loss and the finding of Jesus in the Temple, which Joseph shared with Mary, was a kind of dress rehearsal of the pain and triumph of the cross.
The Gospel silence of the hidden life of the Holy Family does not prevent us from meditating on what that life was like. Jesus, Mary and Joseph must have lived a simple life because when Jesus returned to preach to His own town the people marvelled at His wisdom, power and authority and said with some incredulity, "Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary,?" (Mk 6:3), indicating great surprise that such an "insignificant" person could have these gifts. Even His own family members could not believe His calling and wanted to "take charge of Him" (Mk 3:21).
We can assume that Jesus went about His early life learning carpentry from Joseph and continued in the trade after Joseph's death in order to provide support for Mary and Himself. We know the Holy Family followed the Law to the letter and were ordinary people like ourselves. Therefore, in the situations we find ourselves in our daily lives, we can ponder what Mary, Joseph or Jesus might do knowing they would act in perfect conformity to the will of God. In so doing we, ourselves, would likewise be conformed to the will of God. This process can serve as a guide for us in trying to live the Gospel in our ordinary life. The Holy Spirit is the person Who will enlighten and advise us. The closer we draw to the Holy Family through prayer and meditation, the clearer will be the Spirit's direction for us.
This idea of having our lives conform to the life of the Holy Family can be taken even further. Families could be called to practice the presence of the Holy Family in their daily lives. That would mean not just attempting to imitate the lives of the members of the Holy Family, but to be consciously aware of their spiritual presence in every moment of family life. This practice could increase our faith and confidence in their assistance as well as helping us to conform to the ideals that God wants of us.
The first event in the public ministry of Jesus (Jn 2:1-11) also shows the relationship between Jesus and Mary. Mary became aware that the wedding celebrants had run out of wine. Since she clearly knew and believed who Jesus was and because she felt compassion for the hosts, she asked Jesus to do something. Their relationship was such that Mary did not need to ask Jesus directly, she simply said, "They have no wine." This has a hidden meaning as well since wine is symbolically related to the Spirit and to the Eucharist.
Jesus begins with a statement that is hard to translate from the Greek which literally says, ‘Woman, what is this to you and to me. My hour has not yet come.’ It has been translated: ‘Woman, how does this concern of yours involve me.? My hour has not yet come.’ ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come.’ ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ ‘Woman, how does that concern you and me? My time has not yet come.’ ‘Dear woman, that’s not our problem. My time has not yet come.’ ‘Mother, my time hasn’t yet come! You must not tell me what to do.’
I am not a Greek scholar nor do I want, at this point, to examine the deeper meaning of the words ‘wine’ and ‘woman’ but I do want to look at how this passage reflects the relationship between Jesus and Mary. I think the literal translation and one or two others give what I am getting at, ‘what is this to you and to me.’ There is an intimacy in this statement that implies a relationship in terms of Jesus and Mary being a team, ‘our problem’ ‘you and me’. This makes more sense to me than what implies a conflictual relationship with Jesus saying to Mary, ‘You must not tell me what to do.’
If Jesus had said ‘you must not tell me what to do’ what could one think of Mary’s apparent defiance in telling the servants to “do whatever he tells you”? That would only further imply conflict between Jesus and Mary something quite impossible to imagine. No, the most reasonable interpretation of this passage in the Gospel of John is the one closest to the Greek text “what is this to you and to me”. Mary telling the servants to do as her Son tells them simply implies that she knows that Jesus will obey her.
So, this brief yet intimate glimpse into the hidden teamwork between Jesus and Mary provides a source of fruitful meditation. It continues to be revealed as the passage unfolds. The second part of Jesus' response to Mary was similar to, but the opposite of His response in the Temple at age twelve. In the Temple He had said in effect, "My time has come", but here at Cana He said, "My hour has not yet come", even though he already had a following of disciples (Jn 2:2, 11, 12) . Nevertheless, Mary, in her prerogative as mother, continues to lean on her Son to do something. She believes without wavering that He will help. "Do whatever He tells you," she instructed the servants.
This latter statement of Mary's was not only an evangelical call to all those being saved and an example of Mary's perfect faith but a further reflection into the intimate relationship between them. Again, it seems that Mary's action and faith change the mind of God resulting in the first sign of Jesus' public ministry. In this intimate exchange between Mary and Jesus we can see the depth of understanding between the two. The firm authority Mary used in
telling the servants to do as Jesus directs is a clear example of her resolute faith and that she was a woman of action. It also shows that she knew the compassionate heart of her Son, Jesus. I think it is quite incorrect and contrary to the Gospel and Ten Commandments to read in any conflict or strife between Jesus and Mary in this passage.
Mary's acts of faith as recorded in the New Testament, such as, in her call to virginity and her belief in the angel's message followed what must have been previously revealed to her by God. Similarly, at Cana, her act of faith must have followed the inspiration or impulse of the Holy Spirit. Thus, God revealed to Jesus the beginning of His public ministry through His mother, Mary.
An interesting comparison can be made between the parents of the bride and groom and Mary at the wedding at Cana. The parents of the daughter gave her to the bridegroom. The parents of the son gave him to the bride. Thus each was able to be united in marriage. Mary gave her Son, Jesus to His bride, the Church. Through Mary's faith and intercession, "He revealed His glory, and His disciples believed in Him" (Jn 2:11).
In the Temple, when Jesus was twelve, Mary accepted her responsibility of being mother and brought Him home with her to Nazareth. At Cana, although retaining her authority as mother, Mary gave Jesus to the world which was waiting in darkness for Him Who is the Light of the world.
One other Gospel incident of the relationship between Jesus and Mary, which I have found to be greatly misunderstood, occurs in the three Synoptic Gospels (Mk 3:21, 31-35; Mt 12:46-50; Lk 8:19-21). In this scene Jesus is sitting with a group of his disciples. His mother and relatives are waiting outside to speak with Him. When Jesus is told of this He responds, "Here are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father is my brother, sister and mother. "
The misinterpretation of this lies in some people assuming that Jesus was indicating a lack of care or respect for His mother. The other side of this misinterpretation is that He saw those with Him as being more important than His mother. Nothing could be further from the truth! Jesus, who is the fulfilment of the Law, could hardly sin against the fourth Commandment to honour your father and mother. Also, we know something of the depth of relationship between Him and His mother from the events at Cana that would belie any denigration of her.
Confusion about the meaning of the Jesus’ words of comparing His disciples to family can be traced to a preceding text found only in Mark's Gospel in which the evangelist writes, (His) " relatives, (were) convinced that He was out of His mind (Mk 3:21)." However, although it seems that Mary was with these relatives we could hardly assume that she who initiated the miracle at Cana would think her son was crazy. It would seem more reasonable to conclude these relatives pressed Mary to come with them on their ill-conceived mission to take charge of Jesus.
The passage about the relatives thinking Jesus was crazy is excluded from Matthew and Luke thus clearing some of the confusion about Mary's role there. These latter two evangelists, also, generally give us a fuller development of Mary's role in the Gospel.
What Jesus, in fact, did, when He compared the disciples to His mother, was to elevate those who do the will of the Father to the status of brother, sister and even mother. The presence of His mother gave Jesus an opportunity to teach this wonderful truth to His disciples.
Another similar incident occurs in Luke 11:27 where a woman calls out, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts you sucked." In a sense, we can already see the fulfilment of Luke 1:48 referring to Mary, "…all generations will call me blessed." However, Jesus makes the distinction between the physical and the spiritual. Yes, Mary was blessed to conceive and bear Jesus but she is more blessed to have conceived Him spiritually, that is, "still happier are those who hear the Word of God and keep it (Lk 11:28)." We can see in some passages about Mary that she kept the Word of God in her heart (Lk 2:19 & 2:51). Since Mary followed the will of the Father in keeping the Word of God in her heart she is an example for all believing Christians to meditate on the Gospels.
The Gospel does not say what Jesus did after He made the statement about those who do the will of the Father being brother, sister and mother to Him. Did He ignore His mother and relatives and go on teaching, or after making use of this teachable moment did He go to them? Knowing a little bit of the relationship between Him and Mary and Jesus' own graciousness, what do you think He did?
The final communication between Jesus and His mother in the Gospels occurs at Calvary where Jesus gives Mary, His mother to John, His beloved disciple. There are many levels at which we can look at this passage, but from the perspective of the relationship between Mary and Jesus, we can see a caring for her worldly needs for which He has been responsible to this point and with His imminent death He confers on John. I would say the same about Jesus' last words, "It is finished." Not only did this describe the end and completion of Jesus' earthly mission but Jesus is also telling Mary that His suffering is now over.
Let me conclude this section on the relationship between Jesus and Mary by again reiterating that for us to come to a true understanding of Mary's role, we need to take time to meditate on her in the light of the whole of Scripture and in so doing come to find and know Jesus more surely and completely. Without seeing Him in the light of this mother-son relationship we will not have a complete knowledge of Jesus. In fact, we could easily fall into seeing Jesus as a hard, distant and aloof judge who dispassionately goes about His mission or as an abstract Being far beyond the weaknesses and needs of human beings. He is, in fact, a most gentle, loving and compassionate Person to which His relationship to Mary gives testimony and which confirms our hope in His mercy.
It seems to me that Catholics and Protestants, who have experienced and encourage a personal relationship with Jesus, experience the gentleness of the Lord, and should also want to share in His relationship with His mother. Those who draw near or perhaps more correctly, those whom the Lord draws near to His mother, Mary, will grow in this gentleness, tenderness and peace. On the other hand, the spirit that motivates those who rail against devotion to Mary is the same spirit that will distort the gentle, loving and merciful Jesus to a wrathful God ready to destroy the rebellious.
We can see that the mercy of the Son of God, the Son of Mary, is without limit in the following passages: "All those who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved" (Jl 3:5 & Rm 10:13). This, of course, is not to say all those who say Lord, Lord (Mt 7-21) will be saved but only those who call on God from their heart, in sincere repentance for their sins and desire to do the will of God. All these will be saved.
I am not suggesting that to have a true and deep relationship with Jesus we absolutely need Mary. I am just saying that with Mary we more surely and easily come to a true relationship with Jesus. I do find it difficult to imagine how a person could come to a full relationship with Jesus without having a loving relationship with, Mary, His mother.
Let me encourage you in concluding this chapter to seek a true relationship with Mary the mother of our Lord. We do not need to be afraid to follow Jesus in the example He gives us in having a relationship with His mother, Mary. Rather, we can imitate Him and become "the disciple whom the Lord loved" (Jn 13:23, 19:26) by welcoming Mary into our home, that is, our heart.