Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Jesus and Mary: It's not really complicated at all...

To commemorate Christmas, CNN ran an opinion piece today by Dr. Jay Parini entitled Jesus and Mary: It's complicated

After asserting that Mary and Jesus had significant disagreements, he concludes that "their relations ended on a note of deep accord, with Mary taking on her role as "mother of God," becoming an important figure in the early church."

But before he got there, he drags out a series of tired Modernist claims about Mary's behavior during Jesus' ministry that are designed to challenge the appropriate honor we Orthodox and Catholic believers accord her.

So here, one by one, are the erroneous Modernist claims (I say this as a former Modernist Protestant), and why they are a misinterpretation of Holy Scripture.

1) The Finding of Our Lord in the Temple

Dr. Parini asserts that the first "complicated" exchange between Jesus and Mary is when the family is on their way back from Jerusalem, only to find that Jesus has stayed behind and was debating matters of law with the teachers in the Temple. Jesus tells his mother, "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"  Dr. Parini states that "He was smart, perhaps a bit sassy. As the only glimpse we get of Jesus before the age of 30, it's a telling instance, however."

Telling of what?  Few mothers, even Modernist Protestants, sympathize with the boy who put his mother through hell by disappearing for several days. But unless Dr. Parini has a lot more evidence to come, this will not really serve, retrospectively, as proof of a pattern of conflict between Jesus and Mary.

2) Mark 3:21. Jesus' Family says he is "Out of his mind."

Dr. Parini informs us that "In Mark 3:21, it's clear the family wishes he would cease and desist. 'He is out of his mind', they cry."

The Greek of this passage tells us that those who thought he was crazy were, literally, "Those of him" ( οι παρ' αυτου ). There is no reason to believe that Jesus' mother was part of this group. This could have been a group of his extended family with no involvement of Mary.

3) Jesus tells Mary "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" ( τι εμοι και σοι )

Dr. Parini informs us, 'This sounds harsh."

The context is the Wedding at Cana, John 2:4. Mary has asked her son to make wine out of thin water (a thing she apparently knows he can do). 

The phrase "What have I to do with thee?" ( τι εμοι και σοι ) is exactly repeated in an exchange between Jesus and a demon in Mark 5:7. I've even heard Radical Protestants latch onto this fact and assert that this is proof that Jesus rebukes his mother in the same way as he rebukes a demon.

Only one problem. It's the demon who says this in Mark And it's Jesus who says it in John.

Now, the use of plural to denote respect was not operative for spoken Greek at that time. So neither the demon nor Jesus was disrespectful as such by the use of singular. The fact that the demon in Mark 5:7 speaks this phrase just prior to begging, from a position of weakness, to be sent into the pigs (as opposed to being cast out of the country), shows that the phrase "What (is there) to me and to you" is spoken by someone who acknowledges they are inferior to the one they are speaking with. So for Jesus to use this phrase shows us that, even though he is the Son of God, he also expresses filial piety toward the Mother of God. Not harsh at all.

4) Jesus speaks dismissively of his mother in Mark 3:35

Dr. Parini informs us that "Jesus says dismissively: "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."

The context here is that someone told Jesus that his mother and brothers were seeking to see him. This is only a diss and only dismissive if the wider context of Scripture teaches that Jesus mother and brothers were not doing God's will. And therefore, the gathered crowd were his real mother and brothers and not those of his genetic stock.

But if Scripture does not present Mary as opposing God's will, then Jesus was simply teaching people that a relationship with God does not require genetic relation to him. Thank God.

 Yet Scripture clearly teaches that Mary is a paragon of doing God's will. 

She it was that proclaimed "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to be according to your word." (Luke 1:38). 

John the Baptist leaped in the womb of Elizabeth when he heard Mary's voice. (Luke 1:41) In the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth declared to Mary "Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb" (Luke 1: 42). In the Holy Spirit Mary proclaimed "Henceforth all generations will call me blessed (Luke 1:48)." 

This passage is quite similar to another which some misquote and mistranslate to dismiss Mary. In Luke 11; 27-28 we read that a woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed." Jesus replied, as oft quoted, "No, rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and do it." 

Only problem, the word frequently rendered as "No, rather" is menounge ( μενουνγε ). The eminent Greek scholar Dr. Chrys Caragounis points out that this word actually means "Yes, and what's more..." In other words, once again what is translated as a diss on Mary is anything but.

And so, every passage paraded out as evidence that Mary did not support her son's ministry is a mistranslation or misunderstood reading of Scripture. The Mother of God sits in the front pew of every Church, leading us to follow and worship her son. Christ is born. Glorify Him! 

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