Author: Eileen Lee
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine…you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.” (Isaiah 43: 4)
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18)
These days, Mary mother of Jesus connotes a very specific image. Through her, people have glorifying all the characteristics of the so called ideal, pure, and pious woman for a long time, in order to teach women how they ought to be women. It’s simple comparison. Instead of being promiscuous, Mary was virtuous and pure. Instead of overstepping her bounds and being too bold, she was docile and meek. She was devout in her faith, and she was a virgin before marriage. Finally, she upheld the women’s role of motherhood and giving birth, by accepting the Lord’s command to bear a child, and immaculately conceiving and ultimately giving birth to the Messiah.
All that, especially her being a virgin, is pretty much what she is known for. It’s even mentioned in almost all her titles: St. Mary the Virgin, The Virgin Mary, The Blessed Virgin Mary. You get the idea. It is essentially what defines her today.
To say this annoys me is a great understatement, because Mary was so much more than that.
While Mary may be hailed for her purity and virtue of womanly character today, she certainly would not have been then. The only reason she is revered now is because we have the benefit of retrospect. On the other hand, no one around her in her time would have known that the illegitimate child she was carrying was going to be the Savior of the world. No one would have even believed she was a virgin.
In her time, Mary would have never been Virgin Mary, much less Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of God. Just the opposite, actually. She would have just been seen as a knocked up teenage mother—a promiscuous whore and adulteress with a bastard on the way. In her time, that wasn’t just something that warranted her being ostracized. It (legally) warranted her death.
Well, isn’t that just so ironic?
When that’s put into perspective, it changes everything we think about Mary. She had a as-of-yet untarnished reputation, with a wedding to a great guy on the way. For a Jewish woman in a very patriarchal society, that was essential for her to have, and she had it. She had her whole life together, her future set, and she knew it. However, when she was given the chance to be a part of God saving the world, she accepted the challenge head on. Even when she knew it would most probably cost her everything, she decided that she was in.
Maybe Mary wasn’t facing guns or taking down thugs like a lot of our heroines in the movies we see today. What she was facing though, was a high change of possibly becoming a pariah of society for the rest of her life at the very least, if a death sentence didn’t come for her first. In the face of all that, she didn’t even flinch.
If that is not brave, if that is not badass, I have no idea what is.
Now for the other side of the story—Mary’s fiancé, Joseph. This guy only has a couple of verses that reference him in the entire Bible. He didn’t part seas, or ride chariots of fire, like a couple of other legendary biblical dudes. He wasn’t famous, or even rich. But for some reason, God chose him to be the Messiah’s adoptive father. Why?
As mentioned before, no one would have known or believed Mary. All the evidence in their minds would have pointed to her being a cheater, and harlot. All that is what Joseph would have been hearing about his fiancée, in all the whispered gossip. Maybe he was even getting sympathetic looks for being played.
Legally, as a cheated-upon man, he had the right to call for Mary’s death. He could have dragged her out into public to be stoned. He could have even been the first one to throw the first stone at her.
But he didn’t. Instead,
“…Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins…”
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:19-25)
It’s just a few lines of history, but I don’t know if it’s possible to comprehend just how counter-cultural this was. Joseph put Mary above his reputation, the value of his perceived masculinity, and even his sexual desires. Not only that, but he also fully partnered with her in going after her destiny of raising the future Savior of the world. Later on, he even goes to the extent of essentially going into exile with his family, in order to protect his wife and adopted son.
This is a man that uplifting a woman, his wife.That’s still counter-cultural even today. Even more incredible, this is what the Bible calls being a just and worthy man.
So, to anyone that is still trying to use Mary as an example to biblically justify misogyny: just stop now, before you embarrass yourself further.
That is, before I get the chance take your Bible out of your hands and slap you across the face with it first.
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