Friday, December 22, 2017



 The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a virgin named Mary.        
                                                                     Luke 1:26-38

Mary, the mother of Jesus, has been so honored by the church for so long, with layers and layers of titles and honors that sometimes we forget what she was really like when she lived here on this earth.

Her real Jewish name was Miriam. Mary is the English translation of Miriam. She was named after Miriam, the sister of Moses. Mary was probably born in Nazareth, a town of about 1600 people. She spoke Aramaic with a Galilean accent. She would have known at least a few words in Latin, the language of the occupying Roman soldiers who were everywhere. They were the foreign occupiers of their country. She would have known a few words in Greek, the language of business and the educated classes. She would have known Hebrew, the language used in the readings of the synagogue, their church services.

She belonged to the peasant class who squeezed out a living from farming or small trades like carpentry. Carpenters made even less than farmers. Joseph and Jesus were carpenters. They would have been among the poorest of the poor.

Life was grinding enough as it was, but they were also tripled taxed, taxed to death to put it simply. They had to pay taxes to Rome, Herod and the Temple, their version of federal, state and local taxes.

Mary probably lived in a two-room house in a family compound shared by cousins, uncles, aunts and parents. The small home faced out onto a central courtyard shared by the other houses and the animals. It would have been very noisy. In the courtyard was a shared cistern, an outdoor oven for bread baking and a millstone for grinding.

Mary would have worked, on average, ten hours a day carrying water, gathering wood, cooking, washing dishes and doing laundry.

Mary was probably thirteen when she got married. They did this for two reasons: to protect her virginity and to have as many babies as possible. Having lots of children was something you were very proud of and was seen as a blessing from God. Not to have children was a disgrace.

Her marriage would have been nothing like our American marriages. “Falling in love,” “getting engaged” and then “getting married” would have sounded very strange to them. Mary and Joseph would have been engaged while they were children. This would have been arranged, not by them, but by their parents, often with the help of a professional match-maker. This arrangement could have been made without Mary and Joseph ever having met each other. Marriage in those days was far too serious to be left to the emotions of romantic love. A good marriage was more about the financial security of the family unit.

When Mary and Joseph were teenagers would have made the second step toward marriage called betrothal which would last for a year. Mary could have backed out at this point, but once entered into, was considered binding, broken only by divorce. They were considered man and wife without living together. It was during this betrothal period that Mary got pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph, knowing that he was not the father, decided to divorce her quietly, that is without going public. If he had gone public, Mary would have been stoned to death for adultery.

The marriage, itself, would have been the third and final step. Joseph, because of a dream he had where an angel told him the truth about Mary, decided to go ahead and marry her.

Mary was not fragile like the holy cards paint her up to be – a blond, fair skinned Cover Girl model in a blue dress! She was a tough peasant woman, capable of walking the hill country of Judea while pregnant, of giving birth in a stable, of walking four of five days on foot to Jerusalem once or twice a year. She was capable of sleeping in the open country and doing long hours of hard work. She was tough. She was nothing like most holy cards. She had dark skin, dark eyes and dark hair. She, most probably, could not read or write.

Joseph seems to have died before Jesus left home to begin his preaching. Some believe that he might have been much older than Mary. It had to be painful for Mary when Jesus left her to begin preaching. Mark says that she and some of the family actually went after him, thinking he had lost his mind.

Mary was probably about 50 when Jesus was crucified, well beyond the age when most women died back then. She was there when the Holy Spirit came down on the early church, but then disappears. Some believed that she died in Ephesus, in Greece, with John to whom Jesus had commended her to on the cross.

What is obvious from all we know about Mary is the fact that she WASN’T special. In many ways, she was just another good woman from a small Jewish town, trying to get by through hard times, living the way other women had lived for generations. What is so amazing is not Mary’s specialness, but the fact that God chose someone so ordinary to be the mother of the Savior. The only thing extraordinary about her was her extraordinary openness to whatever God wanted from her. She experienced poverty, oppression, violence and the execution of her son, yet she continued to trust God. Most of what we associate with Mary is honors heaped on her after her death.

That is her challenge to us, seeing God in the ordinary times of life, even in times of loss, disappointment and even death. Personally, I can’t always see God’s hand in my life as I go along, but I certainly can when I look back!

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