Her story began in earnest with a clarion call from an angel. “Don’t be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” But not too many chapters in, the plot got more complicated. An old man in the temple recognized this unique family for who they were, rejoiced that the Lord has allowed him “to see thy salvation” and then has a serious conversation with Mary. “This boy is destined to be the rise and fall of many, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be discerned,” and, oh, by the way, a sword will pierce through your own soul, Mary.
At some point in the next couple of years, Joseph would awaken her with a dream that Herod was purposing to kill this child. And so they left Bethlehem under the remaining cover of darkness and made their way to the land of exile, Egypt. When did she hear that her Bethlehem friends’ infants had all been killed? And what did she make of another escape, this time in plain view, when her twelve-year old remained in his Father’s house, while she, along with his “father” frantically retraced their steps. It must have been a panic-stricken experience to misplace this son, and an emotionally-jarring one to be reminded of the prioritizing of his fathers.
But that sword would probe for still more of her heart when Jesus began his ministry, beginning with her neighbors wanting to throw him over the cliff. How DID one start a conversation at the well the next morning in the midst of such anger and rekindled suspicion? And then there was Jesus himself, who made no apparent effort to spare his mother. His mission was fixed, he listened only the Father, and it created uncomfortable moments of reorientation of family: who are my mother and brothers? There was at least one meal left uneaten when they tried to rescue him from himself, there were brothers who did not believe, and ultimately a Jesus who proclaimed that he had nowhere to lay his head. If I were Mary, I would have wanted to shout, “there’s a mat waiting for you at my house!”
There are moments of reprieve; when a woman in the crowd wants to praise Jesus’ mother, Jesus merely redirects the reason from her body to her spirit—blessed are those who hear the word and keep it.“ I am the handmaiden of the Lord” certainly qualifies. But in the midst of the struggle to understand this son, while experiencing the lack of understanding of her neighbors and family, Mary does not waver. A mature woman eventually stands under her son’s cross, bearing the final severing from her son as the sword cuts all human ties to Jesus as she is given to John to be cared for. Her vocation to live in front of the sword has been carried—all the way to the cross. All along she is favored; God is with her. But such loving favor does not spare Mary from pain and fear, from walking for long periods without light, without understanding, without unity among those she loved best.
But when we last see Mary, seated in the upper room, waiting with the other disciples and her other children for her son to send His Spirit, I expect we are seeing the calmest person in the room. She has walked her own unique road of discipleship. Yes, a sword has pierced her soul, but it has not destroyed her. Blessed is she who believed that what the Lord said would be accomplished.