Jesus replied: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50)
The great Orthodox poet and hymnographer St. Ephraim the Syrian in one of his beautiful poems has the Virgin Mother talking to her child, Jesus about jealousy. Mary is often aware in Orthodox hymns of the theology of her child – she understands Him to be the incarnate God and Lord of the universe. Knowing Him to be Lord of all, is she jealous that everyone has a relationship to Him, not just her? Does she regret that she will always have to share His love, attention and affection with every single human on the planet – and so will she? Mary shows her humanity in reflecting on the passion of jealousy, but also how she rises above human passion, pathos, sin and hubris – which is why she was chosen by God to be Theotokos. She rises above the limits of her own humanity to share in the common humanity of all people. Her role in human history is unique, yet it is what connects her to all humans who will ever live. God could see her love for all which reflects God’s own love for the world.
I shall not be jealous, my Son,
that You are with me, and also with all people.
Be God to the one that confesses You,
and be Lord to the one that serves You,
and be Brother to the one that loves You,
that You may gain all!
(adapted from Hymns and Homilies of St. Ephraim the Syrian, Kindle Loc 3100-3102)
The hymns reflect an idea that Mary is Jesus’ mother not just because she physically gave birth to Him, but because she embodied God’s love for all humanity. God chooses Mary not for her body but because of her soul and heart. It is not only her womb which was heaven and able to contain the uncontainable. Jesus Himself reflects this thought in response to something a woman once shouted at Him.
A woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27-28)
Jesus recognizes in His Mother that is her having heard God’s word and kept it when enabled her to be Theotokos. Her role in salvation is both physical and spiritual – she indeed is a bridge between these worlds. As is sung in the Akathist to the Theotokos:
Rejoice, initiate of ineffable counsel;
Rejoice, faith of silent beseechers.
Rejoice, introduction to Christ’s miracles;
Rejoice, consummation of his doctrinal articles.
Rejoice, heavenly ladder by which God came down;
Rejoice, bridge leading those from earth to I heaven.
Rejoice, marvel greatly renowned among the Angels;
Rejoice, wound bitterly lamented by demons.
Rejoice, for you gave birth to the light ineffably;
Rejoice, for the “how” you taught to no one.
Rejoice, surpassing the knowledge of scholars;
Rejoice, dawn that illumines the minds of believers.
Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.