One thing from the Christmas Gospel narrative caught my attention this year: God values Mary as much as the Father values His Son. Here is the Gospel Lesson, Matthew 2:13-23 (with my emphasis added to the text) –
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
God wills and wishes to protect and save not only His Son, the Christ child, but also the Child’s mother, Mary. God did not just need Mary for her womb. God does not discard Mary after she gives birth to Jesus. God values Mary as a person. He didn’t just use Mary to accomplish His will, He loves and cares for her. God orders Joseph to protect and care for not only Jesus but also Mary, the mother of Jesus. God repeats this in the Gospel lesson perhaps because God knew all too well that for some men, women’s lives don’t matter. God knew Joseph had already contemplated divorcing marry quietly so God keeps reminding Joseph that Mary is as important for salvation as is Jesus.
The Gospel story as we well know was written in a very male dominated society. Once Mary served God’s purpose and gave birth to the child, God and Joseph could easily have dispensed with her. Joseph had been told in a dream that the child conceived in Mary was of God, and of value to God. Joseph could have disposed of her and attempted to use the child for his own gain both with God and with the Jewish nation. Or he could have tried to take the child himself to curry God’s favor. But he doesn’t. He protects both Jesus and Mary. Joseph apparently can see that Mary is just as important to the Lord as is His Holy Child.
God works salvation – the union of God and humanity, of divinity and creation, in Mary’s womb. But God values Mary and sees females as an essential part of His plan for salvation. Women are essential to salvation history. The salvation of us all is dependent on a woman, Mary, but also on all women because they give birth to us all. Women add something to salvation and make the salvation that God wants to accomplish possible. Our salvation in Christ was not possible without women. Salvation could not have begun without a woman, Mary, to be the mother of God (nor for that matter without all of the ancestral woman who gave birth to the forefathers of Christ). In Mary the healing of all humanity begins when God unites Himself to humanity in the incarnation in Mary’s womb.
For the Church this means that women are equally valuable to men in bringing salvation to more people and to new generations. The Church itself needs to recognize the role of women in the life of the Church, and the importance of all women, not just mothers, for bringing the Gospel of salvation to all the world.
St Paul in his evangelical enthusiasm writes: “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). One thing he didn’t become was a woman. And St. Paul could not by himself bring salvation to all people. That is the purpose of the Church as the Body of Christ. WE are to become all things to all people so that by all means some are saved. We, the Church, need women in ministry to fulfill our task of taking the Gospel to all nations and all peoples.
Mary’s role in the Church, in the history of salvation, did not end with her giving birth to Jesus Christ. Her role continued in the life of the Church, and God willed her to be protected so that her entire life could be ministry for the life of the world. All of us, men and women, are to imitate her to bear Christ in our lives so that God’s plan for salvation can be proclaimed to every man, woman or child who exists or will ever exist.