The Mary's - Love Sustained

Mar 18 2018

                                                             The Mary's - Love Sustained

We have at least three Mary's in the Gospels - Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary the sister of Martha, and Mary Magdalene. I remember that as a child when I was reading hte Gospels, for some reason it was easy for me to become confused regarding whether the writer was talking about Mary Magdalene or the other Mary. Now, in my other research, I find that my confusion was not unusual because of a very interesting hypothesis: Mary Magdalene and the Mary who was the sister of Martha may be one and the same. Back to that later.

What do the gospels really say about Mary, the mother of Jesus? Well, we have the birth narratives in Luke and the Magnificat, spoken by Mary. Beyond those, Jesus and the Gospels have very little to say about the mother of Jesus. There’s the scene in the temple when the twelve-year-old Jesus goes to Jerusalem with his parents. Do you remember his reply to his mother when she asks him “Why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have searching for you in great anxiety?” Jesus replies, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Then there is the scene when Jesus is preaching to the crowds and he is told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you. Jesus replied, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?”

We have the wedding in Cana that Jesus attended with his mother, and we have the scene at the cross – both from John. We hear very few words from the mouth of his mother, and we hear nothing from her at the cross, after his death, or after his resurrection.  We can assume that Mary loved her son very much as most mothers would love their children, but the plain fact is that we are told almost nothing about their relationship in the Bible.

However, as the years progressed, the Roman Catholic Church started with Mary as virgin, then perpetual virgin, to her own immaculate conception, to mother of God to bodily assumption and finally to a place in an expanded trinity. All of this cannot be found in Luke, but most of what we may have assumed was true about Mary was actually conceived of by the church after Luke wrote his gospel. Nothing is mentioned before the Gospel of Luke regarding the birth of Jesus or regarding his mother. But what happened as the years progressed was the Lucan narrative of the birth of Jesus was accepted as historical fact and therefore, Mary as a virgin with Jesus being conceived of by the Holy spirit became accepted truth.

There are many problems with that progression, just one of them being just how were the brothers and sisters of Jesus conceived 

The progression of Mary and the conception of Jesus, if for no other reason, can be challenged if you think about this – if Jesus received his human nature from Mary and his divine nature from the Holy Spirit that combination cannot in any way designate him as fully human or fully divine. So --- we are actually left with very little information regarding his mother, even from other earlier written gospels that have been discovered.

Mary of Bethany is the second Mary for our consideration this morning. Would she have had a sustaining love for Jesus? It appears from the Lazarus episode that the family of Mary, Martha and Lazarus were very close to Jesus. In fact, Mary of Bethany is known in the Gospels as one of the supporters of Jesus.

When Jesus finally arrives at the home in Bethany, Martha rushes out to greet him, but Mary stays in the house. Very unusual, considering that the entire family was close to Jesus.

In 1958, Prof. Morton Smith of Columbia University discovered a letter in a monastery near Jerusalem that contained a missing fragment of the Gospel of Mark. This fragment had been officially suppressed by the church at the request of Bishop Clement of Alexandria. When he was questioned about it, he replied, in effect, “If your opponent happens to tell the truth, deny it and lie in order to refute him.”

In this suppressed account of the Gospel of Mark, Mary does emerge from the house. She is promptly and angrily rebuked by the disciples. Why? Lazarus was dead. Mary was sitting Shiva. Judaic law forbade wives to emerge from the house while sitting Shiva except at the express bidding of their husband. In this account, then, the behavior of Mary and Jesus are in strict compliance with Judaic law if, in fact, the relationship between them was husband and wife.

We know that Mary of Bethany was as avid a disciple of Jesus as Mary Magdalene. It becomes very suspicious, then, that Mary of Bethany is not mentioned again in the Gospels. Not suspicious or unusual, however, if Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene are one in the same as many modern scholars now believe. Therefore, it was a very great love that sustained Jesus throughout his ministry.

Just a little note here – Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute. She may have been from Magdala. She may have been the sister of Martha, but she was not a prostitute. You can use your own imagination to figure out why it would have been in the best interests of the early church to label her as such.

Finally, we have the incidents with Mary Magdalene, the most telling being the incident in the garden referring to the Resurrection as we find it in John. Mary calls Jesus, Lord; she is claiming the right to the body; she calls Jesus “rabboni”; she embraces Jesus. All of these acts point to a relationship of a very intimate nature between Mary and Jesus – a relationship of husband and wife.

In the Gospel of Philip found in Nag Hammadi among the Dead Sea Scrolls we find this quote: “And the companion of the [...] Mary Magdalene. [...] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her [...]. (Here, most scholars insert the word “mouth.”) The rest of the disciples [...]. They said to him "Why do you love her more than all of us?" 

At which point I would be tempted to say, “Disciples, do you really need me to explain this to you?”

Regardless of what history finally unearths as the truth, the role of women in the ministry of Jesus was very important. They sustained him with their love, some traveled with him, and in the case of Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene, who may have been one and the same person, they sustained him with their dollars.

For those who would suppress the role of women in the early church and in the ministry of Jesus, it is eminently clear in the Gospels that Jesus treated women with respect, was probably married, involved them in his ministry, and depended on them for financial support.

On the other hand, it is becoming increasingly clear from the research that has been conducted, that what we know of Mary the mother of Jesus does not come from the Scriptures as much as it does from early church law – laws and concepts that have been perpetuated through the years with very little basis in fact, and church laws that had to be substantiated with loose and inaccurate interpretations of Scripture. Only time will tell where the ultimate truth lies. But we cannot deny that women named Mary loved Jesus and were integral in the life of Jesus. Amen.