Saturday, March 26, 2005

Cross-Shattered Christ: Reflection Three on "The Third Word"

"Woman, behold thy son!" . . . "Behold they mother!" - John 19:26-27 (KJV)

This is a difficult reading of Hauerwas for non-Catholics who have not revered Mary the way Catholics have. Perhaps, however, it's one that Protestants and Free Church Christians need to hear . . .

He quotes Augustine who says of Mary:

Holy is Mary, blessed is Mary, but the Church is more important than the Virgin Mary. Why is this so? Because Mary is part of the Church, a holy and excellent member, above all others but, nevertheless, a member of the whole body. And if she is a member of the whole body, doubtlessly the body is more important than a member of the body.

I don't claim to understand the importance of saints, but regardless of what we in the "believing church" or Restoration circles say, we do put saints such as Abraham, Moses, and Paul on pedestals, effectively giving them at least special if not at the extreme an unspoken sainthood. Is there something wrong with this? We hear echoes of Paul convincing the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1) not to favor one brother or leader over another. Our heritage is strongly opposed to following particular "founders" or calling ourselves by them. I'm proud of this heritage, but to not hold some who were people of faith as more exemplary than others or to see the special status God himself placed on Mary as the mother of the incarnated Son of God, would be to deny the model of Hebrews 11. This is not "no saint left behind." Some excel and are honored above others. God in Christ is still the only true saint and the saint-likeness of others is always imperfect but still worthy of honor.

But to return to the question of the importance of the mother of Jesus . . . what does Jesus mean when he speaks to John of Mary? Does he mean, "take care of my earthly mother"? Or does he mean, "this is the mother of your Lord"? She is worthy of honor as the first believer in the Messiah, who she was told about in a vision when she said, "Here I am." That was Moses' phrase at the burning bush, but her faith mirrors Abraham's.

As Hauerwas observes from Raniero Cantalamessa's Mary: Mirror of the Church, Jesus is known as a new Adam, new Moses, new David but not a new Abraham. Cantalamessa suggests that the reason Jesus is not associated with Abraham is because Mary is. "Just as Abraham did not resist God's call to leave his father's country to go to a new land, so Mary did not resist God's declaration that she would bear a child through the power of the Holy Spirit," Hauerwas says.

Hauerwas does not suggest we add this saying of Jesus on the cross to our "pro-family" arsenal. "In spite of the current presumption," says Hauerwas, "that Christianity is important for not other reason than that Christians are pro-family people, it must be admitted that none of the Gospels portray Jesus as family-friendly" (Mark 3:34-35; Luke 14:26). He could be seen as loving children, but the Gospels explain this in kingdom terms, not in familial ones.

Hauerwas says he doesn't call attention to Jesus' anti-family remarks to denigrate his words to Mary on the cross.
Indeed I think we can only appreciate Jesus's (sic) commending Mary to the beloved disciple, as well as his charge to the discople to regard Mary as his mother, when we recognize that Mary is not just another mother. Rather, Mary is the firstborn of the new creation. Without Mary's response "Here am I" to Gabriel, our salvation would not be.

Finally, Augustine said that God created us without us but refuses to save us without us. Mary is the first great representative of that "us," Hauerwas says.

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