Mary Mother of Jesus

Who was Mary?

Mary is the mother Jesus Christ and one of the most important figures in the Bible. According to the New Testament, Mary was chosen by God to carry and give birth to Jesus. Mary appears in the following passages: Matthew 1 and 2; Luke 1 and 2; the wedding at Cana of Galilee, John 2:1-11; the episode of Matthew 12:46; Mark 3:21,31; the incident at the cross, John 19:25; the scene in the upper chamber, Acts 1:14.

Luke tells the story of Mary's inward and deeply personal experiences, her call (1:26 f), her maidenly fears (1:29,35), her loyal submission (1:38), her outburst of sacred and unselfish joy (1:39-55). From this anticipatory narrative he passes at once to the Messianic fulfillment. Matthew tells the story of the outward and, so to say, public experiences of Mary which follow hard upon the former and are in such dramatic contrast with them:

The shame and suspicion which fell upon her (1:18); her bitter humiliation (1:19), her ultimate vindication (1:20 f). Here the two narratives supplement each other by furnishing different details but, as in other instances, converge upon the central fact--the central fact here being Mary herself, her character, her thoughts, her experiences.


The point to be emphasized above all others is that we have real biography, although in fragments; in that the same person appears in the inimitable reality of actual characterization, in both parts of the story. This is sufficient guaranty of historicity; for no two imaginary portraits ever agreed unless one copied the other--which is evidently not the case here. More than this, the story is a truly human narrative in which the remarkable character of the events which took place in her life only serves to bring into sharper relief the simple, humble, natural qualities of the subject of them.

One can hardly fail to be impressed, in studying Mary's character with her quietness of spirit; her meditative inwardness of disposition; her admirable self-control; her devout and gracious gift of sacred silence. The canticle (Luke 1:46-55), which at least expresses Luke's conception of her nature, indicates that she is not accustomed to dwell much upon herself (4 lines only call particular attention to herself), and that her mind is saturated with the spirit and phraseology of the Old Testament. The intensely Jewish quality of her piety thus expressed accounts for much that appears anomalous in her subsequent career as depicted in the Gospels.

Mary at Cana

The first episode which demands our attention is the wedding at Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11). The relationship between Jesus and His mother has almost eclipsed other interests in the chapter. It is to be noted that the idea of wanton interference on the part of Mary and of sharp rebuke on the part of Jesus is to be decisively rejected. The key to the meaning of this episode is to be found in 4 simple items:

(1) in a crisis of need, Mary turns naturally to Jesus as to the one from whom help is to be expected;

(2) she is entirely undisturbed by His reply, whatever its meaning may be;

(3) she prepares the way for the miracle by her authoritative directions to the servants;

(4) Jesus does actually relieve the situation by an exercise of power.

Whether she turned to Jesus with distinctly Messianic expectation, or whether Jesus intended to convey a mild rebuke for her eagerness, it is not necessary for us to inquire, as it is not possible for us to determine. It is enough that her spontaneous appeal to her Son did not result in disappointment, since, in response to her suggestion or, at least, in harmony with it, He "manifested his glory." The incident confirms the Infancy narrative in which Mary's quiet and forceful personality is exhibited.

Mary and the Career of Jesus

In Matthew 12:46 (parallel Mark 3:31-35), we are told that, when His mother and His brethren came seeking Him, Jesus in the well-known remark concerning His true relatives in the kingdom of heaven intended to convey a severe rebuke to His own household for an action which involved both unbelief and presumptuous interference in His great life-work. The explanation of this incident, which involves no such painful implications as have become connected with it in the popular mind, is to be found in Mark's account. He interrupts his narrative of the arrival of the relatives (which belongs in Mark 3:21) by the account of the accusation made by the scribes from Jerusalem that the power of Jesus over demons was due to Beelzebub.

This goes a long way toward explaining the anxiety felt by the relatives of Jesus, since the ungoverned enthusiasm of the multitude. which gave Him no chance to rest and seemed to threaten His health, was matched, contrariwise, by the bitter, malignant opposition of the authorities, who would believe any malicious absurdity rather than that His power came from God. The vital point is that the attempt of Mary and her household to get possession of the person of Jesus, in order to induce Him to go into retirement for a time, was not due to captious and interfering unbelief, but to loving anxiety. The words of Jesus have the undoubted ring of conscious authority and express the determination of one who wills the control of his own life--but it is a serious mistake to read into them any faintest accent of satire.

It has been well said (Horace Bushnell, Sermons on Living Subject, 30) that Jesus would scarcely make use of the family symbolism to designate the sacred relationships of the kingdom of heaven, while, at the same time, He was depreciating the value and importance of the very relationships which formed the basis of His analogy. The real atmosphere of the incident is very different from this.

Mary at the Cross

To be sure that many have misinterpreted the above incident we need only turn to the exquisitely tender scene at the cross recorded by John (19:25). This scene, equally beautiful whether one considers the relationship which it discloses as existing between Jesus and His mother, or between Jesus and His well-beloved disciple removes all possible ambiguity which might attach to the preceding incidents, and reveals the true spirit of the Master's home. Jesus could never have spoken as He did from the cross unless He had consistently maintained the position and performed the duties of an eldest son.

The tone and quality of the scene could never have been what it is had there not been a steadfast tie of tender love and mutual understanding between Jesus and His mother. Jesus could hand over His sacred charge to the trustworthy keeping of another, because He had faithfully maintained it Himself.

Mary in the Christian Community

The final passage which we need to consider (Acts 1:14) is especially important because in it we discover Mary and her household at home in the midst of the Christian community, engaged with them in prayer. It is also clear that Mary herself and the family, who seemed to be very completely under her influence, whatever may have been their earlier misgivings, never broke with the circle of disciples, and persistently kept within the range of experiences which led at last to full-orbed Christian faith.

This makes it sufficiently evident, on the one hand, that the household never shared the feelings of the official class among the Jews; and, on the other, that the family of Jesus passed through the same cycle of experiences which punctuated the careers of the whole body of disciples on the way to faith. The beating of this simple but significant fact upon the historical trustworthiness of the body of incidents just passed in review is evident.


International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (in the public domain), "Mary, mother of Jesus"