- Religion and Philosophy
Mary, Mother of God: A Scared Teenager
As we read and reread the verses in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John about the birth, life, and death of Jesus, we get so used to the words we have seen so many times that the information we find slips by us. When these authors sat down to write these stories, there wasn’t much explanation needed, but just simple phrases which explained it all including the culture and emotion of the situation. Thousands of years after these writings, there is a need to further explain these simple phrases.
Mary, mother of God, is viewed as a woman of enormous emotional and mental strength. God placed a great weight on her. She willing accepted and knew God would care for her. Within the four gospels, and a single comment in the Book of Acts, there isn’t much said about Mary. Outside of the bible, there isn’t anything said about her. Catholics take more notice of her then others denomination and have raised her very high, yet this far from the world Jesus lived in, the view of Mary has been clouded by much. Taking a fresh look at what is said about Mary can give us a new view. The view of a scared teenager.
Before Being Wife and Mother
We first meet Mary directly in Luke 1:26-38 in a story well known by many. She is greeted by an angel who announces she is going to be the mother of the Messiah even though she is still a virgin. We learn she is to marry a man name Joseph. Of course, we can pick up other things. She is scared of the angel. Mary is confused at the announcement, but not doubtful. We can also see she is willing a servant of God, but there is more hear then just what meets the eye.
Mary is pledged to be married, which according to our current culture, is a form of engagement. Being pledged means they are husband and wife, but they haven’t crossed the line of living under the same roof or being physically intimate. We think of Mary as a young woman, yet within the Jewish culture at that time, it was important to secure a husband for a girl as soon as they started having their menstrual cycle. This was to help guarantee a pure blood line with no unpleasant surprises. So this young Mary would have been somewhere near 12 or 13 years’ old. Once pledged, many sources say that it would be about a year before the couple would be officially married.
While the conversation presented in Luke seems like a casual conversation between an angel and a young woman, I could only imagine what the picture was really like. A girl who is barely a teenager visited by an angel who just announces in the first like that she is highly favored by God. At this age, she understood what was expected of her: to be married, have children, and care for the family, but not developed enough to fully understand the gravity of the situation. If we judge by teenagers of the modern world, grasping the general idea of how life works and what is expected of them, but lack fully understanding the situation. A teenage mother now might understand she did something wrong and isn’t being looked at by kind eyes. She might understand she is going to have to get up in the middle of the nights, dressing, and even bathing her child, but getting a grasp of the life time commitment and the full weight of the responsibility she finds herself in is probably still beyond her.
Mary asks how can this be because she is still a virgin. Once again, I don’t picture a 100% calm child simply asking a question, but a person who is screaming inside her head about how it can be possible because she hasn’t done anything to cause that. This is going to change every thing in every day for the rest of her life and she didn’t even get to experience the passion with anyone to get there.
Then, a worried teenager emotional response is what would the rest of the world think and what will happen. She knows that she can be rejected by Joseph. She knows that she can be stoned to death for it. She also knows there is no way she is going to be able to hide it from anyone, especially Joseph. What Luke states as “greatly troubled” I don’t think begins to explain the situation. While our society might view a pregnant teenager as an unfortunate event, but during that time, she would face a severe social stigma. Her peers would ridicule her and the town would talk about it. While Mary doesn’t doubt the news and willing accepts what is to happen by putting her trust in God, she does leave immediately to visit Elizabeth and probably on the same day like a scared teenager running to an older relative. I picture her telling her parents of the news of Elizabeth and how she wishes to go and help then fleeing as quickly as possible.
Joseph Makes A Decision
Luke tells us that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months. Three months is a specific time set by Jewish doctors. If a woman’s first husband were to pass away, the woman would wait 90 days before becoming betrothed to another. In this time frame, a woman could be for sure whether or not she was pregnant. Mary staying with Elizabeth for three months would have helped Elizabeth through almost all of the last three months of her pregnancy and Mary would have known 100% if she was pregnant. At the end of the three months, right before Elizabeth gave birth, Mary would have returned home.
There is an uncertainty how Mary told Joseph or what happened with her own parents, although I would image a very scared and intense conversation. Mary’s future would have sat on this single conversation. To look at the man you are supposed to marry and announce an angel of God came to you and announced you were going to have a son. Would Joseph look at her as if she was crazy? Or she was attempting to cover up what would be considered close to one of the biggest mistakes of her life by placing the “blame” on God? What we do know is that Joseph didn’t make a decision then.
Matthew 1:18-25 tells us about Joseph’s consideration of the situation. His pledged wife, who has been gone for three months, show up not only pregnant, but claiming to still be a virgin. For Joseph to take this woman into marriage would mean total humiliation. People in town will be gossiping about his unfaithful wife or maybe, since they did get married, his is the father and they just couldn’t properly wait. They are going to be outcasts and have to work extra hard to earn some kind of respect. Joseph is a carpenter. What will this mean for his own work outside the house? Joseph knows by law, and he has two more choices. One is a public action which would result in disgracing the family and, possibly, having Mary stoned to death. The second is to divorce her quietly.
Did Joseph consider these options for more then one day or not before making a decision? We don’t know, but we do know is when he went to bed, he had made his decision. He would request a quiet divorce. It saves his reputation, possibly her family’s reputation, and keeps Mary alive yet still not in the best situation. One dream changes Joseph’s mind. When he wakes, he knows how honorable Mary is and how she placed everything in his hands. I can’t imagine the relief and joy when he made his decision known to Mary and the story of how he reached his decision. They will not walk an easy road, but within the walls of their own house, they know the truth.
In the end, a very young, scared teenager does become Joseph’s wife. As they face the road together, she begins to change from the scared teenager to a young woman learning to be a wife and mother.