May 9, 2020

Mary the Mother of Jesus

In the first chapter of Matthew, we read of the genealogy of Jesus Christ including five mothers who each played a critical role in continuing the bloodline of the Savior, but most significant is the literal mother of the Savior, Mary. We are introduced to her before Christ is born, learn of her tender experiences with Him during His life and ministry, and discover she was a witness of His death and a disciple after His ascension to the Father. Only Mary, the mother of Jesus, can claim to be such a unique witness of the Messiah.

Her lifelong example of faith has been revered and respected by Christians and Muslims alike. Mary is mentioned in the New Testament, the Quran (19:16-35), the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 11:14-20; Mosiah 3:8; Alma 7:10), and many other writings. As we study her story and consider the historical background of life in Israel, we can gain insights into the mother who gave birth to the One who gave all of us life.

The genealogy of Jesus given in the New Testament tells us that Joseph, the one betrothed to Mary, descended from King David within the tribe of Judah (see Matthew 1:17). Since it was common to marry within the family line, Mary most likely shared this lineage as well. Additionally, her relative Elizabeth descended from Aaron (see Luke 1:5), the first Levite high priest—possibly making Jesus’ lineage from both a priest and a king.

Mary was probably born in Nazareth, a small village west of the Sea of Galilee. According to ancient Jewish tradition, young women were usually betrothed by the time they were about 12 or 13. When Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel, she likely would have been near that same age. [1] The heavenly messenger tells Mary she is highly favored and blessed among women. He tells her she will conceive a son.

Mary’s response to this incredible news shows great humility. Unlike Zecharias, the father of John the Baptist, who expressed doubt when told that his wife was with child (see Luke 1:18), she inquires sincerely, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34). She is not asking for proof, but simply for understanding. Gabriel answers her question and then responds by saying, “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37).

What happens next can serve as a foreshadowing of what would happen years later on the cross—ultimate submission to the will of the Father. “And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38). And like her son, her willingness to do what is required by her Father in Heaven is not without painful consequences.

When a man is betrothed to a woman, if at any time before the wedding feast the bride is discovered to be pregnant, the groom has two options. First, according to the law, he can divorce her publicly bringing charges against her. If found guilty she would then be stoned. Or he can divorce her privately. For the remainder of her life she would then be known as a mother who conceived out of wedlock. Either of these fates is what seemingly awaits young Mary. Amazingly, she humbly agrees to carry the Son of God.

When Joseph learns that Mary is with child, he considers divorcing her privately. He too is visited by an angel and told to take Mary as his wife.

The story of Jesus’ birth is known as one of the greatest stories ever told. However from Mary’s perspective, the story could be described as anything but great. She was a young recently wed bride far from home giving birth in what most likely was a cave. Despite these humble circumstances, she knew the significance of these events and “pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

To obey the law, 40 days after Christ’s birth, Joseph and Mary went to the temple to make their humble sacrifice of two turtle doves as they did not have enough money for a lamb. It is there they meet Simeon, a devout, faithful man who has waited his entire life to see the Messiah. He takes this newborn baby in his arms and gives a heart wrenching prophecy to the new mother. “Behold this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,)” (Luke 2:35). Looking at her precious baby not even two months old, how could she imagine what pain awaited both Him and her as His mother?

When Jesus is 12 years old, we read an account that must have been terrifying for Mary. In a heavily crowded Jerusalem during Passover, she experiences one of the greatest fears for every mother, even today. She can’t find her son. Joseph and Mary have traveled an entire day before she realizes that Jesus is not with the group as she had supposed. For what must have been three harrowing days, she frantically searches to find the One whom the Father has trusted to her care. Finally she discovers that He had lingered at the temple teaching the learned. Mothers know the mixed emotions that can arise when a lost child is finally found, both anger and relief bubble to the surface. “…and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:48-49). And even though she did not understand His words, she kept His “sayings in her heart” (Luke 2:51).

Sadly, this would not be the only loss Mary would experience, for this is the last time Joseph appears in the scriptures. At some point Mary becomes a widow, left to raise her family as a single mother.

While we don’t know much about Jesus’ upbringing, we do know Mary had more children, at least four sons, James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon, and at least two daughters. Apparently, these brothers did not see Jesus as the Messiah for they mocked Him. It wasn’t until His death and resurrection that they too became followers of Christ. How difficult it must have been for Mary to have such discord in the family, yet she was able to keep her own faith while raising non-believers in her own home.

Before Jesus officially begins His ministry, along with Mary, He attended a wedding in Cana of Galilee. When the host of the wedding feast has need of wine, Mary asks her son to perform a miracle. In today’s world, what Jesus calls his mother might seem odd or even derogatory when translated from Greek into English. He calls her Woman. This is the same word translated from Hebrew when referring to Eve. Just as Eve is the mother of all living, Mary is the mother of He who has made a way for eternal life. After Jesus agrees to perform the miracle, Mary gives the servants counsel that we would be wise to follow, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” (see John 2:5).

When Christ is crucified, Mary stands at His feet. She is a witness to the painful prophecy given over 30 years earlier by Simeon—now proven to be true. As she sees the piercing of her son, she must have felt as if a sword was also piercing her very own soul. Again we see Christ’s devotion to Mary, even while in the midst of great agony. He calls her by the same name He had before his ministry began, “Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold they mother!” (John 19:26-27). Though Christ is suffering, He wants to ensure that His mother will be cared for, just as she had cared for Him from the very beginning of His life.

The life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, serves as a poignant example for all of us today.

Mary humbly submitted believing that with God nothing shall be impossible. At times we too must choose to do what the Lord would have us do, despite what consequences might follow. Mary did not give birth to the Savior in ideal circumstances. We experience disappointment whenever we find ourselves in our own “caves.” Yet we can stay focused on the miracles around us and ponder them in our hearts.

Mary continued pressing forward with courage, hope, and faith despite a perilous future before her. We too can rise to whatever hardships await us. When Mary experienced a frightful loss, she listened to the words of the Savior. All of us have likewise experienced pain and fear, whether through our own fault or the actions of others, but we can keep the words of the Savior in our heart. Mary’s faith that Christ can perform miracles served as an example to the servants. We can encourage those around us to follow Christ and listen to his words.

Even as a single mother, Mary strived to keep her family together. We may find ourselves in a family whose faith is not the same as ours. This does not mean we reject them, even though they may have rejected us. Mary was asked to do the unthinkable—witness the crucifixion of her own son. We are also sometimes asked to experience the unimaginable, but as we keep our eyes focused on Christ, we will find the strength to endure.

Mary saw Christ open His eyes for the first time and close them for the last time as a mortal on earth. Her faith and desire to do the will of the Father never wavered throughout her life. How blessed we are that a young Mary, chosen to be the mother of the Messiah said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.”

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack

[1] As there always is a debate on the age of Mary, here are a few notes regarding the age of betrothal for women in the Bible. The Midrash and Talmud both state that young men were married by the age of eighteen and girls by the time they were thirteen (Midrash, Aboth 5:21 and Talmud, Pesachim 113). "For the other parameter, age at marriage, no real statistics exist for ancient Israel.... In Egypt, girls were married between twelve and fourteen; boys, between fourteen and twenty." (Life in Biblical Israel, page 37). "The consent (betrothal), usually entered into when the girl was between twelve and thirteen years old" (The Birth of the Messiah by Raymond E. Brown, page 123). "The earliest age for marriage, which typically follows betrothal by a year, is twelve years and a day [meaning betrothal could be at the age of 11]." (BYU New Testament Commentary, The Testimony of Luke by S. Kent Brown, page 107). "According to ancient Jewish custom, Mary could have been betrothed at about 12." (Wikipedia, Mary, mother of Jesus)

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