Mary's heart, mind in harmony with God

  • July 28, 2010
Assumption of Mary (Year C) Aug. 15 (Revelation 11:19; 12:1-6, 10; Psalm 45; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26; Luke 1:39-56)

The Book of Revelation should not be read before bedtime. We are subjected to a steady flow of terrifying beasts, plagues, rivers of blood and warfare on a cosmic scale plus enigmatic celestial liturgies. It seems far removed from the moving and uplifting teachings of the peaceful and gentle rabbi of the Sermon on the Mount. And in the wrong hands this book can be dangerous indeed, for over the centuries it has been the fuel for many apocalyptic movements and an incredible amount of violence.

But the book must be understood in a symbolic sense — it is not a preview of the end of the world or a call to arms. It was meant as encouragement to Christian believers living in the belly of the beast, the Roman Empire. The negative images represent the empire and all of its pretensions — its divinized emperor and control over every aspect of the lives of its subjects. The woman clothed with the sun is in the midst of the agonies of child birth, an image used repeatedly in the New Testament to symbolize the birth of the new age inaugurated by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The birth of something new and wonderful cannot be accomplished without pain and travail, but it is followed by joy and new life. But the old order is always fearful and threatened by the birth of the new and it strikes back in fury and fear. The woman’s son is nearly devoured by the dragon representing earthly powers that are opposed to God. Mother and son must be spirited away to safety for the plan of God will not be thwarted. In the end of course the woman’s son is victorious as are all who follow him.

The drama of Revelation is meant to demythologize all earthly powers. None of them is invincible and eventually all must submit to God who is the only legitimate authority. Empires, kingdoms and totalitarian regimes of all varieties have boasted of unbridled power and thousand-year reigns but most lie in the dust and debris of history.

Paul is writing to his community in Corinth to assure them that the delay in the return of Jesus is for a reason — the work is not finished. Jesus is engaged in the clean-up work of subduing the earthly powers opposed to God. The world that He returns to God the Father must be one completely reconciled to God, containing not even a pocket of opposition or resistance. But the last “enemy” is death and humans do not have the power to resist or overcome it — that is the job of Christ. Death in this case does not refer to biological death, obviously, but a state of separation from God and enslavement to sin. Paul insists that until the entire process is complete it is even more imperative that we lead upright and godly lives and engage in the continuing work of creating a just and peaceful world that is conformed to God.

Mary was attuned to this divine work on our behalf and was one who yearned for a just world. She recognized that the movement of God into the world is always accompanied by upheaval and change and she celebrated that in her Magnificat. She praises the God who topples the high and mighty from their thrones and strips them of their power as well as empowering the weak and the marginalized. There is also praise for the One who ensures a just distribution of the necessities of life and fills the hungry with good things. Throughout Luke’s Gospel the visitation of God results in a social reversal — the last are first and the first last. The status quo has no place in the new age that is dawning.

Throughout this drama Mary remains one whose heart and mind are in harmony with God, so much so that in a manner similar to Enoch and Elijah she is taken up into heaven and her name honoured for all generations. The divine drama of restoring the world to God continues in our own time and much is at stake. Rather than spectators, let us be those who take an active role in God’s cause.