Mary, proto-disciple: A Lukan perspective

Kathleen Coyle, S.S.C.



There is very little about Mary in scripture.  Paul doesn't even mention her name.  Luke and Matthew mention her but it is mostly in the Infancy Narratives and these are meditations on Old Testament themes rather than historical accounts of the early life of Jesus.  The fourth gospel gives prominence to Mary.  However, this gospel, is a theological reflection rather than a narrative of historical events.  The Didache, the so-called teaching of the twelve apostles doesn't mention her either.  How then has the cult of Mary grown through the centuries?  Prayers, hymns, devotions and feasts have been composed in her honour.  Churches, cathedrals, religious orders, organizations and even holy years have been named after her. The persistent interest in Mary two thousand years after her death is not easily explained away. She is a woman of mysterious power who has remained significant down through the centuries when women themselves have had little power. Why did the Council decide not to write a Marian document and what does post-Vatican II theology have to say about Mary?  Why the Marian silence immediately after Vatican II? (This latter need not be understood as a negative comment; the council's primary focus was on ecclesiology and biblical scholarship).

At present we do not have a coherent theology of Mary.  There is strong evidence that she is still important in the imagination of Christians.  She is a religious symbol of enduring power in the Catholic tradition.  Yet she is an ambiguous symbol especially for women, for the passive virtues of submission, humility, and docility have been projected on to her.  Samuel Rayan remarks that traditional theology has presented a "dehydrated Mary."2 How then do we distinguish the real Mary of the gospels from the fictional Mary of some popular devotions?  How can we liberate her from some of the images into which she has been formed?  Like Tissa Balasuriya, the Sri Lankan Oblate, our aim is to search for a more meaningful Marian theology for our times.

This first paper Mary, Proto-Disciple: a Lukan Perspective, will offer a scriptural foundation for a theology of Mary.  It will focus on Mary's role in the Incarnation, paying special attention to the Annunciation and Magnificat narratives (Lk 1:26-38; 39-56).  The second paper Mary, the Embodiment of God's Love3 offers a historical perspective and will trace the development of mariology from the early centuries of the Christian tradition until our own times.  It hopes to show how the church has constantly turned to Mary to meet the ever changing demands of Christian discipleship.  The third and final paper The Marian Tradition: A Rereading--will study and critique the marian symbols and images that have communicated a deep symbolic truth through the centuries.  I will then focus briefly on the direction marian theology is taking today.  This direction calls for a new theology of God so that Mary can be seen in her proper context, a creature of God, sanctified and overshadowed by the Holy Spirit.

Mary Stands Between the Two Testaments

The term "kingdom of God" speaks of God's irruption into history to renew and to remake, and to finally redeem the world and of all humankind.4  It also includes the idea of the action of God  compassionately redeeming the peoples of history.  Its proclamation is the central message of Jesus' preaching.   In Jesus, the compassionate action of God is present for us in history, God's glory is revealed, and God's will is done.  In Jesus who lived a life of divine justice, the kingdom of God was revealed and his continuing empowering presence is a reminder to us that the kingdom is about living justly in world of injustice; and justice is always about bodies and lives.5  It is in this context of the kingdom of God that we try to understand the images Mary has assumed in scripture as well as in the long history of the Christian tradition.

The third gospel whose author is popularly known as Luke is usually dated around 85 C.E. This would indicate that his message is addressed to third generation Christians.  Luke himself, though not necessarily a Greek, is most probably a Gentile convert who came to know about Jesus at Antioch in Syria where he tells us the term "Christian" was first used (Acts 11:26).  His gospel is studied together with its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, which shows how Jesus' followers continued his message and mission in the churches which were first formed in Judea, then Samaria and throughout the Mediterranean world. The foundation of Luke's portrayal of Mary as model disciple is laid in his gospel's infancy narrative. In James McAuley's poem recited at the Conference's opening liturgy we see Mary whose life:

... is threaded thro'
Luke's woven cloth so finely
That the eye must prick the weave
To catch its gold meander

This paper hopes 'to prick the weave' and 'catch the gold meander.'  Luke gives enough information about her to form a definite portrait and allows her to speak for herself.  His annunciation story is a message of revelation  phrased in post-resurrection language.

In the Acts of the Apostles Luke places Mary with Jesus' followers in the upper room in Jerusalem praying and awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit with the rest of the post-Easter community: "All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers." (1:14). Before the risen Christ "withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven" (Lk 24:51), he said to his disciples: "And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay in the city, until you have been clothed with power from on high" (Lk 24:49).  And in Acts 1:14 we find Mary with the members of the Jerusalem community, gathered together and awaiting this "power from on high," the gift of the promised Spirit at Pentecost.  For Luke this last appearance of Mary in the New Testament after the death of Jesus is important.  It was at Pentecost that the Spirit descended upon them, inspiring boldness to preach the gospel, thus initiating a movement that would witness to Jesus' message of unselfish love.  A commitment to this Jesus movement meant centring one's life in Christ and his mysteries, and choosing the values of God's kingdom, for which he lived and died. Mary is the figure standing between the two testaments, sharing and savoring the new liberating experience of her Son's movement, which offers equal discipleship to men and women.

Together with the other women at the church's beginnings, she is the bearer of a new hope, she is the representative of the people of Israel, the symbol of faithful Sion. Equally, she is the bearer of the new Israel, the new people, the new covenant God made with humanity.6

Mary's Cooperation in the Mystery of the Incarnation (Lk 1: 26-38)

The pattern of the angel's announcement of the birth of Jesus has clear antecedents in the births of Isaac and Samson.  It is probable that this tradition was already in the community before Luke wrote the birth narrative.  The angelic message in Lk 1:26-35 is a rephrasing of the Old Testament promise of Nathan to the House of David (II Sam 7:8-16). The angel's words to Mary re-echo what the early church has said about Jesus after his resurrection. Raymond Brown points out that the angel's message, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy, he will be called Son of God" (Lk 1:35) is an application to Jesus' conception of statements that Christians had already applied to his resurrection, "He was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead" (Rom 1:4).7

Mary responds to the news of Jesus' conception with the words: "Here I am, the servant of the Lord, be it done with me according to your word" (Lk 1:38).  To appreciate Luke's message, we have to see it in the context of another Lukan passage, Lk 8:19-21. This passage is a positive interpretation by Luke of the Markan account in Mk 3:31-35 where Jesus' mother and brothers are calling for him.  "Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd.  And he was told, 'Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.'  But he said to them, 'My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it'" (Lk 8:19-21).  Raymond Brown proposes that these words are a careful Lukan composition from earlier material.  In the Annunciation story Luke simply transposes these words to the first person and affirms that Jesus' mother heard the word of God and did it.  He affirms that Jesus' mother heard the word of God and gave her faithful response to that word during her life.  What was unique in Mary was her hearing the word of God and keeping it.  In the words: "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it" (v. 21), Luke shows that what Mary does at this moment is consistent with her lifelong courageous faith and strength of commitment.

A Message of Empowerment

Mary's response to the angel was "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be done with me according to your word" (Lk 1:38).  Identifying Mary as the handmaid, or servant of the Lord (Lk 1:38) would have struck a cord with those who were familiar with the story of the Isaian servant, to whom Yahweh's own Spirit had been given, and who was called to establish justice on earth (Is 42:1).  Even the far-off coastlands await his teaching.  Mary must have reflected on the fact that the servant's life, having been spent bringing justice to the nations, culminated in a love unto suffering and death.  After Jesus' death and resurrection she would have known how the early church had come to understand Jesus as Yahweh's servant (Acts 3:13, 26).

However, Mary's response often has been unfortunately interpreted as an unreflective reaction to the message of the angel, a passive submission to the will of God, or a childish dependence on God's initiative.  Mary, sweet, submissive, silent and subordinate has been praised for living at less than full capacity: "I will do whatever you say!"  Her reply often has been understood as a passive dependence on God's initiative and has been held up as a model of holiness especially for women.  Mariology with a liberation perspective takes a fresh look at Mary from the viewpoint of our own time and needs. Mary is remembered prophetically and a rereading of the Marian texts focuses not on the chronicle of events but on their significance for us today. The rereading is fresh with new meanings.8  It challenges women to become conscious of their oppression and of their conniving submission over the centuries to oppressive religious and social structures. By contrast, Joan Chittister remarks that what we need are not the ecclesiastically docile or the morally flawless, but models of people who fire the soul of their culture, swim against it and offer resistance where it is needed.9  That is not how Mary has often been presented. The problem Chittister says is that "the bland, the safe and the compliant (has become) in large part, the stuff of sanctity."10 Traditional images of Mary as timid and taking directions from others have become "the stuff of sanctity" and have often been used as tools to legitimate rather than challenge women's subordination and to keep them oppressed.  The Mary of the annunciation story, however, is not paralysed by timidity.  Anne Carr challenges this androcentric bias: "Thus her theological portrayal as one who is completely passive, obedient... is unacceptable today.  Rather we must say that Mary, like the other disciples, received faith in the active obedience that is the receptivity of Christian faith."11

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you (1.35)." God's Spirit comes on Mary as it did upon the community in Acts as an "overshadowing" cloud; an image that points to God's presence, God's Shekinah.  According to Luke, what was experienced as the Spirit's overpowering in the upper room in Jerusalem had already begun thirty years earlier in Nazareth.  "As long as 'the power of the Most High' is not "enfleshed" in the frailty, transitoriness and concreteness of human history it is in exile."12  Mary allows herself to be moved by the "power of the Most High" that wants to be the living breath in all flesh (cf Num 27:16).13  And it was 'the power of the Most High,' the Spirit that preserved her radically from sin down to the roots of her existence.

The annunciation story therefore is not about acquiescence but about empowerment.  It is about a young woman in a patriarchal society carrying and bringing her child into the world: "the Lord is with you . . . you have found favour with God, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son. . . the Son of the Most High . . . and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Lk 1:28-33).  It is not a story about a passively perfect woman, overwhelmed by divine duty, but about a "self-possessed, self-focused and self-conscious"14 poor woman who finds favor with God and is willing to cooperate with a wild plan of salvation.  It is about a woman strong enough to risk believing something incredible about herself - "the Lord is with you."  She must be envisioned then as an autonomous person, responsive and receptive, courageous and creative, intelligent and apostolic.  An exegesis of the Lukan texts leaves no room for an escape into immature piety.  It gives Mary back her concrete history.  She cannot be separated from those women and men who placed their hope in Jesus and whose journey ended at the foot of the cross.

The story of the annunciation is often told as if Mary was suddenly surprised by the angel's visit.  The overshadowing of God's presence, the Shekinah and God's Spirit on this occasion, is more likely the culmination of Mary's constant fidelity to the grace of the Holy Spirit.  Finally the Spirit leads her to her consent to the Incarnation, which came to fruition in her giving birth to Jesus. This is the fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham and Sarah.  God is no longer to be sought in the clouds as the men of Galilee thought (Acts 1:10), but here in the flesh, in a birth, in a grave, in the daily encounters of women and men.  In Mary's co-operation with God's plan of salvation, God's compassion becomes flesh in our world. She has made possible this union of God in Christ with all of humankind in the incarnation.  Therefore, no area of human existence, whether physiological or psychological is left untouched or unaffected by God's grace.

Ivone Gebara and Maria Bingemer say the incarnation "is the beginning, of a new state of things in which God takes human flesh and a human face within history, in the midst of a people, of which the woman Mary is the faithful figure.15  Jesus' birth in history is the salvific event which enables all, both Jew and Gentile to become heirs of that inheritance promised to Abraham. From the moment God's word took flesh in Mary, human beings have become God's dwelling place on earth.  The figure of a Jewish woman giving birth to the Messiah under the law of Judaism is the sign that God's kingdom has arrived.  Because the word has become a human person, all of reality is touched by Christ's presence. And Mary by her consent at the incarnation has made this mystery possible. Sebastian Moore states it succinctly, "The Word is made flesh.  The Flesh is the Mother's.  The Mother is willing.  That says it all.16

The Incarnation, the Central Axis of History

The mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God is the central axis of history and it is Mary who forms of her own flesh and blood, "the flesh and blood that will be recognized as the person of God's very self walking on the paths of history."17  Sally Cuneen sees her as the woman at the center of the mystery linking God to life on our planet.18  Mary collaborated decisively, and her choice not only changed the whole of her life, but that of humanity as well because the incarnation celebrates the union of the divine and the human in Jesus.  The significance of the incarnation extends beyond our salvation and our history.  It extends back to the origin of time, to the origins of the universe which has been weaving itself into a world of beauty for 15 billion years. Scientific knowledge tells us that the evolutionary journey of the cosmos that began with that initial burst of energy has culminated in a human person.  And God in Jesus Christ has become a human person.  This Jesus, the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being (Heb 1:3), is the meeting place of heaven and earth.  But Jesus did not enter a vacuum.  Millions of years before he entered history God's divine indwelling was already present in the universe.  Gradually as he came to realize that he and the divine indwelling are one, he opened up a whole new understanding of human destiny. This was an extraordinary breakthrough for the universe and for all of us.

Belief in the mystery of the incarnation challenges us to give our energized response to the gospel and to give birth to God by allowing all that is within us to be fully alive.  Such contemplative realization of God's presence to us, helps us appreciate that we are living in the mystery of God. An experience of mystery does not lead to a withdrawal from the world but rather challenges us as it did Mary towards participation in the work of bringing about the kingdom of God and making the union of God in Christ with all of humankind a reality in our world.  We are not "poor banished children of Eve."  We have been made divine and we are bound together in our origin and in our destiny for what happened to Jesus of Nazareth has happened to all of us.  Although she did not always understand Jesus' mission, like the wise scribe she ponders (see Sir 39:1-3) and treasures all these things in her heart (Lk 2:51), in the core and depth of her being (Lk 2:19).  She is profoundly and reflectively involved in the interpretation of the incarnation event. She speaks to us of divinity present in humanity, of the Word that continually becomes flesh in human flesh, the flesh of men and women.  She calls us to be strong and creative in our responses to the sacred potentialities of life.  She is open to salvation and responds to it, committed to the saving work of God made manifest in Jesus. She accompanies him and his father Joseph to the feasts in Jerusalem.  Again she follows him to Capernaum when his opponents and some of his relatives believed he was out of his mind (Mk 3:31; Lk 8:19) and she must have been also aware of the conflict between him and his relatives and neighbours long before it climaxed in the confrontation in Nazareth (Lk 4:28-30).

In his early writings Edward Schillebeeckx emphasized Mary's role in rearing and educating Jesus:

His human qualities and character were formed and influenced by his mother's virtues . . . Mary's function in the Incarnation was not completed when Jesus was born.  It was a continuous task, involving the human formation of the young man, as he grew up from infancy to childhood and from childhood to adulthood.19

Mary's Magnificat: Lk 1: 46-55

Luke found it fitting to attribute the Magnificat to Mary because she provided a compelling model of discipleship for his community. He portrays her as a woman of action, leaving at once to visit her cousin Elizabeth. This pericope is commonly called the "'visitation" for it describes the meeting of two women who share the grace of being pregnant with children who will have special missions in God's plan of salvation.  This is probably one of he most exciting meetings in all of salvation history.  It is the only scene in the entire gospel where two women meet and hold center stage.20  A little imagination will help to fill out the details of Luke's summary of events. We need not imagine Mary bursting forth in prophetic praise as she finally arrived breathless and weary on Elizabeth's doorstep.  It is more probable that after an animated welcome and the initial excitement of meeting, Elizabeth would sensibly have offered her pregnant and road-weary cousin a meal and a bed.  Mary's haste and Elizabeth's loud cry of praise show the exuberant joy of these two expectant mothers.  Both women must have been very conscious of the part they were playing in the history of salvation: Mary preparing to give birth to the Messiah, Elizabeth to the prophet who would prepare the way for that same Messiah. In the ensuing weeks both women would have shared their pregnancy experiences and supported each other's journeys in faith as well as their concerns for Israel. The tradition of Luke's community recalled the meeting of these two women who had heard the word of God and continued to keep it.

As Mary and Elizabeth grew together in intimacy with their God and in inexhaustible compassion for their people, we can imagine that at a heightened moment of prayer, Mary would have made her own the sentiments and concerns of Hannah after the birth of Samuel (1Sam 2:1-10), and sang of these in grateful song.  Luke captures these sentiments for us in the Magnificat which he places as a prelude to Jesus' announcement of his own mission to liberate the poor and marginalized (Lk 4:18-19).  Like the prophet Miriam (Exod 15:20-21), Mary sang a victory song in praise of God's awesome accomplishments.  Unfortunately, centuries of rote recitation have obscured the boldness of its affirmations and its social implications.  The prophetic message of the Magnificat characterizes God's coming as compassion, the fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham and Sarah.  It demands faith and Luke tells us that Mary believed "that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord" (Lk 1:45).  Speaking for the anawim, Mary sings a song of the oppressed in which she and Elizabeth express their concerns for the Israel of their day. They offer a perspective for perseverance and set a definite agenda of what has to change: the world must be turned upside down.  In prayer Mary and Elizabeth expressed their hope of changing the unjust structures of their society.  This could only be achieved by putting down the powerful, raising up the lowly, the poor and the marginalized of their world, and filling the hungry with good things (Lk 1:52-53).  Herman Hendrickx suggests that keeping Luke's audience in mind, he was most likely referring to the urban poor of the city where his community was situated.21  They now become the recipients of Jesus' good news.

Scholars agree that the Magnificat is a pre-Lukan hymn into which Luke inserts v. 48: "for he has looked with favour on the lowliness (tapeinosin) of his servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed."  Helen Graham says thetapeinoi are those without hope, without a foreseeable future.22  She adds that L.T. Forestall pointed out over thirty-five years ago that tapeinosis is central to an understanding of the Magnificat.23 The tapeinoi are the lowly, the sick, the poor, the downtrodden, the widows and orphans, but God looked upon their distress and misery and "lifted them up."  The word appears again in v 52b:

He has brought down the 
powerful from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly (NRSV)

Raymond Brown adds:

Luke's peculiar and emphatic castigation of wealth (6:24-26;12:19-20; 16:25; 21:1-4) points to the existence of many poor in the communities to be served by Luke's gospel.  And so vv 51-53 of the Magnificat would resonate among such groups; for them the Christian good news meant that the ultimately blessed were not the mighty and the rich who tyrannized them.24

Verse 48 of the Magnificat "for he has looked with favor on the lowliness(tapeinosin) of his servant," clearly harks back to 2 Sam 1-10. This verse evokes the image of Hannah in 1Sam1:11 praying for a son where tapeinosis translates the Hebrew 'oni (which carries the meaning of poor, humble, afflicted) and also alludes to Leah (Gen 29-30), who also experienced  harassment from a second wife (her maid Zilpah who bore Jacob a son), and who now celebrates the occasion of the birth of her own son (Gen 30:132).25

He raises up the lowly from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princess
and inherit a seat of honor. (2 Sam. 2:8)

Hannah the barren and oppressed woman gives birth to Samuel.  Her natural distress at being childless is intensified by the provocation of Peninah, Elkanah's other wife who has had several sons and daughters and who ridiculed Hannah for being childless.  When Luke wants to offer the poor, the sick, the widows and orphans, the oppressed of his community a message of hope he chooses the song of Hannah in 1 Sam 2:1-10 as a model.

The Magnificat:  A Text that Lingers, a Word that Explodes

Walter Brueggemann in a very creative and imaginative article entitled Texts that Linger, Words that Explode26 explains that in the moment a scriptural text is spoken by the speaker (reader) and received by the listener in different times and communities, that text lingers on through time and erupts into new usage.  The text is "recharged" with fresh meanings by successive readings. When it is reflected upon and spoken again it becomes a moment of revelation.  It is in the intimate relationship between the text and the reader where the timeless word appears, bearing with it revelation for the day.27  Its meaning is explored from the perspective of new situations and it discloses, Brueggemann says "something about that moment that would, without this utterance, not be known, seen, heard, or made available"28 Brueggemann emphasizes that when the scriptural message is re-uttered and the community comes to know or receive it afresh, "the present is freshly illuminated, reality is irreversibly transformed."29  The Magnificat is an excellent illustration of the lingering of a treasured tradition which is reflected upon and "recharged" with fresh meanings,30 and explodes into new usage in different historical contexts. The song of praise that was spoken by Hannah erupted with new usage and remarkable imagination as it was spoken again to, the poor and afflicted, the anawim of Luke's community.

Mary's Magnificat: A Text that Lingers, a Word that Explodes Again Today

The message of liberation lingers on in the words of the Magnificat which has become a symbol of liberation for the peoples of Latin America.  It erupts with new meaning to offer hope to the marginalized poor who live in degrading poverty.  Pope John Paul II addressing the scandalous reality of poverty at the Puebla Conference adds:

Mary is also our model, as faithful handmaid of the will of God, of those who refuse passively to accept the adverse circumstances of their personal and social life, who refuse to be victims of "alienation". . . but who proclaim with her that God is the "avenger of the lowly," and if need be "pulls down the mighty from their thrones" - to use the words of the Magnificat once more.31

In this context Gustavo Gutierrez advises that a spirituality of liberation will have as its basis the spirituality of the anawim.32 When read amid such suffering, the song of the Magnificat explodes with fresh meaning.  As we approach the end of this millennium the Magnificat lingers on and explodes anew with a challenging message for us who are caught in the web of the present economic system.33  It explodes amid the efforts of communities and movements to redefine themselves in the face of globalization; amid the horrors of constantly reopened wounds in such places as Rwanda, the Sudan and the former Yugoslavia.  It explodes amid the uprootedness of twenty million political refugees, a churning of peoples and cultures unprecedented in world history.  Rosemary Haughton reminds us that we are "enmeshed in and dependent on the evil systems that feed us, educate us, and even subsidize our efforts to mitigate their destructive effects."34  The historical figure of Mary must always enter into dialogue with the time, space, culture, problems, and actual people who relate to her. "It is life today that gives life to Mary's life yesterday."35 She speaks to us of God and the kingdom in words that explode with new meaning.

Incarnational spirituality requires that we ask ourselves what embodied holiness might consist of in the specific, concrete circumstances of our lives and how we like Hannah, Mary and Elizabeth might re-embody in particular times and places the love and justice of God.  It is in the midst of today's present, depressing realities that Mary's prophetic voice needs to be heard in our world.  If we want to set people free from the power of sin and death, we too like Mary must work to bring down the powerful from their thrones and lift up the lowly (Lk1:52). To do this we need to understand the present structures of the "mammon economy"36 that dominate people's lives. 

The Mammon Economy

How can we love God in a world dominated by mammon is the life and death question for most people on this planet and the planet itself.  Franz Hinkelammert argues that since the downfall of socialism in 1989/1990 capitalism has become a one-world system.37  In this system the first world needs the resources of the so-called third world, but not its people.38  There is a world-wide split between a more or less small upper class profiting from the world market, a vast majority of impoverished and excluded people and a middle class, most of whom are losing out more and more. A homogeneous culture of consumerism and love of money is created by which people define themselves and choose their life styles.  Hinkelammert argues that within the structures of globalized capital markets growth is killing jobs.39  There is a need therefore to analyse the globalized market system.  Walden Bello, the Philippine economist remarks:

Since the 80s the G-7 countries with their dominating voting power in the undemocratic IMF, World Bank and GATT pushed the whole world more and more into the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) which mean money stability for the capital owners and social degradation for the working and socially dependent majorities.40 
Yet, Michel Camdessus, the general director of the IMF dares to tell us that the IMF creates the wealth to help the poor.  In co-opting liberation theology language to promote the contrary  he argues that the market is the main instrument to establish the kingdom of God! 41

When Mary consented to the incarnation she was willing to cooperate with God's wild plan of salvation.  She collaborated decisively and her choice not only changed the whole of her life but that of humanity as well.  In the midst of today's "mammon economy" with its global structures of oppression we too need to be responsive and receptive, courageous and creative.  Like the handmaid or servant of the Lord (Lk 1:38) and like the Isaian servant of Isaiah 42 whom she would have pondered in prayer, we too are called to establish justice on earth.  And our lives having been spent in bringing justice to the nations, may one day culminate like that of the servant of Yahweh in suffering and death.  The invitation to hear the Word of God and live out that Word in compassionate action is as urgent today as it was in first century Galilee (Lk 1:38).  The call to bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly lingers on and explodes with new meaning amid the unjust structures of our world.  This can only be achieved by raising up the lowly and the marginalized, the "surplus people"42 of our world.

Celebrating of the Incarnation in the Liturgy

Mary, having lived in history now lives in God. Her veneration in the Byzantine tradition is embodied almost entirely in the liturgy.  In Eastern Christianity liturgy is not seen as an action of the community.  It is the procession or entrance into the eschatological reality of the kingdom of God.  It is the meeting place between this world and the kingdom of God fully realized.  Worship is not the commemoration of a past event; it is a participation in the events of salvation themselves, because although these occurred historically they also occur outside the category of time, in time beyond time.  There is really no time gap.  Jesus' redeeming act and one's being redeemed are going on together now - this day, this hour, this minute.  Mary's response at the Incarnation and her singing the Magnificat song are contemporaneous with us today.  When we pray with the church we are not merely praying to recall an event; we are living the dynamics of the event that recognizes the presence of the Lord in these events.  The Byzantine church contemplates Mary within the mystery of the Incarnation.  The Church preaches Christ not Mary, but communion with Christ reveals Mary as the joy within the church, the joy within creation.  The treasured Marian tradition of Luke's infancy narratives lingers on. The angel's message, intended for all the lowly and the miserable and first proclaimed to Mary at the annunciation, and the prophetic song of her Magnificat, anticipating the gospel proclamation of the reversal of all values, explode with ever greater urgency today as we try to form a community that pours itself out for justice, peace and the integrity of creation.



  1. The first of three talks given at the Marian Conference, "Mary for the Third Millennium," St. Joseph's College, Hunter's Hill, Sydney, September 1998.
  2. Samuel Rayan, "In Defence of Balasuriya," The Tablet, November 1, 1997, 1394.
  3. This paper and the third one will be published respectively in the East Asian Pastoral Review Vol. XXXV, no. 3 and 4.
  4. Norman Perrin, The New Testament: An Introduction (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1974),  289-291.
  5. John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately after the Execution of Jesus (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), xxx.
  6. Ivone Gebara and Maria Clara Bingemer, "Mary," Systematic Theology: Perspectives from Liberation Theology, Readings from Mysterium Liberationis, eds. Juan Luis Segundo and Ignacio Ellacuria (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1993), 168.
  7. Raymond Brown, Crises Facing the Church (London: Dartman, Longman & Todd Ltd, 1975), 92.
  8. J. Severino Croatto, Exodus: A Hermeneutics of Freedom (New York: Orbis Books, 1981), 14.
  9. Joan Chittister, "Saints for Today," The Tablet, 1 November, 1997, 1397-1398.
  10. ibid. 1397.
  11. Anne Carr, "Mary, Model of Faith," in Mary, Woman of Nazareth: Biblical & Theological Perspectives, ed. Doris Donnelly       (New York: Paulist Press, 1989), 104.
  12. Marie-Louise Gubler, "Luke's Portrait of Mary," Theology Digest (Spring, 1989), 36: 1.
  13. ibid.
  14. Patricia Wilson-Kastner, Faith, Feminism and the Christ (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 123.
  15. Gebara and Bingemer, Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Poor (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1989), 55.
  16. Cited in Cuneen, 289.
  17. ibid., 56.
  18. Sally Cuneen, In Search of Mary: The Woman and the Symbol (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996),  337-338. 
  19. Edward Schillebeeckx, Mary, Mother of the Redemption, tr. N. D. Smith (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1964), 144-145.
  20. Donald Senior, "Gospel Portrait of Mary," in Mary Woman of Nazareth, 104.
  21. Herman Hendrickx,  A Key to the Gospel of Luke (Quezon City, Philippines: MST/Claretian Publications, 1992), 35.
  22. Helen Graham, Mary of Nazareth: Spokesperson of the Anawim in the Gospel of Luke, unpublished paper, (Manila, 1993), 1.
  23. J.T. Forestall, "Old Testament Background of the Magnificat," Marian Studies 12 (1961), 211.  Cited in Graham, 1.
  24. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah (New York: Image Books, 1979), 351.
  25. Graham, 2.
  26. Walter Brueggemann, "Texts that Linger, Words that Explode," Theology Today, Vol 54, No 2, July, 1997, 180-199.
  27. Bill Moyers, Genesis: A Living Conversation (New York: Doubleday, 1996), xv.
  28. Brueggemann, 180.
  29. i bid.
  30. Croatto, 14.
  31. Official Conclusions of the Third General Conference of Latin  American Bishops, Puebla, Philippine Edition, (Manila, 1979), #1144.
  32. Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1973), 208.
  33. Robert Schreiter, "Reconciliation as a Model of Mission," New Theology Review, Vol 10, No 2, (May 1997): 7.
  34. Rosemary Haughton, Lecture given at the Liturgy and SocialJustice Forum, St. John's University, Collegville, Minnesota (July, 1991).
  35. Gebara and Bingemer, 166.
  36. Ulrich Duchrow, "God or Mammon: Economics in Conflict," Mission Studies, Vol XIII-1&2, (1996): 33.
  37. Franz Hinkelammert, "Changes in the Relationships between Third World Countries and First World Countries," Mission Studies, Vol XII-2, (1995): 133ff.
  38. Hinkelammert, cited in Duchrow, 33.
  39. ibid., 35.
  40. Walden Bello, Dark Victory: The United States, Structural Adjustment and Global Policy (Boulder, Colarado: Pluto Press), 1993, cited in Duchrow.
  41. Cited in Duchrow, 40
  42. Brueggemann, 186.