Last year Jenn shared with you an article about Rebekah which had been presented at one of her Australian New Church Women’s Weekends. This November, in preparation for Christmas, they looked at Mary, Jesus’ mother. Below is a condensation of what was presented; it’s still long, but hopefully informative and enjoyable. It might be helpful to read the gospels to familiarise yourself with the different parts of the story as it is presented in the Bible.
Mary is a well-known character from the Bible, because she was the earthly mother of our Lord, Jesus Christ – the cornerstone of our entire religion. Although she’s referred to earlier, in the prophecies about the virgin birth, she is named for the first time in the genealogy of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew where we read that “Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah”. All we really learn about Mary from the Bible pertains to the conception and life of Jesus, in which she is mostly on the periphery – except for in the Annunciation, when the angel tells her and she accepts that she will bear a son. Little known to people in the New Church, however, there are books that deal more with the pre-Jesus Mary and tell more about her life during His, and afterward. These are the apocrypha, biblical books received by the early church as part of the Greek version of the Old Testament, but which were not included in the Hebrew Bible that we use. They are not considered divinely inspired but are regarded by some as worthy of study by the faithful as ‘useful for instruction’ – although by others as ‘quite unreliable, sometimes childish and fantastic’.
In these writings we learn about Mary’s parents and her own immaculate conception (meaning that she was conceived in the usual way but without any sin whatsoever; in fact, many believe that she was perpetually a virgin and completely without sin, throughout her life), about the fourteen steps she took at the age of only six months, her presentation at the temple as a young girl, her betrothal to Joseph as a young woman, additional details about the Annunciation and the birth of Jesus in a cave (at which midwives confirmed her virginity), and intriguing particulars about her reactions to each of these extraordinary events in her life – plus more, about her years after Jesus’ death and her assumption into heaven.
In the New Testament, we get bits and pieces of her story from each of the four gospels. Hopefully that story is relatively familiar to you already. It is worth mentioning, though, that the last mention of Mary in the Bible is probably not known to many in the New Church, as it occurs in the book of Acts: it tells us that the Lord appeared to the apostles occasionally during the 40 days after He died, then was taken up to heaven in an event referred to as ‘the Pentacost’, at which Mary the mother of Jesus was present.
To this point, these are things we’ve learned about Mary from Christian sources. Interestingly, not only Christians revere Mary: in the Islamic religion, Mary has the highest position among all women, and is in fact mentioned in the Quran (the only woman mentioned in the Quran, incidentally) more often than in the New Testament! Where the apocryphal and other writings fill us in on details of her earthly life, we’re fortunate, in the New Church, to be able to go beyond even that and look at the true meaning of Mary, at her spiritual significance in the bigger picture.
First, foremost and practically the only important thing we need to understand about her, we know from the Heavenly Doctrines that Mary was not pure, was not without sin, and very intentionally so: this is because the Lord needed to inherit a sinful human nature in order to overcome it and subjugate the hells! We learn from Secrets of Heaven that the Lord, when a boy, had Divine interiors from Jehovah His Father and human exteriors from Mary His mother (since, in human reproduction, the soul – interiors – is said to be from the father and the body – exteriors – from the mother). In the process of the Lord’s glorification, He banished His first, human rational completely (whereas ours, in our regeneration, is only moved to the side) so that nothing whatsoever of it remained, and consequently He was no longer Mary’s Son but Jehovah’s as regards both His interiors and His exteriors. Swedenborg gives the following touching account, in a few of his books, of actually meeting Mary in the other world and learning her perspective in support of this matter:
On one occasion I was given an opportunity to talk to Mother Mary. She happened past, and I saw her in heaven over my head in white clothing apparently made of silk. Then, stopping for a while, she said that she had been the Lord’s mother in the sense that He was born from her, but by the time He became God He had put off everything human that came from her. Therefore she adores Him as her God and does not want anyone to see Him as her son, because everything in Him is divine. (True Christianity 102)
It is impressive to see that Mary understood the situation and humbled herself so low as to disavow any ‘ownership’ of the man who was her son, whom she bore and raised.
That’s the essence of what the Writings have to say about Mary herself, but we can delve a little further into her relationship with Jesus. Interestingly, in the Bible, Jesus never actually referred to Mary as His mother. In calling her ‘woman’, as He did at the miracle at Cana when she brought to His attention that they’d run out of wine, it shows us that the Lord did not recognise Mary, but instead the Church, as His mother. At His crucifixion He referred to her, not as His own mother, but as the mother of the disciple John, because he represented the Church as to the goods of charity, i.e. the good works that we do. Conversely, the Lord is referred to by various titles: the ‘Son of God’ with reference to Jehovah God in His human manifestation, the ‘Son of Man’ or ‘of Humankind’ as the Lord in His role as the Word. When He is called the ‘Son of Mary’, it is with regards to the human manifestation that He took on. Where some branches of Christianity go wrong is by focussing on the Lord as the Son of Mary, losing sight of His divinity. When we think of Him as only the Son of Mary, as nothing but a human man,
[A]ll forms of spiritual food become like the dust that snakes eat. Our spiritual light then becomes nature’s light; and in the long run it becomes the light of our physical senses, which is in reality a faint, deceptive light. …Then when we think about the church’s spiritual teachings that are necessary for our eternal life, our thoughts about them are no more than the thoughts of a jester. All this is what happens when we regard the Lord God, the Redeemer and Savior, as no more than the Son of Mary, a mere human being. (True Christianity 94)
As of the mid-18th century, the common belief of Christians was that the Lord, as far as His human is concerned, not only was but still is the Son of Mary. We learn,
Those who …think of Jesus as only the Son of Mary implant in themselves various ideas about Him that are damaging and destructive to their salvation. …People like this desecrate the Lord’s church and His house of worship. …They do not distinguish between true Christianity, which is worship of the Lord, and materialist philosophy. (True Christianity 342)
Clearly, there is so much more to Mary than we can glean from the Bible. It is also evident that she is portrayed in the Catholic church, at least, so differently than in the New Church.
….On a more personal level, can you imagine what it must’ve been like to be this woman, to be Mary?? How scary and unexpected must the angel’s visit have been? How frightening the content of the angel’s message must’ve felt! Imagine the sheer humiliation of being pregnant before marriage, especially in those days and in that culture – and not being able to set everyone straight, let alone get them to believe you. How utterly intimidating and humbling it would be to hold baby Jesus in your arms, to look at the face of God…… It’s practically unfathomable. The deeper meanings and spiritual correspondences of Mary are intellectually astounding; envisioning myself in her position gives me a much deeper emotional respect for Mary, the mother of Jesus.
If you’d like to get a glimpse into how it might’ve felt to be Mary, watch this music video of a depiction of the song, ‘Mary, Did You Know’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Z-ZfAlrgJs
Jenn learned a lot about Mary while working on a project in college, which was printed in the Sept. 1996 issue of the Glencairn Museum newsletter. There are only bits of that in this article; if you would like to read the whole 8+ pages about Mary, don’t hesitate to ask Jenn – she will gladly email it to you.