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Fr. Michael's Thoughts on Biblical Imagery: Mary


(Fr Michael Boakye Yeboah: Vice Rector of St Gregory Seminary, Kumasi-Ghana)


            Mystery may find a home in simplicity. When the prophets announced Israel’s restoration it brought hope to the people. The arrival of the Messiah was to usher the reign of prosperity and peace. Where will the messiah come from became the question many a Jew asked in his life time. Among the mysterious circumstances that the arrival of the messiah was associated with, people gave no chance that he will be the son of a Nazarian village girl. It was not the type of woman that people were skeptical about but rather about the place Nazareth. Nazareth was a place nothing good came from – at least based on the words of Nathanael. And yet it was from that simple background that the most mysterious event in humanity’s history emerged – the pregnancy of a virgin.

            Mary’s place in Christian history cannot be underrated, for her “fiat” changed the course of humanity. It is within this context that I understand why she is the most blessed of all women in every generation. We are told by the inspired writer that all generation are meant to call her Blessed.

            As we close the curtain on the season of Advent, we are led to reflect on Mary and her husband and how their cooperation with the will of God brought us the Savior of the world. On hindsight the story reported to us by Matthew is easy to understand but on that very day, I think Mary and Joseph did not have it easy with the angel. Let us take a close look at the readings given to us for our reflections on the 4th Sunday of Advent.

            The three preceding weeks of Advent laid emphasis on the place of John the Baptist in the arrival of the Son of God. John discharged his role with purposefulness and prophetic vigor. Last week’s Gospel served as the closure of his work, when he sent his disciples to inquire whether Jesus was the One he prepared the way for or he is to expect another. Jesus’ indirect confirmation through his works confirmed to John the Baptist that he is the One and so his “work is done.” That confirmation served as a kind of “Nunc dimittis” for John.

            As John the Baptist closed his ‘Advent chapter’, the last chapter of Advent is dedicated to the “drama” which had Mary, Joseph and the Angel Gabriel serving as the main characters. The way and manner Matthew described events in today’s Gospel calls for questions and debates. Matthew with his literary style invites some questions and chief among them all is whether the account should be considered as “a tale” or an historical event. Matthew starts this account with a literary style that fits well with narratives that appear in the form of a tale. The former “tax chief officer” turned sacred writer starts the account with: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about…” The choice of literary style has given some scholars the room to question the historicity of the birth of Jesus and grouped it among “folks’ tales”. But this criticism lacks substance and may not win a verdict even in the court of wayfarers.

            What a court of competent jurisdiction may consider is the pregnancy of Mary. It may have been a court case if Joseph did not keep it to himself and had decided to take it to the elders or petitioned the court of public opinion for hearing. Until the intervention of the angel, Joseph thought that he had been unfairly treated and no man would like to be placed in that situation. “Is it mine?” is the question some men pose to women when they hear the announcement ‘I am pregnant!’. Normally few men will volunteer to accept in ‘bona fide’ a pregnancy that is not his. With Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph’s lifelong reputation and integrity were on the line. All the inspired writers in the New Testament literature testify to his uprightness (a kind of moral icon for Nazarian community). One could understand the reason why he wanted to divorce Mary secretly.

Joseph’s decision to follow the counsel of the angel is worthy of emulation. At times in life, some paths the Holy Spirit leads us are not reasonable and in human terms can be considered stupid but we should always know that the God we serve works in mysterious ways and the prophets Isaiah puts it in this way ‘…my thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways – declares the Lord’ (Isaiah 55:8-9). In Matthew’s account one can see that God chose Mary as the door by which He will enter the world. “She was found with child” even though she had never slept with her husband. She is the vessel of tranquility and thus she is not the one to announce the wordless affair taking place between her and the Holy Spirit. Joseph, in whose house she does not yet live, notices what is happening. It seems impossible that others would not also have noticed. Talk about her is unavoidable, but she neither wishes to nor can silence it. People will eventually come to the consensus, as the Gospel tell us, that the child is Joseph’s. Yet something about this child does not quite make sense. God is not in a hurry. Decades later the Gospels will cast light on the secret. For the time being Joseph remains unenlightened and filled with the most profound disquiet. How could he on his own have come up with the idea that God himself was underway within his bride? Joseph’s plans to divorce her quietly correspond to Mary’s quietness. Yet he would thereby expose her to shame. Thus, at the last moment, he is enlightened and instructed to take Mary to himself. God has time.

            This account may point us to the fact that we should not rush in our decision making. Joseph took time out to pray over his decision and God through the angel intervened to aid him to reason right. There is a link between today’s first reading and the Gospel. The main idea that links the first reading and the Gospel together is the Immanuel prophecy. In the first reading, this prophecy is pronounced within the context of the war facing the southern kingdom of Judah. It is given to King Ahaz who is contemplating asking the Assyrians to come to his aid against the alliance between Israel (the northern kingdom) and Syria. God tells Ahaz to ask for a sign. Ahaz refuses the Immanuel sign. Joseph was not asked to ask for a sign, he was given a sign and he accepted the sign in good faith because it was the will of God. This is the sign that tests the quality of a Christian man. Upon walking up from the dream. Joseph immediately does what the angel has instructed him to do. The contrast with Ahaz is clear. The pregnancy wasn’t Joseph’s but he allowed the will of God to prevail and history will never forget of the name JOSEPH because he decided to accept the pregnancy and move on with the will of God. Please let us allow the will of God to prevail in our lives; even when we do not understand the initial meanings of God’s will in our lives.


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