Five Things we learn about Mary in the Bible
by Amy Ekeh
In this Marian month of May, let’s spend a few minutes reflecting on some of the things we know about Mary from reading the Bible. As it turns out, we don’t know a lot! Although all four Gospels mention Jesus’ mother, when we gather all of the information we have, we are left wishing we knew more about this special woman. However, the material we have is enough to paint a portrait of a woman who is unquestionably strong, deeply faithful, and beautifully human.
1. Mary was courageous.
As much as we treasure the Church’s tradition that Mary was conceived without sin, we should not let this teaching eclipse our full appreciation of Mary’s remarkable courage. We may be tempted to think that Mary’s life as the mother of the Messiah was always serene and peaceful. After all, if Mary was without sin, she must never have had a doubt, question, or complaint. But to think this would be to ignore the Gospel accounts (see Luke 1:34; 2:48). Mary was indeed holy, but she was also human. There were surely moments along that decades-long journey when Mary experienced sadness, trepidation, and confusion (see Luke 2:35). And yet we know that Mary remained faithful to her promise to God and was a steady presence in the life of Jesus, all the way to the cross. That is courage.
2. Mary was poor.
According to Luke’s Gospel, when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple, they offered “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” as required by the Mosaic law (see Luke 2:24; Leviticus 12:8). This little detail offers us a clue, for the law made this provision for those who could not afford to offer a lamb. We also know that Joseph was a carpenter (see Matthew 13:55) — a solid trade, but not necessarily a lucrative one. Why does this matter? Luke wants us to know that Jesus arose not from wealth and power, but from simplicity and struggle. Though love certainly abounded in his childhood home, material abundance did not. The Holy Family depended upon God alone and identified with those who did not always have enough (see Luke 1:53).
3. Mary was prophetic.
Mary is depicted in the Gospels as a woman of serious spiritual intuition. We are told three times that Mary “pondered” or “treasured” the moments of her life (see Luke 1:29; 2:19, 51). This “pondering” indicates a prayerful thoughtfulness, a slow “seeping in” of the recognition of God’s active presence in her life. The fruits of Mary’s pondering can be found in her prophetic prayer known as the Magnificat (see Luke 1:46–55). A prophet is someone who sees the world the way God sees it and speaks that truth to the world. In Mary’s Magnificat we find tremendous evidence that Mary sees the world the way God sees it — as a place of God’s powerful presence, a place of God’s mercy, a place where God keeps his promises.
Mary sees the world the way God sees it.
4. Mary was prayerful.
Outside of the four Gospels, Mary is only mentioned once by name. In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke’s story of the early years of the Church, we are told: “All these [the 11 disciples] devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the
mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (1:14). While we do not know a lot about Mary’s life after the ascension of Jesus, this little tidbit is a wonderful tribute to Mary’s ongoing faithfulness and her inclusion in the core community of what would become the Church in Jerusalem. This core group of Jesus’ followers were “all in one place together” on the day of Pentecost (2:1). Mary was there when the Holy Spirit fell upon them, equipping them all to become active witnesses of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
5. Mary was loved.
Perhaps the most beautiful tribute to Mary in all of Scripture is the devotion shown to her by Jesus at the end of his life. Despite the exhaustion of being betrayed by a friend, enduring multiple trials, being scourged and mocked, derided by soldiers and crowds, carrying a cross, and then being nailed to it, as Jesus hung on that cross — stripped of his clothing and struggling to breathe — among his last words were instructions of loving care to his mother and his beloved disciple. “Woman, behold, your son,” Jesus said to Mary. “Behold, your mother,” Jesus said to his beloved disciple. After saying this, Jesus was “aware that everything was now finished” (John 19:26–28). Jesus did not die until he was sure that Mary had a home and a family. And that’s because he loved her.
WHERE IS MARY IN THE GOSPELS?
To read every reference to Mary in the Gospels, see:
Matthew 1—2; 12:46–50; 13:55; Mark 3:31–35; 6:3; Luke 1—2; 8:19–21; 11:27–28; John 2:1–12; 6:42; 19:25–27.