Sunday, June 30, 2013

Why Mary Matters: Part Two

"And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, 'Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that nursed you!' But He said, 'More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!'"  ~Luke 11:27-28. 

The above passage is often used by Evangelicals to "demonstrate" how Jesus de-emphasized His mother's role in the Gospel story.  At first glance, it might appear that Christ was being critical of his mother.  However, if we take a closer look at Scripture and examine it as a whole, concerning the Theotokos, we should come to a better conclusion. 

First, let me point out that Jesus was not contradicting the woman's statement about his mother's womb.  Rather, He was pointing his disciples to a higher truth, making the most of every opportunity as was and is so characteristic of Christ.   For example, in Paul's first letter to Timothy, he points out that "bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things..."  In the above passage, Jesus wasn't being critical of His mother as some would try to suggest, rather he was trying to shift their focus to a deeper and more meaningful reality!  In other words, it was not Mary's physical body that was so important to God, rather it was her willingness to hear the voice of God and obey!  In fact, we could go so far as to imagine that Jesus had Mary in mind when He said, "More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"  He seems to be saying, "Yes, her womb and breasts are blessed because she gave birth to me and raised me as her son, however, more importantly, she is most blessed because she listened to God and obeyed his command!  You should follow her example."

How quickly we forget that when the Angel Gabriel came to Mary and announced to the young girl that the Father really liked her, she uttered the most profound example of a response we could ever give to a loving God who has a word for us, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be done unto me according to your word."  In light of the above Scripture and the birth of our savior, we can conclude, that Mary did indeed hear the word of God and keep it! 

Okay, okay, okay.  So Mary was a good lady and Jesus really loved His mother, but why should I venerate her?  And what the heck does that really mean anyway? 

To venerate simply means to honor or bless.  It's like letting your guest go first in the dinner line or giving the seat at the head of the table to your grandfather, or saluting a higher ranking officer, or greeting a beloved friend with a hug, a hearty handshake, or a holy kiss, or even bowing in deference to someone in authority or seniority.  

Veneration is a difficult concept for most Westerners to grasp because of our revolutionary seed beds and our culture of independence, however, in most eastern cultures, the values of deference, humility, interdependence, and respect for elders still exists.  While living in the Philippines, I often witnessed a very strange yet beautiful example of veneration.  Allow me to explain.  When coming into the presence of an elder, a young person would grab the hand of the elder and put the back of the elder's palm upon their forehead as a gesture of respect indicating that it was the elder who transmitted the blessing.  Titles of respect are still extremely important in the Philippine dialogue as they are in many other Asian nations as well.  In Japan, it is considered common courtesy to exchange bows which indicate gracious and humble intentions upon meeting.

Veneration is the chivalric code of heaven which the Church is commanded to transmit to the earth.  It is the open display of the culture of honor that exists in the heavenly realm.  And since our citizenship is from heaven, we are dutifully bound to keep its code.  As we discussed in the last post, Scripture demands that we venerate one another, including those saints who have crossed over into eternity to be present with the Lord, ministering as a great cloud of witnesses to those who are still here.  The Apostle's Creed states, that "we the communion of the saints..."which also includes the dead in Christ, for they are not really dead as we suppose, rather they are alive with Christ and seated with us in heavenly places, for God is not the God of the dead but the living!  Since Jesus Christ honored His mother, we are also to be imitators of Christ in this matter.  We honor Mary, our adoptive, spiritual mother, as Christ our elder brother honored her and so fulfilled the Law to honor thy father and thy mother. 

Is Veneration the same as worship?

Hardly so.  Veneration is not worship; neither is it idolatry.  Veneration is simply giving honor to whom honor is due as Scripture commands.  Timothy Ware, author and Orthodox scholar explains it this way, "We honor Mary because she is the mother of God.  We do not venerate her in isolation, but because of her relation to Christ...for it is precisely on account of the Son, that we venerate the mother." 

When we venerate someone, we do not place them on the same level as God.  Many Evangelicals discount the intelligence of most Catholic and Orthodox Christians in this simple assumption.  And although the Roman church has in some cases gone to the extreme in their veneration of Mary, the ancient and orthodox position on this is and has always been clear that Mary is not to be worshipped, nor is she a mediator between God and man or co-redemptrix.  She is simply given the honor she is due as the mother of our Lord and Savior. 

This veneration of Mary may manifest itself in a variety of ways in the more "catholic and orthodox" expressions of the faith.  For example, icons of Mary may be placed within a church building as a tribute to her role in the gospel story.  Often, the faithful entreat Mary to pray for them as one having a special connection and influence with God, just as we might ask a pastor or intercessor to pray for us.  Other times, Mary is mentioned in hymns and prayers contained within the liturgy of the Church.  Sometimes, parishioners may kiss an icon of Mary or even bow in reverence. 

I know this sounds foreign to the Evangelical mind because I've been there; I understand that it can seem all too bizarre, fanatical, and down-right idolatrous to do such things. However, when guided with a proper understanding of Liturgical worship and ancient Church history, these things that seem suspicious, actually begin to make sense spiritually and intellectually.  It only takes a teachable spirit and a hunger for truth to reach similar conclusions!  The tragedy is, that most Evangelicals just can't make room in their religious construct for the possibility that those practicing the ancient faith could perhaps have a little bit more revelation concerning right belief and right practice than meets the eye. 

Robert Arakaki, author and evangelical convert to the Eastern Orthodox Church in his article "Why Evangelicals Need Mary"  notes the following, "When Protestantism rejected Mother Church in the form of Roman Catholic Church it necessarily had to reject Mary. It rejected Mary by minimizing her role in God’s plan of salvation. It accepted her as one believer among many others but it refused to honor her for her part in salvation history. The loss devastated the soul of Protestantism. Protestantism is a lonely religion. We come to faith in Christ alone—on our own, as individuals. We gather on Sunday mornings as like-minded individuals. We read the Bible alone—we cannot rely on others to tell us what the Bible means. There is a certain emptiness in the Protestant systematic theologies despite their logical coherence. Not knowing Mary as Mother is a great loss and what is even more sad is that we do not know of our loss."

Is it Biblical to Venerate Mary? 

In the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, we are given all we need to know about the answer to the question above.  Without going into too much commentary, I will simply present the passages of Scripture and let you decide for yourself if there is a Biblical precedence to honor this woman, we know as Mary.

"The virgin's name was Mary.  And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!" ~Luke 1:28

Not only does one of the highest ranking archangels from heaven venerate Mary, He delivers to her a very personal greeting from the throne of the Living God.  In essence, Gabriel not only says that she has caught God's attention or that she has merely found favor in God's sight, but that she is HIGHLY favored!

"And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Elizabeth, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord." ~Luke 1:41-45

Here we see that Mary is not only honored by her cousin Elizabeth who represents the family of God, but we have the Holy Spirit declaring through Elizabeth in a loud voice that she is the mother of God and that she is and will be blessed among women because she heard and believed the word of the Lord!
"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in the God of my salvation.  For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed." Luke 1:46-47

From the voice of the archangel Gabriel, Creator God Himself, Elizabeth the mother of the great forerunner John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit, and now from the virgin herself we hear the proclamation that she is and will forever be venerated.  Scripture not only states it as a theological fact, it correctly prophesies the reality that Mary will be honored throughout all generations for her role in the Gospel story.  So the question remains dear Christian, are you a part of this ever present fulfillment of Biblical prophecy? Or do you ignore her shining example of piety and obedience because of your "reformed" theology? 

So WWJD?  Prayer, prudence and some humility sprinkled in here is recommended.  Let us seek to be imitators of Christ in all things.

In the Lion, In the Lamb,

Fr. Mark


1 comment:

  1. GREAT presentation, Mark+, and so biblically rooted with biblical, revelatory logic! Let Heaven and earth shout God's praises for the gift of such a spiritual mother given from the hand of her resurrected and reigning Son from the Heart of our eternal Father by the witness of the Holy Spirit!