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Figures

Mary Figure Analysis

You've probably seen this lady before. She's the one in your neighbor's yard and tattooed on some hurly-burly's arm. You might have even heard talk of a miraculous appearance of her image. Being Jesus's mom really does wonders for a woman.

Luke's Lady

We have Luke to thank for making Mary a star.

Think about it. In Matthew's account of Jesus's birth, pride of place is given to Mary's fiancé, Joseph. The angel appears to him, and Mary receives little more than an honorable mention (Matthew 1:18-2:23).

In Luke, their roles are completely reversed. Joseph's ancestry is important—it goes all the way back to king David, the patriarchs, Adam, and, that's right, God (1:27; 3:23-38). But Mary gets all the good plot points:

  • The angel Gabriel appears to Mary (1:30-33).
  • God impregnates Mary (1:35). (Think about how different things would have been if God had impregnated Joseph. Now that's a story.)
  • Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, who calls Mary "blessed" and the "the mother of my Lord" (1:42-43; also, 11:27).
  • Mary utters a poetic and prophetic prayer to God that's now known by some as the "Magnificat" (1:46-53).

She's Only Human

In some forms of Christianity, Mary has achieved an almost divine (or at times totally divine) persona. This is partially thanks to Luke's focus on her, but he does include some very human touches that underline that she really is mortal—just like us.

  • Like Zechariah (1:18), Mary doubts Gabriel's news that she will bear a child: "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" (1:34).
  • Like any mother she is distraught about her missing twelve-year-old son Jesus and scolds him when she finds him in Jerusalem's temple (2:48). 
  • And even after all of the prophecies that occurred at the time of his birth she fails to understand what the twelve-year-old Jesus is talking about when he says that it's necessary for him to be in his father's house (2:49-50).

Mary gets a pretty cold exit in Luke's gospel. When Jesus hears that she and her sons want to see him, Jesus redefines his family as "those who hear the word of God and do it" (8:21). Sorry, Mom, but blood-ties just won't cut it.

What gives? Why this harsh final cameo for Mary? And why is her role in culture so enduring despite it?

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