Summary: Mary understood, as every Christian should, that any great thing that happens in our walk with Christ is due to the Lord’s graceful action and will.
Tuesday of 25th Week in Course 2020
Today’s story from the life of Jesus Christ is from St. Luke’s Gospel, and it looks like proof of alienation of Jesus from His extended family, doesn’t it? The family is trying to get to Jesus for some reason, and the crowd tells Him about it, and He seems to disown them in a way: “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” But in the original language, the pairing of the verbs is akountes –hear, and poiountes–do. Rhyming words like this are aids to understanding and memorizing the saying. So that takes us to the first reading of the day, from the collection of sayings we call Proverbs.
The various collections of proverbs found here and in other wisdom books of the OT were kind of like the catechism of how to treat others for the Hebrew people. You see here in thirteen verses thirteen aphorisms, admonishments probably memorized by young people by rote. The local synagogue usually didn’t contain scrolls with the entire OT. They would have Torah scrolls–the first five books, and might have some of the writing prophets as well. But such writings were expensive to purchase and took a long time to produce before the invention of the printing press. So words were used to pass instructions and histories from the older generation to the younger, and that was one of the big reasons why aged parents and grandparents were valued in any society, but especially Jewish society. In fact, we frequently see Jesus either quoting old proverbs or inventing new ones, as He appears to be doing here. Jesus Himself learned instruction such as this at the feet of the local rabbi, perhaps His grandparents, and certainly Joseph and Mary. The words from the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” are such an echo of Mary’s response to the angel in Nazareth, “be it done to me according to Thy word” that we see in Jesus’s words the lifelong attitude of His mother.
Our psalm today is in the same vein. It comes from Psalm 119, the longest song in the OT, which was certainly used in the Hebrew schools to help students understand the beauty and wisdom of learning the Law of Moses and keeping it. “Give me understanding, that I may keep thy law and observe it with my whole heart.” That’s a prayer that we should repeat frequently, and indeed the daytime prayers of the Divine Office begin with a strophe from Psalm 119.
Given that understanding, what should we make of these short verses in Luke’s Gospel. First we should realize that this little scene is given to us only by St. Luke. Saint Luke almost certainly wrote for a mostly Gentile congregation after Matthew and Mark had written their account of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. He was careful in his research and must have had access to sources the other Gospel writers did not use. We know that he was in Palestine for quite some time with St. Paul, and in Ephesus for around three years with that apostle. So perhaps Luke got this story from one of the original Jewish disciples who had heard it from Jesus. But I think it makes even more sense to see the humble virgin of Nazareth, who tradition tells us lived for a time with St. John in Ephesus, as the source of the story.
Mary understood, as every Christian should, that any great thing that happens in our walk with Christ is due to the Lord’s graceful action and will. She also knew, and taught, that as the proverb tells us, “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin.” Pride is well known to be the worst of the vices, because it really means that the proud person thinks himself to be God, the center of everything. So it leads to other sins–lying, theft, sexual abuse, neglect of parents, despising authority. Mary and Joseph taught Jesus in His human nature to seek the humble path, and we see Him taking it. They also taught Our Lord to obey the word of God in the commandments and the proverbs. In other words, “hear and do.”
“Lord, squelch any tendency to pride in my heart. Help me to appreciate the virtue of humility and always to listen with my mind and heart to your precious Word, Jesus Christ, and do that excellent word as the guide of my life.”