Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Presentation of Mary in the Temple

Today we celebrate the tradition that Mary was dedicated to the Lord even from her childhood. She is presented in the Temple, but she herself will become the temple of God Most High.

Mary is the perfect medium for God’s self-expression- because most of all she is the unlikeliest, so small, among the most powerless. This is the brilliance of God’s unprecedented breakthrough in Mary - her of all people. She is young in a society that values age and wisdom; female in a world where men run everything; poor at a time when poverty implies divine disfavor; unmarried in a society in which a husband and children would grant her status, protection and validate her existence.* She has nothing and is nothing at all; a nobody, but she is just right for God. God is smitten. Mary is the perfect match for a God who is always captivated by what is little, humble and small; God who always prefers the lowest place, who always notices what is seemingly incongruous, upside-down, the least likely choice; a God who always surpasses human logic or expectation. Nothing is impossible for a God like that. The “never-to-be-surpassed” self-expression of God in Christ Jesus, the immensity of God’s beauty will dwell, hidden in nothingness, in the womb of Mary.* And God’s infinite pleasure in Mary’s nothingness will effect a marvelous exchange, for when God takes her flesh, God takes our flesh, as it is now. And nothing at all is impossible.

Mary models for us our human capacity to be God-bearers: every fiber of our being, our very selves totally available to God, for what God wants. And so at the Annunciation, we are witness to the surrender of love, the surrender of mutual desire that happens in any real relationship. Mary and God lose themselves in each other. If we take the Incarnation seriously, this is perhaps exactly what is so scandalous about God becoming human. God has lost himself in love, in the self-forgetfulness of love. Through Mary God is now subject to the laws of nature, of human flesh, its smells, its aches and heartaches, its narrowness and limitations, even its unpredictableness.

Tempera on panel by Andrea di Bartolo, 1400-1405. And insights from Luke Johnson, Luke: Sacra Pagina and Gerhard Lohfink, Jesus of Nazareth.