The Personalist Project

Mother's Day is coming up. As good a time as any to try to get inside the head of Mary, Mother of God.

In an episode that makes many scatterbrained mamas feel just a little better, Mary and Joseph once left the boy Jesus in Jerusalem and didn't notice it until they were well on their way home. As I was just telling my own children (several of whom have been left behind now and then), I'm sure it wasn't that Mary and Joseph forgot all about Him. It's just that some relatives thought he was with others, and those others thought he was with the OTHER others. They didn't forget about Him. They mistakenly assumed He was accounted for; that's all.

Something new struck me this time around, though. When they finally locate Him, and it turns out He's fine--no robbers, no kidnappings, no accidents--He pulls their rejoicing up short with the words, "Did you not know I must be about my Father's business?"

Now, Mary knew who His Father was. It might possibly have felt to Joseph as if He were throwing it up in his face that he wasn't Jesus' "real" father. I think we can safely assume that, even as an almost-teenager, Jesus would have said it kindly, not insultingly.

What I'm wondering is, did Mary, and maybe Joseph, ever sort of forget that Jesus wasn't Joseph's son? It doesn't seem likely, and I'm certainly not buying any claim that Mary didn't really how she'd gotten pregnant. But you know how sometimes you have an unmistakeable, earthshaking spiritual experience, one where God breaks through into your everyday life and gives you some crystal-clear message that you can't possibly doubt is from Him--and then time goes by, and you're changing diapers and filling out insurance paperwork and figuring out what's for supper, and everything's been so very ordinary for so very long--and you start asking yourself: "Did that really happen? Was that even real? I remember it, but it seems like a dream sometimes. I know I thought it was real while it was going on, but now…"

It may be theologically un-kosher to suggest that the Theotokos was subject to this kind of confusion. If you don't have original sin, your intellect isn't darkened. The problem with trying to put yourself in the frame of mind of the immaculately conceived Virgin Mary is that it can't be done. Still, it's so important to remember that she's a real person, not a statue, a silent image, a passive model who has nothing in common with us. 

It's good, then, for us to keep on asking ourselves: What must it have been like? What would I have done? What must she have thought? Her words--"Son, why have you done so to us?"--suggest that maybe being immaculately conceived doesn't make you immune to the kind of worries and inner turmoil the rest of us mamas of 12-year-olds know so well. I don't think that when she says, "Your father and I have been searching for you," it really means that she forgot who Joseph was. He was His father legally, and I have no doubt that he was just as concerned, just as affectionate, as a biological father would have been.

But still: What must it have been like?


Image credit: The Finding in the Temple, by Carl Blonch. Wikimedia Commons.

Comments (2)

Gary Gibson

#1, May 4, 2018 8:26pm

A welcome piece to ponder upon...  No doubt Mary had several moments of fear, sadness, or confusion.  Knowing who He was did not spare her a mother’s concern, even panic. How will this turn out?  What will happen to him?  What will happen to me?  No doubt Joseph’s death was painful for both of them.  Mary had to live in constant wondering “How will this all turn out?”  Yet she did not panic or regret or despair.  She trusted.  As we must.

Rhett Segall

#2, May 6, 2018 11:16am

The New Testament letter the the Hebrews stresses that Jesus was like us in all ways, except sin. We can say the same about His mother. And there would be something missing in their humanity if Mary and Joseph didn't have to work through their fear and anxiety towards that trust that Gary mentions.

Luke tells us that Jesus for His part was perplexed at His parents confusion. Perhaps this was a learning experience for Him, too.  He had to learn that what was obvious to  Him would take time to dawn on others.

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