||[May. 21st, 2006|09:28 pm]
For Mary, just as for Jesus, the crucifixion represents the culmination of a theme which had been growing within her experience for some while, the complete statement of a tragic melody heard up until now only in fragments... For three years now, not just for three days,* she has sought him sorrowing: and now she finds him at last... He is the prodigal son, off in the far country, wasting his spiritual treasure with harlots, feeding his pearls to the swine, to the unclean rabble, to murderers and thieves... Gabriel had never warned her about this -- never let her in on the secret that to carry God in your womb was to court disaster.**|
~ N.T. Wright, The Crown and the Fire: Meditations on the Cross and the Life of the Spirit
Within the early Church, Mary was often referred to as the Theotokos, which means "God-bearer." Mary quite literally bore God within her womb. In her body she carried the God-man, Jesus the Christ. Yet little did she know how disastrous it is to carry God. Gabriel the angel appeared to her and called her God's "Favoured-One," but she never realised the extent of the sufferings that accompany God's favour. Yet, as this poignant reflection from Tom Wright demonstrates so well, to carry God is to court disaster. Twice Mary goes to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and twice she loses her son there -- first in the crowds, and second on a cross. This son, who was supposed to set Israel free, associated with sinners, he partied with traitors of the Israeli nation, and he delighted in the company of whores. She tried to warn him, to stop him, to bring her homeless son back home, but he would not listen. So she stood one day at the foot of the cross and watched as her firstborn child, naked and bloody as the day he was born, cried out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" And then he died. How hollows the angel's words must have sounded then. "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favour with God"? No, such words would no longer make sense. Perhaps the only words that made sense to her at that moment were those stated by the prophet Simeon, "And a sword will pierce your heart also."
Carrying God does not mean merely courting disaster, it makes disaster inevitable. It leads us to places where our hearts get pierced in a manner that cannot be expressed in words. For we too, filled with the Spirit of Jesus, are Theotokoi, we are "God-bearers" because we have the Spirit of God within us. This means that our road will also be a road of suffering -- the suffering that inevitably comes with love. We too must "court disaster" by celebrating with sinners, feasting with the outcasts, and delighting in the company of prostitutes. If we will not be homeless with the homeless (as Jesus was) then we must, at the very least, invite the homeless into our homes. This will also lead us to a place of abandonment. Just as Mary felt abandoned by her son, just as Jesus felt abandoned by God, so we also will feel abandoned -- both by the Church, and by God.
I know something of this feeling. When I see my beloved ones -- the homeless, the poor, the abandoned, and the exploited -- trampled, despised, or ignored with fatal apathy by those who claim to be the people of God, it pierces my heart, and makes me cry, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?" Yet, even in the midst of all this, I will not abandon the Church or any of those who claim to be the people of God. For, as Hans Urs von Balthasar once asked rhetorically, "Jesus died for and in Israel; why should not the saints do that for the Church?" Yes, I fear that it is the Church that is teaching me what it is like to be crucified. Not, alas, because it embodies the crucified Christ, but because it crucifies me by abandoning me to suffer with those that God loves so dearly.
Yet, even here, there is hope. For Jesus is God with us, even in the midst of our godforsakenness. Balthasar argues that the cross is that which brings together all those who have been abandoned. From the cross Jesus brings together his abandoned mother with his abandoned beloved disciple. To that disciple, John, he says, "Behold, your mother" and to Mary he says, "Behold, your son." Thus, Balthasar concludes:
the community of the lonely that has been brought together here -- Mary and John -- is the assembly of two acutely abandoned people gathered together around the Abandoned One.
Therefore, even though we face abandonment, swords, suffering, disaster, and godforsakenness, we may yet gather together at the foot of the cross and affirm the words of St. Paul in the crashing conclusion to Romans 8. As abandoned people gathered around the Abandoned One, we read these words with wonder, with puzzlement, and with a longing that burns us like fire.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
* This reference to "three days" is a reference to the three days that Mary & Co. spent looking for Jesus in Jerusalem when he was a child of twelve.
** Emphasis added.