Magazine article The Christian Century

Grace and Disruption

Magazine article The Christian Century

Grace and Disruption

Article excerpt

AMONG MY friends and acquaintances, the recent made-for-television movie Mary generated little interest. Perhaps that is because I spend too much time with Protestants for whom any display of interest in Mary continues to be slightly suspect. Or perhaps we flipped channels, remembering too well the recent adaptation of the Noah story, with its interpolation of Sodom and Gomorrah into the opening sequence--which appears to have been inspired by the battle scenes in Braveheart.

If NBC's Mary was not a disaster of floodlike proportion, it still offered a number of groaners, from the garish presentation of the beheading of John the Baptist to the lavish village homes which must have been designed by Martha Stewart.

Yet producer Eunice Shriver brought to this venture a fascinating question that saved it from being merely another bathetic bathrobe drama. She wanted to know how Mary, simply by being Jesus' mother, taught him and nurtured him and influenced his ministry. That question comes to the surface in the movie's fresh moments. Like many children, Jesus stalls at bedtime by asking his mother for a story, and the story she offers is the story of the Good Samaritan. When the adolescent Jesus dazzles the teachers in the Jerusalem temple, Joseph admits that it is Mary who has taught him Torah.

Having written a book on Mary, I am often asked about the place she occupies in my own faith, that of a Protestant by no means steeped in appreciation for Mary. As I lived long months with the stories in which Mary appears, I found them frankly terrifying, because they touched my own deepest fears about losing my child.

Acknowledging that terror is awkward, for I have no inclination to psychologize the texts. Nor do I understand Mary as a role model for mothers (or parents) only. Mary instead models Christian discipleship for all believers and gives us the words by which we may respond as she speaks her consent to God's messenger Gabriel: "Let it be with me according to your word."

Despite those convictions and qualifications, the stories exert their deepest claim upon me as a mother, and I have come to see that my reaction is not merely personal. It is a response to the danger of the gospel itself.

Throughout Matthew's infancy narrative, danger lurks. Well before Herod's sword enters Bethlehem, Joseph decides to terminate his relationship to Mary, an action that has the power to render her both financially and socially outcast and to give her child a name quite other than "son of Joseph. …

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