This is the first in a series of reflections on Matthew 1:16-25.
…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. – Matthew 1:16 (NRSV)
Mary lived in a time when women were defined by their men and sexual status. As a child (a virgin), you were a member of your father’s household. In marriage, your identity came from your husband as you travelled from one household to the other – where hopefully, you had sons who would care for you in your old age. Throughout Scripture, women are almost exclusively someone’s daughter (a virgin, who has had no sexual relations), someone’s wife (married to one man), a prostitute (someone who has sexual relation with several men) or a widow (someone whose man has died).
Therefore it shouldn’t be surprising that almost every reference to Mary in Matthew 1 is passive: things are done to Mary, she doesn’t do things. Mary
- had been engaged (v. 18)
- was found with child (v. 18)
- was to be exposed to public disgrace (v.19)
- was to be dismissed (v. 19)
- was to be taken as Joseph’s wife (v.20)
- of whom Jesus was born (v. 16).
This is stark contrast to Luke’s Gospel where Mary is the one speaking and taking action: she talks to Gabriel, she goes to see Elizabeth, she ponders things in her heart. It can be easy to convince ourselves that we are passive as events unfold around us. So often it may seem like we are merely reacting to the choices other people make. But as I tell my kids, we don’t get to choose what other people say and do but we can choose how we respond.
I don’t know if Mary really had a choice since Gabriel told her what will happen (not what could happen). But Mary did have a choice in how she responded. And I suppose this is how life is. Sometimes we get to decide if we’re going to jump into the deep end with God. Other times, we have to decide while we are caught up in its current. Mary could be defined simply as the mother of Jesus or the wife of Joseph. And these are definitely important aspects of her identity. But she is also defined by her faithful and obedient response – and the actions she took to be part of God’s plan. And this is true for us as well.
What does “yes” to God look like in this season of your life?