In order to immerse ourselves in Mary’s experience, we must abandon the stale smell of that which seems familiar to us. Then, move to the confines of our feelings, and there grasp the woman of Nazareth’s extraordinary provocation. As we look to her we are shown a direction that leads us elsewhere, because she winks at us from the threshold of another place.
We see her at a very young age, tied to Joseph but without yet having entered his house. She is facing God’s calling, not only for an extraordinary birth –for Scripture is full of these situations-, but for a real and true covenant (Luke 1:26-38). So she, as Moses had done before her, stands on the border between God and the people, on top of a new Mount Sinai. There she is asked to make a pact with God who wants to visit his people. She thus firmly holds on to the first frontier, the frontier between God and mankind, to welcome the gift of him and permit the troubled borders of the people benefit from his presence.
Luke then introduces her to us as she journeys to see the sign given to her, which is Elizabeth’s pregnant womb (1:29-45). Here, Mary goes to another border, because after having adhered to God’s plan in total autonomy and having conceived the Messiah of Israel alone, she solitarily sets out to contemplate and understand what is happening to her. The border on which she walks is that of freedom and independence, which women in her time -and for the most part even today-, was unheard of. She does not appear subject to paternal authority, nor to that of her husband; she has herself, her body, her time. Her virginity – once lost, one became the property of those who “broke” it - is not the sign of purity, but of the unavailability of the person, for she has no masters and thus leads all women –whether virgins or not to look towards the frontier of freedom and emancipation, freed from all subjection.
John, on the other hand, describes Mary, who after the sign at Cana of Galilee, is following Jesus (2:1-12). He presents her to us as she descends towards Capernaum behind the one who was her son and is now her teacher, in line with the disciples who believed in him because of what she asked him to do. This following leads her to unexplored regions, where the privilege of motherhood must be abandoned in order to live by listening to the Word and thus share the intimacy with Jesus with all those who become docile to the Word. He will say this expressly to the woman who stands up in the crowd and praises her who carried him in her womb and nursed him: blessed are those who listen to the Word of God and keep it (Luke 11:27-28). Mary is the protagonist of an extraordinary motherhood which could exalt her for the unique role that had touched her. Instead, she lives the frontier of discipleship, rooted only, like everyone else, in docility to the Word.
Such will be the intensity of her journey that she will be one of the first witnesses of the one who believed first, the authoritative witness of what has happened from the beginning. This excellent witness is entrusted to the disciples so that they may learn her faith and follow her path: for she does not flee the cross, drinking everything from the chalice of what Jesus himself must drink (John 19:25-27). And so, a perfect disciple at the hour of glory as at the hour of death, she can participate in the work of the Spirit who gives birth to the church from the testimony of those who lived with Jesus and who involve in their faith and family all those who want to recognize him as Lord (Acts 1-2). The frontier of witnessing, which Mary shares with the other witnesses on that first day of the church recounted in the book of Acts, is the one on which the church continues to live, as it stretches out towards those who do not know the Gospel or who are tired and oppressed in any way.
For these people the words that Mary herself pronounces in the canticle of the Magnificat are prophetic. As she stands on the frontline along which all those who fight evil stand (Luke 1:66-79). The woman of Nazareth proclaims the change of fate. Those who oppress and starve others will be overthrown, while those who suffer and are hungry will be freed. On the border she announces the imminent coming of the Kingdom, which Jesus realizes. The poor can rejoice, the others can convert. Beautiful and terrible as an army deployed in battle, the Christian people see her victorious against evil, and sin does not touch her, and death cannot overcome her. The last frontier of all, the horror of evil and the enemy of death, sees her as a pledge of hope for each and every one. And just as in ancient times when women faced childbirth accompanied by a more experienced woman (Revelation 12,1-6), so the labour of every believer who fights against the evil of life sees her as a sure companion to show them the aim of the journey of which every frontier is a sign, into the fullness of life and love.
by Simona Segoloni Ruta
Theologian, professor of Trinitarian Theology, Ecclesiology and Mariology at the Theological Institute of Assisi