|Jesus Preaching in Nazareth - from a 14th Century fresco|
He therefore came there one Sabbath day, attended the meeting in the synagogue, and as was His usual custom, read and explained the Scriptures. And there was delivered unto Him the book of the Prophet Isaiah; and the passage upon which He chanced to open, or rather the passage chosen by His wisdom from the beginning to be read on that occasion, was this: " The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord." Jesus closed the book, gave it back again to the minister, and sat down. All eyes were fastened on Him. And He began to say unto them : " This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears."
It would be pleasant to dwell upon this sweet revelation of Jesus, and upon the first impression which He made upon the Nazarenes, who " all bare Him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth." But unhappily, other reflections soon came to their minds. The disparity between the hitherto humble life of the " son of Joseph," and the wonderful wisdom of the young Master, instead of clearly demonstrating to them the intervention of God, caused among them an astonishment bordering upon offence. They thought they had the right to demand from their fellow-countryman, as a proof of His mission, some of those miracles of which their lack of spiritual feeling rendered them unworthy. But Jesus quickly recalled to their memories how often a prophet is coldly received by his own people, who, looking at him from a human point of view, discuss his person and status instead of paying deference to the messenger of God. Thus, Elijah and Elisha, ill-treated by the people of Israel, found hospitality among strangers, and discovered among them hearts that were better prepared to receive the divine influence. These warnings of the wise and loving Master, instead of causing the Nazarenes to reflect, exasperated them the more. They rose up tumultuously, and thrusting Jesus out of the synagogue and out of the town, they led Him unto the brow of the hill upon which Nazareth is built, that they might cast Him down headlong.
|Mount Precipice, outside Nazareth, where the angry mob tried to push Jesus to the abyss|
At the time of the Passion, Mary was confided to the care of Saint John at Jerusalem, and there is no longer any question of her living at Nazareth. It seems then, that at a certain time, difficult to determine, she left the house where they had passed so many peaceful years together, for the purpose of being nearer her Son. It is supposed by many authorities that she lived at Capernaum, where she had already passed some days after the marriage at Cana, and where the Saviour often returned. It is also believed that she accompanied Him, at least at intervals, in His missions, attentively hearing His word, and rejoicing in God and in His miracles.
She had without doubt her place of honour among the group of women who followed Jesus and served Him. " And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others." 3 And to these, who are mentioned by St Luke, St Matthew and St Mark add, " the mother of Zebedee's children," who was probably called Salome, and " Mary, the mother of James the less and of Joses," 4 that is, Mary of Cleophas. This latter appears to have been so attached to her" sister," that her mere presence among the holy women is an indication of the presence of Mary herself. All the others were strongly attached to the mother of Jesus by a dutiful and holy bond. Mary taught them how to serve Jesus; her converse and even her companionship, purified the souls of those who formerly were sinners ; she elevated and encouraged the pure among them, and taught them all, holiness of life and the fervency of divine love.
During the whole period of the public life of Christ, the Gospel makes only a passing reference to Mary, and even then indirectly, in two incidents which it is quite useless to try to place chronologically, for they have very little connection with the chain of Gospel history. On these two occasions, Jesus gives us some significant and useful instruction concerning His mother; and, for those who know how to meditate upon and weigh the meaning of His words, He praised her in the most delicate manner, and taught us to comprehend her greatness more truly.
One day, while He was speaking to the people in the house in which He stayed at Capernaum, the sons of Mary of Cleophas came with the Holy Virgin, seeking Him, and requesting to be allowed to speak to Him. 5 They came near the circle of listeners, and the report spread from one to another that the mother of Jesus was there, with others of His relatives, and that she desired to speak to her Son. " Behold," said some one, " Thy mother and Thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with Thee." But Jesus was engaged in carrying out the divine work, and He wished to teach them, that in the service of God, one must be free from all, even the closest, earthly bonds, and He desired to set before them an example as well as the precept. With the promptness and seasonableness of His divine eloquence, He said: " Who is My mother ? And who are My brethren ?" Then, looking at the crowd grouped round Him, and perceiving among them those who already followed Him devotedly, those who desired to be His own, He stretched forth His hand towards them and said: " Behold My mother and My brethren I For whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother." In His attitude and His words, Jesus shews us—as before, when He was twelve years old, in the Temple—the man of God, entirely absorbed in the interests of His Father, independent of the ties of flesh and blood. And He gave to His disciples, and beyond them, to His future apostolic workers, the lesson that they also must live only for the souls of men and for God. This it is which is their family, of which Jesus is the centre and the bond; both the bond between the members, and the bond between the members and the Father.
To this lesson of detachment the Master added yet another teaching, which was an encouragement to the faithful among His listeners, and which remains a precious consolation for us. Whosoever receives the word of God and does His will, enters in spirit into a covenant with our Lord, an alliance which is as close as that of a near relationship. He is His brother—Jesus repeats it, and throughout the New Testament there is assurance of it—and in other respects, he is His mother also; Christ is spiritually born in his heart, and, if he be an apostle, through him in the hearts of others also; and he shares in the affection with which Jesus surrounds His beloved mother.
But, in every way and before and above all others, that affection and union with Jesus belongs to Mary; for, more than any one else, she has in all her conduct conformed to the divine will. Did she not conceive the Word, in recognising herself as the servant of the Lord, and in giving up herself entirely to His will ? And does not the word of Jesus say that she is still more dear to Him, and in a sense, more His mother, by that spiritual consanguinity which unites her to the Father and to Him, than by the mere natural filiation through which He inherited from her His flesh and blood?
On another occasion when Jesus was preaching, a woman in the crowd lifted up her voice and cried out, " Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps which Thou hast sucked." 6 And the Saviour answered: " Yea, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it." On this occasion Jesus turned the conversation into a different channel. He did not wish to be heard praising His mother in public, and He did not desire that His listeners should praise her to Him, as this woman had intended to do. His thoughts always turned to the good of those who heard Him, and to the welfare of their souls. Therefore, seizing, as He sometimes loved to do, the principal word of the phrase, He passed it on to the crowd gathered round to listen to His teaching: "Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it! "
We find here the same doctrine set forth as in the preceding incident. We must be bound to Jesus by our hearts, we must listen to the word of God, and put it into practice by doing His will. In explaining the comparison (emphasised by the word " rather 7 ") between the divine motherhood considered apart from grace, and the grace itself which is a privilege of those who keep the word of God, theologians have to take into account all the aspects of a very complex question. To put the matter briefly, the sanctifying grace surpasses in many respects, and especially in respect of blessedness which is the point in question, the divine motherhood considered apart from this same grace; above all it surpasses the motherhood such as it was conceived by this woman, who, probably without having any clear idea of the divinity of Jesus, shewed for His mother an admiration purely human and earthly. Moreover the object of the Saviour in this saying was thoroughly practical; He desired to incite His hearers to receive the good words and to live in a manner conformable to their faith.
But even in this, He yet again indirectly praises Mary, in whom dignity as the mother of God, and plenitude of grace are inseparable; He recognises the happiness she has had in bringing Him into the world, and to this He adds the happiness of having, more fully than any other mortal, received and kept the word of God. And this is why the Church, on several of the feasts of Mary and in her votive mass, reads this particular passage of the Gospel. With the unknown woman, the Church lifts its voice to celebrate her who has borne and nurtured Jesus ; with Jesus Himself, it warns us not to stop there, but to see also in Mary her who keeps in her heart the Word, the eternal object of her love ; and finally, still with Jesus, it exhorts us, while exalting the mother of God, to reproduce in our lives that which we may imitate in hers, fidelity to the word of the Lord.
The same teaching is found in yet a third story from the Gospel, in which Mary is not directly concerned, but which the liturgy applies to her by a symbolism which it is easy to understand. 8
In the course of one of His last journeys, Jesus came to the gates of Jerusalem, at Bethany, where lived the family whom He loved, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Martha, who was the mistress, received Him into the house; her sister Mary seated herself at the feet of Jesus, and there listened to His words. During this time " Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to Him, and said, Lord, dost Thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone ? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her."
The Virgin, the mother of Jesus, is in all things the example and the ideal. A woman above all, she unites in herself, without any alloy of imperfection, all that which the Gospel praises in Martha and Mary. She has received in her abode the Word as a visitor. She has fed Him, she has served Him with her hands, and her care for Him has neither troubled the peace of her soul nor interrupted her meditations; she has heard all that Jesus has said to her; modestly hidden among the crowd gathered at His feet, she has listened to all that He has said to the world ; and while never ceasing to work for Him, she has meditated on all His teachings in her heart. Truly blessed, as Elisabeth had said of her; truly blessed, as Jesus said of those who keep His word; truly blessed, as the Church loves to repeat in speaking of her! And when it honours her in her supreme beatitude, the Church sees her still refreshing herself from the Word of God, no longer by faith, but in the clear vision, and it applies to her the words of Jesus, " Verily, Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall never be taken away from her." 9
From SAINT MARY THE VIRGIN BY RENE-MARIE DE LA BROISE
TRANSLATED BY HAROLD GIDNEY
1 St Luke iv. 16. See verses 16-30, in which the incident is related.
2 As to the local identification of the spot, it is commonly admitted that it is necessary to correct the tradition of Nazareth, which points out a rock much too far from the town.
3 St Luke viii. 2, 3.
4 St Matthew xxvii. 56; St Mark xv. 40. It seems that Salome (St Mark) and the mother of James and Joses (St Matthew) are the same person.
5 St Matthew xii. 46-50; St Mark iii. 31-35; St Luke viii. 19-21.
6 St Luke xi. 27, 28.
7 This recognition of the comparative meaning cannot however be said to be unanimous. Euthymius Zigabenus, for example, renders the word in St Luke, not by "rather" but by "truly, indeed." ''" (PG. cxxix. 973).
8 St Luke x., 38-42. Gospel for the Feast of the Assumption.
9 Mass of the Assumption, antiphon at the Communion.