My parents belong to a community group in their Anglican parish. At my suggestion, they are reading Stanley Hauerwas’ terrific book, Cross-Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Last Seven Words. Tomorrow evening my mom is facilitating a discussion on the third word: “Woman, behold thy son!” and “Behold thy mother!” (John 19:26-27). I told her that this word is radical in its implications. Imagine the surprise that Mary experienced when her crucified son addresses her as “woman” instead of “mother” and then names his beloved disciple as her “son.” If I see as Jesus sees, I should regard my mother as a sister and she should regard me as a brother, insofar as we are both adopted into the same family of God by virtue of our baptism and obedience to the heavenly Father. Jesus, in redefining the family as “whoever does the will of God” (Mark 3:35), holds that spiritual ties are greater than natural ties.
Hauerwas, who currently worships as an Anglican, borrows language from Catholic brethren to describe Mary as the “new Eve” and “new Abraham.” Owing to my evangelical background, which unfortunately bears some anti-Catholic prejudices, I am unaccustomed to and perhaps even uncomfortable with this language. And yet, if I take typology seriously, then I can accept the inner logic. Typology is the school of biblical interpretation that says the Old Testament contains types or shadows of things to come in the New Testament. Mary is prefigured by Abraham and Eve. Hauerwas writes:
In the New Testament Jesus is often designated or assumed to be the new Adam, the new Moses, or the new David, but he is never called the new Abraham . . . The reason Jesus is not associated with Abraham is very simple—Mary is our Abraham. Just as Abraham did not resist God’s call to leave his father’s country to go to a new land, so Mary did not resist God’s declaration that she would bear a child through the power of the Holy Spirit. Abraham’s faith foreshadows Mary’s “Here am I” because just as we are Abraham’s children through faith, so we become children of the new age inaugurated in Christ through Mary’s faithfulness.
God restrained Abraham’s blow that would have sacrificed Isaac, but the Father does not hold back from the sacrifice of Mary’s son. Jesus’s command that Mary should “behold your son” is to ask Mary to see that the one born of her body was born to be sacrificed so the that we might live. As Gregory of Nyssa puts it, “If one examines this mystery, one will prefer to say not that this death was a consequence of his birth, but that the birth was undertaken so that he could die.” When God tested Abraham by commanding the sacrifice of Issac, Abraham’s “Here I am” (Genesis 22:1) did not result in Isaac’s death. Mary’s “Here am I,” however, could not save her son from being the one born to die on a cross.
Jesus charges Mary to regard as her own, her true family, the “disciple whom he loved.” Drawing disciples into the church, Mary shares her faith, making possible our faith. At this moment, at the foot of the cross, we are drawn into the mystery of salvation through the beginning of the church. Mary, the new Eve, becomes for us the firstborn of a new reality, of a new family, that only God could create. Augustine observed that the God who created us without us refuses to save us without us. Mary is the first great representative of that “us.” Accordingly Mary, the Jew, in a singular fashion becomes for us the forerunner of our faith, making it impossible for Christians to forget that without God’s promises to Israel our faith is in vain. When Christians repress the role of Mary in our salvation we are tempted to forget that God remains faithful to his promises to his people, the Jews. Our Savior was born of Mary, making us, like the Jews, a bodily people who live by faith in the One who asks us to behold his crucified body.
Jesus, therefore, commands the disciple, his beloved disciple, not to regard Mary as Jesus’s mother but rather to recognize that Mary is “your mother.” Mary’s peculiar role in our salvation does not mean that she is separate from the church. Rather, Mary’s role in our salvation is singular because, beginning with the beloved disciple, she is made a member of the church. Mary is one of us, which means the distance between her and us is that constituted by both her and our distance between Trinity and us, that is, between creatures and Creator. In Augustine’s words, “Holy is Mary, blessed is Mary, but the Church is more important than the Virgin Mary. Why is this so? Because Mary is part of the Church, a holy and excellent member, above all others but, nevertheless, a member of the whole body. And if she is a member of the whole body, doubtlessly the body is more important than a member of the body.”
To visualize this typology, I created a chart that is worth passing along.
- Kenneth Howell, “How Can You Say That Mary Is the ‘New Eve’?”
- Lucas Hattenger, “Father Abraham, Mother Mary”