From Mary (mother of Jesus) to Beyonce
One of the criticisms that are sometimes levied at Mary is that she can be read as a submissive character. Look at Luke’s account in chapter one. That she submits to the Holy Spirit and God’s will for her to bear a son is tantamount to… well, you can complete that thought maybe. But it doesn’t really appear she had a lot a choice in becoming pregnant. I think this read of that text is there… but. But only if you stop reading the story of Luke at that point.
Mary is far more than simply a submissive woman playing a role God designed for her. Read how she begins her famous words in the Magnificat (later in Luke chapter 1):
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;”
This is not the words of a lowly female who has submitted to the role outlined for her. This is a woman proud of place and station, this is a woman who is standing head held high and recognizing that she in enviable. That even men would call her blessed. Mary sees herself as a part of creating justice in the world – and that justice starts in her own standing in the world. Not lowly anymore, this servant of God, but blessed and revered bearer of God.
And in this Mary helps us understand that non-violent doesn’t mean passive, that humble doesn’t mean submissive, that weak doesn’t mean powerless.
(Disclosure: I’m about to go pop culture and I might lose you… come along for the ride, it might finally start to get interesting.)
Back after the Super Bowl last month there was a lot of conversation about Beyoncé’s half time presentation. Many people reacted against it as trying to sell sex. A whole different group rose up and said it wasn’t anything of that – she was a woman being powerful and celebrating that fact and the world can’t abide powerful woman. If you missed that whole discussion I’m sure you can find some good links to find it. Then a week or two ago the opposite controversy happened. Seth McFarlane’s hosting of the Academy Awards came off to many as funny but to many others as misogynistic and degrading to women. You could call it the anti-Beyoncé moment.
Why am I going here? Because the question of women having powerful roles is a live conversation in our society. The objectification of women is a live conversation in our society. And it may be that properly claiming Mary’s role in our own stories will help us come to a more just relationship of women and men. Because Mary is no pawn in this story, Mary doesn’t simply submit. Mary ponders and treasures. Mary proclaims and is blessed. Mary sees the shifting worldview that Jesus is bringing before anyone else and gets up on her stage and sings it loud and proud… and that song echoes through our hallways still today.
Are you listening to Mary, or trying to silence her? Mary’s story invites us to be surprised by just who will be God’s voice and bearer and through that surprise the humility in ourselves to see in all people the face and voice and will (and thus the authority) of God at work. Thanks be to God, and to Mary!