Rediscover Our Lady in the Bible

Jared Staudt

May is the month of Mary, a time of new growth and a return to life fitting for the New Eve. Blessed John Henry Newman spoke of how nature itself bears witness to the joy we find in Our Lady: “Why is May chosen as the month in which we exercise a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin? The first reason is because it is the time when the earth bursts forth into its fresh foliage and its green grass after the stern frost and snow of winter, and the raw atmosphere and the wild wind and rain of the early spring. It is because the blossoms are upon the trees and the flowers are in the gardens. It is because the days have got long, and the sun rises early and sets late. For such gladness and joyousness of external Nature is a fit attendant on our devotion to her who is the Mystical Rose and the House of Gold” (Meditations and Devotions, Part I).

May provides a fitting time to increase our devotion to Mary, especially by praying the rosary more often and learning more about her central role in our salvation. Dr. Edward Sri, who has written many books on Our Lady, provides an excellent account of what the Bible teaches us about her in his new book, Rethinking Mary in the New Testament (Ignatius Press/Augustine Institute, 2018). Although it may seem at first glance that there are few passages that speak of Mary, Sri leads us through the depth and importance of the verses in the Gospels and the Book of Revelation that point toward her mission as Mother of God, Ark of the New Covenant, New Eve, and Mother of all disciples.

Sri’s book serves as a model of biblical theology, allowing the words of the Bible to speak clearly and to lead us into the realities of God’s revelation. In attending to the words of Scripture, we find that the Bible has much to say about Mary. Sri organizes his book around these words, with each chapter focusing on just a few at a time. The book accomplishes a difficult feat: summarizing a depth of scholarship and remaining eminently readable and accessible at the same time. One example can be found in his analysis of Gabriel’s greeting to Mary as kecharitomene, which we translate as “full of grace.” He unpacks the meaning of the original Greek, noting it could be translated as “you who have been and continue to be graced,” answers objections seeking to downplay its significance, looks at its importance as a name given to Mary (expressing her essence), notes the word’s transformative character and relates its connection to the Immaculate Conception (23-28).

Sri explores the entire Annunciation narrative in five chapters, giving similar depth to the Visitation, Presentation, Finding in the Temple, Wedding at Cana, foot of the Cross, and appearance of the woman clothed with the sun in Revelation. There are many “aha” moments, such as how Jesus brings God’s glory back to the Temple, how this occurs 490 days after Gabriel appears to Zechariah (itself following the 490 years of Daniel’s prophecy), how Cana occurs on the seventh day of John’s Gospel to demonstrate the new creation brought by the New Adam and his mother, the New Eve, Mary’s role in Jesus’ hour of redemption, and how this role helps to explain the meaning of the imagery of the woman in labor pains in Revelation 12.

Rethinking Mary in the New Testament is a powerful and moving book with much to teach us in reading the Bible attentively and coming to know our spiritual Mother more deeply. Once again, May is the perfect moment to take it up, when the beauty that surrounds us points to our Mother, who, as the poet Hopkins writes, exceeds its beauty still:

Be thou then, O thou dear
Mother, my atmosphere;
My happier world, wherein
To wend and meet no sin;
Above me, round me lie
Fronting my froward eye
With sweet and scarless sky;
Stir in my ears, speak there

Of God’s love, O live air,
Of patience, penance, prayer:
World-mothering air, air wild,
Wound with thee, in thee isled,
Fold home, fast fold thy child.

COMING UP: The shock of forgiveness

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Every so often, the media will pick up a story that serves as a potent reminder of what it means to be a Christian. That’s because living as a Christian in today’s post-Christian society is an unusual way of living, contrary to what the rest of society might say about it. It is not “outdated.” It is not “irrelevant.” It is radical, countercultural and, to some, even incomprehensible.

On Oct. 2, the trial of Amber Guyger came to a close. Guyger, a former Dallas police officer, was charged with the murder of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old man who lived in the same apartment complex as Guyger. On Sept. 6, 2018, she walked into Jean’s apartment, thinking it was hers, saw Jean sitting there on the couch, and after giving verbal commands, shot him twice, killing him. It was an absolute tragedy and played into the ongoing national conversation about police behavior toward people of color (Guyger is white; Jean is black).

What I want to focus on is a particular moment that came at the end of Guyger’s trial, after she had been sentenced to 10 years in prison. Jean’s younger brother Brandt took to the witness stand to address his brother’s killer directly. He wasn’t planning on saying anything during the trial but changed his mind at the last minute. A prompting of the Holy Spirit? I think yes, based on what happened next.

“I hope you go to God with all the guilt, all the bad things you may have done in the past,” Brandt told Guyger. “If you are truly sorry … I forgive you. If you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you.” He continued, “I’m not going to say I hope you die … I personally want the best for you … I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you, because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want … and the best would be: give your life to Christ. Giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do.”

But it didn’t stop there. Brandt was bold enough to ask the judge if he had permission to give Guyger a hug. He was granted it, and they embraced for over a minute, Guyger weeping into Brandt’s shoulder, just as some of us might do were we to be embraced by Christ.

Botham Jean’s younger brother Brandt Jean hugs former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger after delivering his impact statement to her in Dallas, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. Guyger has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing her black neighbor in his apartment, which she said she mistook for her own unit one floor below. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)

Brandt has every reason to hate Guyger. This woman gunned down his innocent brother who had his whole life ahead of him and was given a lighter sentence than what she originally faced. Those in the courtroom and watching on TV wouldn’t have been shocked to hear Brandt tell Guyger that he hopes she rots in hell. No, the shock from those in the courtroom – and subsequently, the rest of the nation – came when Brandt did the exact opposite.

With those words and the simple act of embracing his brother’s killer, Brandt gave the world an incredible witness to the forgiveness Christ calls us to live as Christians. Of course, you can count on the bickering voices of social media and pundits to take this powerful moment and exploit it for their own agenda, but that’s because many of them don’t understand. It is not normal in our culture to forgive. It is also not easy. And that’s what makes witnessing something like this so shocking. It was not supposed to happen, but it did. It defied every expectation. Make no mistake about it: Brandt was living his call to be more like Christ in that moment. And it is exactly this moment – this shocking moment – that we are able to get a glimpse of what it is to be a Christian.

Following Jesus does make for quite a shock. And it is that shock that we are called to bring to the rest of the world, just as Brandt Jean did.