Saturday, February 17, 2007

Mary's Vision While Pregnant with Jesus

I've been perusing (from the library) A Synopsis of the Apocryphal and Infancy Narratives assembled by J. K. Elliot (Brill, 2006). It includes material from three newly published and unfamiliar Irish texts: a poetic version of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and nativity stories in the Leabhar Breac ("The Speckled Book" dated to 1411) and the Liber Flavus Fergusiorum (texts first edited by Martin McNamara in 2001 in the Corpus Christianorum Series Apocrypha 13 and 14).

Under the heading "Mary's Vision of Two Peoples" the Protevangelion of James 17:2 (or 12)records:-

And (Joseph) saddled the ass, and put her upon it, and Joseph and Simon followed after her, and came near Bethlehem, within three miles. 6 Then Joseph, turning about, saw Mary sorrowful, and said within himself, "Perhaps she is in pain through That which is within her." 7 But when he turned about again, he saw her laughing, and said to her, 8 "Mary, how does it happen that I sometimes see sorrow and sometimes laughter and joy in your face?" 9 And Mary replied to him, "I see two people with my eyes, the one weeping and mourning, the other laughing and rejoicing."

Pseudo-Matthew 13 has a similar version:-

When, therefore, Joseph and Mary were going along the road which leads to Bethlehem, Mary said to Joseph: 'I see two peoples before me, the one weeping, and the other rejoicing.' And Joseph answered: 'Sit still on thy beast, and do not speak superfluous words.' Then there appeared before them a beautiful boy, clothed in white raiment, who-said to Joseph: 'Why didst thou say that the words which Mary spoke about the two peoples were superfluous? For she saw the people of the Jews weeping, because they have departed from their God; and the people of the Gentiles rejoicing, because they have now been added and made near to the Lord, according to that which He promised to our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: for the time is at hand when in the seed of Abraham all nations shall be blessed.'

The Leabhar Breac 66-7 has a version of this story as does the Liber Flavus 66:

'O father,' said Simeon, 'the maiden is speaking and I do not know whom she is addressing.' 'I think that she is suffering from tiredness and distress,' said Joseph. And when Joseph looked at Mary he saw that she was alternately sad and joyful. 'How is it, girl', he said, 'that at one time you are grieving while at another time you are happy?' 'I see two peoples,' she said, 'one of which is in mourning and the other in gladness and sacred scripture tells us to weep with the mournful and to rejoice with the joyful.' Joseph told her to go to bed and rest. 'O Simeon,' said he, 'Annoint the virgin's feet with oil.'

Now listen to a modern nativity story from Ethiopia, The Road to Bethlehem, (Macmillan 2000) loaned to me by Jemonde Taylor who was in Ethiopia in January:

Some months later, Herod the king sent out his officers to bring each person into their own city. So Joseph brought a donkey, and he sat Mary on it, and they started out along the road to bethlehem. After they had been travelling for a while, Joseph turned and looked back at Mary, and she was smiling and laughing. "The baby is about to be born," she said. "What shall we do, where shall we go?" said Joseph.

It would be easy to pass over this paragraph if one was not aware of the long tradition of Mary's prophetic vision as her child is about to be born. In the tradition of the prophets Mary feels within herself the pain and the joy of God's verdict. Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us that the prophet is a person who holds God and humankind in one thought at one time, and at all times. All prophecy is one great exclamation: God is not indifferent to evil! God is always concerned. God is personally affected by what humanity does. God is a God of pathos, namely, feeling transformed into action. In Mary's case, this is the joy and sorrow of a birth that brings division as a consequence of it.

1 comment:

Rev Dr Mom said...

Wow, this is great!