Ah, the mother-in-law: another pseudo-parental figure in your adult life, who tells you what’s best as she biasedly sides with your spouse, who loves you though not as much as she loves her son, who thinks you’re great but never good-enough for her little girl, who has been granted space in your life to speak but doesn’t have any history with you. These are, of course, stereotypical thoughts towards mother-in-laws, and rather nice ones compared to others found on the internet. I’m lucky to have a good mother-in-law who isn’t relationally power-hungry, isn’t manipulative, lovingly interacts, but also keeps her distance (2,839 miles to be exact). Still, the general perception of mother-in-laws is a negative one, typically settling on un-valued tolerance. Perception is not true-truth, though often times we think it is; perception can limit sight because it convinces us we know something while being completely blind to the reality in front of us.
But I’m getting ahead of myself…
A month or two ago, I watched a Qideas video by Andy Crouch. (You can watch it HERE or just get my précis below.) Over the past few years he has been tilling through the bookends of the Bible, Genesis 1&2 + Revelation 21&22. He believes, and rightfully so, that the majority of Christians have functionally removed these chapters from their Bibles and theology and, consequently, also their orthopraxy (right-living). At the beginning of his exploration, he was focused on culture making, but has more recently been looking at all of this in regards to power.
In our culture, Crouch observes, when we think of power we think of it mostly in the imperative, in the “make it so” command. But what we see in Genesis 1 are not mostly imperative verbs (though they are there), but rather the actions taking place are in the jussive mood.
The jussive mood is the posture of prayer, of invitation, or calling being into being, of power for the sake of teaming and flourishing. “Let it be” is how we read it in the text. And even when we see power used in a coercive manner or in restraint in Genesis, the force is used to create room for more flourishing.
As Crouch continues, he then speaks of humans being given power as God’s image-bearers, about how human creativity misapplied to human vulnerability leads to idolatry and injustice, and about how Steve Jobs (probably the greatest innovator of our time) died because of the idolatry in his life (which isn’t what you think). Then, as Crouch gives his outro, he mentions how the story of redemption has a huge hinge point on a dependent image-bearer who is known for replying back to God in the jussive mood, saying: “Let it be to me according to your word.”
Now, the first time I watched this talk I was actually listening to it, wasn’t 100% attentive and didn’t see the images. A few minutes after the video ended, I went to look up the context of “Let it be to me…”. I couldn’t place it in the moment. It was, I presumed, either a Davidic psalm or a line from Jesus’ time in the garden paralleling the verse “not my will, but yours be done.”
But it wasn’t.
As I discovered again that it was Mary’s words in response to being told she would be overshadowed miraculously with a child and give birth to the Son of God, I became overwhelmed with tears in my eyes. From the outside it looked like I was just staring with wide eyes at the blue/gray cloth on my cubical wall, but in reality I was looking into time and space and began to develop a new appreciation, empathy, and anger for her.
We just don’t get how awesome Mary is, or at least not in a suitable way. I’m a firm believer that every story in Scripture is more about God than anything else, but that shouldn’t negate the human element and characters of that Story. Mary is a Hebrews 11 heroine of the faith, even if she is silent in the text. We’ve heard all the time from preachers that people like David (who was a man after God’s own heart) or Paul (who suffered so much for the Gospel) should be our examples of the “Christian” walk. What about Mary? Why not her? Is it because she’s a woman? Is it because men can’t “relate” to a woman of faith though females are 99% of the time given masculine examples of faith to imitate? Maybe it has to do with our infatuation with the imperative nature of power rather than with the jussive?
About here is where I get angry for Mary because I got a glimpse of her as an archetype of the oppression of women; a real human and metaphorical weight bearer of femininity.
On the one hand, the “Catholic tradition” idolizes Mary taking her call to be the theotokos (God-bearer) to a blasphemous level. Whenever a woman is idolized it actually degrades her, for it takes away her God-given-humanity, hence objectifying her as a tool for use and manipulation. Pornography idolizes women in this way. But Mary is/was a beautiful human who wrestled with faith and doubt and sin and salvation like the rest of us, albeit in a one-of-a-kind way.
On the other hand, the “Protestant tradition” swings the opposite direction and basically ignores and overlooks Mary. She is talked about when she needs to be, but is unconsidered otherwise; it’s the superficial family syndrome that “honors” a woman on Mother’s Day and her birthday, but treats her like crap the other days of the year. God has some significant and unique truths to speak to us through the person of Mary if only we would take the time to see her, to hear her.
On a different note, can you imagine the identity crisis issues Mary would have dealt with? I know I’m kind of eisegeting out 21st century psychological mindset onto Mary here, but it had to be a mind-trip to some degree for her. There were so many theological think-tanks about the incarnation of Christ in the early church in trying to understand the humanity/divinity aspects of Christ and how they interacted with each other. Now take all that and ball it into a womb within a single human being and you have the making of an existential crisis that actually has some validity to it. All of that on top of the social perspective on her being a whore or a slut who slept with Joseph before they were married, when in reality she was being godly. Furthermore, to deny the tragedy that Mary went through and the prophecy spoken over her that a sword will pierce through her own heart with the death of her son, is to rob some crucial human aspects of the incarnation of Christ.
So back to the name-sake of this post. The Church is the Bride of Christ and Jesus is the son of Mary. Mary is our mother-in-law. The Church needs to find a third place in how to appropriately honor her mother-in-law, for both idolizing and ignoring Mary is ultimately an issue of injustice. She is not a product to be used or simply placed on a shelf; she is not for sale. Perhaps in finding a better posture towards her, we will be able to not only shift our cultural perception of women in culture/church who are so often improperly valued, but also find the beauty in jussive which calls forth life to be born and re-born again and again.