Rethinking Mary in the New Testament
What the Bible Tells Us About the Mother of the Messiah
By Edward Sri, Ignatius Press, 2018. 320 pages, $17.95, To order: ignatius.com or (800) 651-1531
Our beautiful Mary steps lightly in the New Testament but leaves deep impressions on our souls. We hear relatively little from her in the Gospels, but her few words have echoed powerfully through the ages to the present day.
When she told the servants at the Wedding of Cana, “Do whatever he tells you,” it was like a holy clarion call to always follow her Son.
Her stunning canticle of praise, the Magnificat, inspired such musical geniuses as Bach, Palestrina, William Byrd — and many others.
Could another living creature dare to sing, “My soul doth magnify the Lord …” and mean it literally?
Yet what we know about Mary is often repeated by rote. We assume that the things she says are biblically unique — something new for the New Testament. At the same time, we accept certain ideas about Mary as being extra-biblical, with roots in Tradition with a capital “T,” those beliefs handed down alongside the Bible that originated with the apostles and passed orally and through non-canonical writings.
We see Mary as the Mother of Christ, of course, but perhaps we miss the links she established in that role between the Old and New Testaments.
Now, theologian and author Edward Sri has written an ambitious book offering new insights into the woman Revelation calls “The woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of 12 stars.”
In Rethinking Mary in the New Testament, Sri plows what seems familiar ground to open up a new way of thinking about Our Lady and revealing how much of what she became was foretold in the Old Testament. He also makes strong argument that those notions about Mary often thought of being rooted solely in Tradition also have strong biblical roots.
“Mary is a good biblical model for how we should approach God’s Word in Scripture, and her own example should guide our study of what the Bible says about her,” writes Sri in the introduction. “In other words, if we want to understand correctly [what the] New Testament reveals about Mary … we should be immersed in God’s Word as she was.”
Sri digs into those words of our Blessed Mother, offering fresh ways of thinking about their meaning. He presents a picture of Mary as though looking through a prism, with each facet revealing something new.
Every Christian child knows from the Christmas story that “there was no place for them in the inn.”
Sri offers a new interpretation: The “them” was not Joseph and Mary, but Mary and the Christ Child. Joseph, he notes, is not even mentioned in this scene from Luke.
By reinterpreting the meaning of this one word, Sri writes, “Luke subtly reveals how Mary at the Nativity already participates in the suffering and rejection of her son.”
Even the simple “hail” in “Hail, full of grace” is open to examination. Sri notes the original Greek could have been translated into “rejoice.” It may seem like a small point, just a different word, but for those who love Mary and understand her role in salvation history, “rejoice” not only makes sense, but expands on the joy that is to come to Mary and to the world.
Continuing on the theme of referencing the Old Testament, Sri compares Mary’s Magnificat in Luke with another “hymn-like song of praise” from 1 Samuel, the Song of Hannah.
It was Hannah who begged the Lord for a trial and promised that should she conceive she would give the child to the service of God.
Hannah sings, “The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.”
Sri asks his readers to listen to the echo in Mary’s song, “He has shown the strength of his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.”
Sri is showing that Mary’s song points backward to Hannah and forward to a time when Christians would perpetually “proclaim the greatness of the Lord.”
“As such, Mary is a representative of all the faithful, going before us as the first and model disciple and the one who receives in a singular way what God wants to give all his people: his merciful love.”
Charles Lewis writes from Toronto.
Edward Sri’s new columns on Mary can be read at