Have you ever thought much about Mary and what she was doing BEFORE Gabriel came to her and made this announcement? Honestly, for a long time I saw her as a sort of contemplative who didn’t do much of anything before this. How could anyone who lived everyday life be so honorable and wonderful that she could be the Theotokos-the God-carrier? I’m sure this idea comes from the doctrines and theologies that arose around the figure of the Mother of God.
I read an article in Biblical Archaeology Review that gave me pause in this thinking: “’Eves’ of Everyday Ancient Israel”.
We don’t have a lot of information about how women lived their daily lives in Biblical times because archaeologists have not focused on excavating ordinary homes in agrarian villages. And, most of the population lived in these farming villages while the Bible stories talk more about kings, judges, and authorities. It is sad that excavations and studies have focused on proving the epic stories in the Bible rather than providing a window into everyday life that could throw light on those very same Bible stories.
There is a new world connection here, too. In the Western Hemisphere, archaeologists have been interested in everyday life and excavating the full meal deal at ancient historical sites. This has finally influenced Holy Land excavations. Archaeologists have been mainly males, and now more females are entering the field and are asking questions about family life, which we know was very important in ancient Israel and in Jesus’ time.
So, now we have excavations that include communal bread baking areas. Rows of querns and grinding stones for making wheat into flour (much like you see in Spruce House at Mesa Verde) and communal ovens for baking bread are in some of the villages that have been excavated. Depictions of women working to grind flour, knead dough and bake bread are found nearby the Holy Land that would indicate this was one of the daily activities of women.
So, I imagine Mary grinding wheat and baking bread with the women in her hometown of Nazareth where she was living when Gabriel came to visit her. She likely spun yarn and wove cloth. There is a tradition that she had gone to a local spring or well to collect water when Gabriel came to her. I have to accept the fact that Mary was doing the things a mid-teen woman would normally do each day. Yet, she was apparently pious and loving and commendable through the daily gossip and hurts and joys of daily life in a small village of 400 people. She also must have felt a connection to God that compelled her to answer, “Here am I.”
So, Mary likely wasn’t a contemplative, a sort of nun before Gabriel came and made this astonishing announcement. Well, okay. God really did pick an ordinary person doing ordinary, everyday things to be the God-carrier.
All kinds of remarkable things were happening. Elizabeth, who was well past child-bearing age and had never had children, was six months pregnant--nothing is impossible with God! In this world Mary and Elizabeth lived in, God could intervene and make things happen! Babies of any kind weren’t accidents; God was involved in the forming of each one.
I guess one could say, “Resistance is futile!” But, it does seem that Mary had a choice. At least, she consented to the whole idea of giving birth to this Holy Son of God. The final illustration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy seems to finalize the deal for Mary. “Yes, I see it all now: I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say.” Mary obviously believed God had formed her in her mother’s womb for a special purpose.
Another remarkable part of the story is that the Holy Spirit would come upon a woman--this had been reserved for men in the history of Israel. With others, like Saul and David, people recognized that the Holy Spirit was upon them and guiding them. I wonder if anyone noticed anything different about Mary? Did she receive gifts of prophecy or healing or discernment? We know she was making notes in her heart about what she observed and heard about her son. I suppose one would after having an angel visit like that.
Maybe everyone in Jesus’ time felt called by God. I just don’t believe they were all being visited by angels, although Luke likes to remind us they can visit anytime they like. John the Baptist’s father, Mary, and the angels appearing to the shepherds all are accounts in Luke.
Mary not only had the Holy Spirit upon her, she was the Theotokos, the God-carrier, so she was the first to have God dwelling within her. This, too, was a new concept. Did her face shine like Moses’ when he descended from Mt. Sinai after speaking with God? Probably not. What an ordinary thing to live in a small village and be pregnant. What an extraordinary thing to be visited by an angel while drawing water for the household. God can visit us in the most ordinary places and circumstances if we are open to see and receive what the Holy One has to offer. If the women were following normal Jewish practices of praying while doing each daily activity: thanking God for the grain as they ground it, thanking God for the sunlight at each dawn, thanking God for the water as they drew it from the well or spring, thanking God for the bread as they baked it, thanking God for the wool and the yarn and the loom. Maybe it isn’t so remarkable that a young woman, a teenager at that, would be quite receptive to the idea that God could send an angel to have a conversation with her and whatever the angel asked her to do, she would say yes after asking how. But she would be open to what God would ask of her, no matter what it was because everything she was and had came from God.
Yes, Mary is a good example of how a person can live an ordinary life in a backwater of a place and still be called by God. At any time in any place, any one of us or maybe all of us might be called by the Holy Spirit to do some extraordinary thing.