By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
“He is your son… She is your mother.” — John 19:26-27
International Women’s Day
March 8 is International Women’s Day. It is time for us to remember the more than a hundred women who were burned to death in New York City many years ago and to promise that never again women would be treated this way. Women were hired to work in a garment factory in that American city and the owner had to padlock them inside the factory for fear that they might steal. Unfortunately, there was a fire and the women workers inside were mercilessly turned into ashes.
The gruesome event opened the eyes of people worldwide on the situation of women not only in factories but also in other areas of social life. A women’s movement came into being addressing the issues of discrimination and abuse against women as women. A few years ago, a movement called Thursday in Black was launched to serve as silent protest against women abuses. Every Thursday women all over the world wear black clothes, and if someone would ask them why they are in black they would take the opportunity to share their concerns about discrimination and abuses against women.
Mary in Philippine society
Since we are now in the Season of Lent, I would like to take as our point of reflection the words of Jesus on the cross as recorded in the Gospel of John. The crucified Lord said to his mother, “He is your son… She is your mother” (Jn. 19:26-27). Let us look into the significance of these words of Jesus as well as the life of this woman named Mary the mother of Jesus, especially for today’s women.
In a Roman Catholic country like ours, the name of Mary the mother of Jesus is quite popular. As a matter of fact, she is even more popular than Jesus Christ our Lord as shown by a survey conducted several years ago. Mary was on top of the popularity survey. However, Mary as a human being and as a mother is seldom given attention. Perhaps, she is known as a saint or as Mother of God, but seldom as an ordinary woman or as a mother of the man Jesus of Nazareth.
However, in the Holy Scriptures Jesus had shown great respect for his mother as a woman. In a wedding in Cana and even on the cross, Jesus called her mother woman, rather Mama or Mommy (cf. Jn. 2:4; Jn. 19:26-27). In our time and culture, calling our mother woman is a sign of disrespect. But according to some Biblical scholars calling your mother woman was not a common practice in Jesus’ time. Besides, Jesus did not do this to all women. Calling his mother woman was not meant to show disrespect, but rather to emphasize the importance of womanhood.
Sad to say, that womanhood was not given equal and mutual significance with manhood even in Biblical times. History shows that religion has been used to justify the subordination of women to men in the home, in society, and even in the church. Mary has been pictured as a docile and obedient woman to be emulated. Rather than the revolutionary woman who sang as recorded in the Gospel of Luke: “God has brought down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; He sent the rich empty away and fed the hungry” (Lk. 1:52-53).
Many women have internalized this docile image of Mary. Hence, women have been encouraged to be obedient in accepting their unequal treatment in society.
Mary as Mother of Jesus
According to the Scriptures, Mary was a woman of great faith. When the angel of the Lord informed her that she will be the mother of the coming Messiah, she responded saying, “I am the Lord’s servant; may it happen to me as you have said” (Lk. 1:38). These words of Mary have been widely interpreted to mean Mary’s obedience to God’s will. It doesn’t mean however, that women must be obedient at all times and in all places and situations. Rather, this means that Mary is a woman of freedom; she is obedient to God alone, and to God alone she shall serve.
We could see Mary’s great faith in becoming the Mother of the Savior of humankind. We could see her faith in action as she gave birth to Jesus and raised him from childhood until his death on the cross. Surely, we know how Mary was put to shame for becoming pregnant without a husband, her difficulty in taking the child Jesus to Egypt so that King Herod could not kill him, her anxiety in looking for her son Jesus when he was lost in the Temple. And when his son was crucified, she was beneath the cross alone without any powerful politician, who could help her save her son’s life; without money to pay the powers-that-be so that her son could be freed. What she only had was her great love for her son, who was arrested, tortured, and crucified.
If Mary were still alive today, she would know and understand the feelings of mothers like her whose sons were also arrested, tortured, and put to death for standing courageously for the truth. As a loving mother, she would know the sanctity of life. Mary’s presence beneath Jesus’ cross would show us not only the relationship of Mary and her son Jesus, but even the relationship of Mary to us. Mary has been our genuine sister in the faith who shared her life for the Kingdom of God. She has been our companion in this long struggle for the fullness of life, especially now a days when the value of human life has been cheapened enormously. We need a faith like that of Mary that would give us courage and hope amidst today’s cynicism and hopelessness.
Mary’s faith worthy of emulation
Mary’s life has been of great value due to the influence she had in Jesus’ life. Surely, the life she lived had served as a mirror or model for Jesus in his growing years. If the Scriptures talk about Jesus’ great teachings about the Kingdom as well as his good deeds among people, certainly he learned these things from his loving mother.
Jesus healing the sick and eating with sinners and tax collectors would show to us the love and compassion he learned from her mother. If we would say that Jesus is our model in life, we could also safely say that Mary was Jesus’ model in life.
Today, we could see the face of Mary in the faces of Filipino women who also suffered like Mary. Mary knew how hard to have no room in the inn, especially when you are about to give birth to your child. Mary also knew how difficult to be a refugee of man-made or natural calamity for she and her husband Joseph and the child Jesus were also refugees in Egypt when King Herod wanted to kill the child Jesus.
Jesus’ last words on the cross according to John’s Gospel would show to us a genuine relationship of a mother to her son so that her son may develop great love for people and would not abuse and discriminate against women and other marginalized people in society. And so, if women today would like to build a society devoid of women abuses, start building that society with their own child. This, I believe, is what it means to be a woman in our present time. # nordis.net