…Indeed I think we can only appreciate Jesus’ commending Mary to the beloved disciple, as well as his charge to the disciples to regard Mary as his mother, when we recognize that Mary is not another mother. Rather, Mary is the firstborn of a new creation. Without Mary’s response “Here am I” to Gabriel, our salvation would not be. Raneiro Cantalamessa quite rightly, therefore, entitled his book on Mary, Mary: Mirror of the Church.
Cantalamessa, moreover makes the fascinating observation that in the New Testament Jesus is often designated or assumed to be the new Adam, the new Moses, or the new David, but he is never called the new Abraham. Cantalamessa suggests that the reason Jesus is not associated with Abraham is very simple — Mary is our Abraham. Just as Abraham did not resist God’s call to leave his father’s country to a new land, so Mary did not resist God’s declaration that she would bear a child through the power of the Holy Spirit. Abraham’s faith foreshadows Mary’s “Here am I” because just as we are Abraham’s children through faith, so we become children of the new age inaugurated in Christ through Mary’s faithfulness.
God restrained Abraham’s blow that would have sacrificed Isaac, but the Father does not hold back from the sacrifice of Mary’s son. Jesus’ command that Mary should “behold your son” is to ask Mary to see the one born of her body was born to be sacrificed so that we might live. As Gregory of Nyssa put it, “If one examines the mystery, one will prefer to say not that his death was a consequence of his birth, but that the birth was undertaken so that we could die.” When God tested Abraham by commanding the sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham’s “Here I am” (Genesis 22:1) did not result in Isaac’s death. Mary’s “Here am I,” however could not save her son from being the one born to die on a cross.
In the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews we are reminded that “by faith” did our foremothers and fathers live. Yet Mary, true daughter of Israel, was tested as no one in Israel had ever been tested. Jesus’ “behold your son” asked Mary to witness the immolation of the Son, to enter into the darkness that is the cross, yet to hold fast to the promises she had received from the Spirit that this is the one that will scatter the proud, bring down the powerful from their thrones, fill the hungry with good things, and fulfill the promises made the Abraham and his descendants. Her son, the Messiah, will do all this from the cross.
Jesus charges Mary to regard as her own, her true family, the “disciple whom he loved.” Drawing disciples into the church, Mary shares her faith, making possible our faith. At this moment, at the foot of the cross, we are drawn into the mystery of salvation through the beginning of the church. Mary, the new Eve, becomes for us the firstborn of a new reality, of a new family, that only God could create. Augustine observed that the God who created us without us refuses to save us without us. Mary is the first great representative of that “us.” Accordingly Mary, the Jew, in a singular fashion becomes for us the forerunner of our faith, making it impossible for Christians to forget that without God’s promises to Israel our faith is in vain.
When Christians repress the role of Mary in our salvation we are tempted to forget that God remains faithful to his people, the Jews. Our saviour was born of Mary, making us, like the Jews, a bodily people who live by faith in the One who asks us to behold his crucified body.
Jesus, therefore, commands the disciple, his beloved disciple, not to regard Mary as Jesus’ mother but rather recognize that Mary is “your mother.” Mary’s peculiar role in our salvation does not mean that she is separate from the church. Rather, Mary’s role in our salvation is singular because, beginning with the beloved disciple, she is made a member of the church. Mary is one of us, which means that the distance between her and us is that constituted by both her and our distance between Trinity and us, that is, between creatures and Creator.