The Interrelationship of Jesus and Mary
God’s Word informs us that Mary, along with Joseph, took care of Jesus when he grew into an adult. Even during that time, Mary could not fully understand his words and the importance of his mission.
At the time of Jesus, when he was twelve years old, he got separated from his parents and
remained in the Temple in Jerusalem, instead of setting out with them on the road home to Nazareth. Mary rebuked him: “So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.’ And He said to them, ‘Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’”
The next verse (Lk. 2:50) reveals that Joseph and his wife did not understand Christ’s response. Nevertheless, regardless of their limited understanding of spiritual truth, the child Jesus was obedient to His parents.
Eighteen years later, he began his Messianic ministry. After the baptism in the Jordan, Jesus’ mother once again revealed her misunderstanding of His work and teaching. Of course, as a wonderfully pious woman, she quickly adjusted to the will of God and corrected her ways. Thus, during the wedding at Cana in Galilee, after the host ran out of wine, Mary approached her son and asked him to do something about this issue:
“And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.’”
In this way, the Lord showed that He was the One who would decide whether to perform messianic signs, instead of submitting to requests from His earthly relatives about the execution of God’s work.
Another occasion (Mark 3:21-22, 31-35) included Jesus giving a sermon and performing some miraculous works to back His claims. Many Jews felt that Jesus’ works came from the Evil One, since they believed that Jesus went mad and came under the influence of demons. (See Jn. 10:20.) Because of her great worry for Jesus, Mary and her sons came to seize and silence Him – in order to protect Him from His opponents. However, as in the first case, Jesus did not allow anyone to interfere with His ministry (even in spite of good but misinformed intentions). Since his mother and brothers in this way demonstrated a misunderstanding of Christ’s activity and a bit of unbelief in the validity of His ministry, the Lord addressed his listeners, showing them as to who actually belong to His family:
“And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.’”
The Apostle John reveals that even Jesus’ physical brothers (half-brothers by his mother) did not believe in His identity up to the resurrection (Jn. 7:3-10). They viewed Jesus in just the same way as the rest of the sinful world did. For these and other reasons, including a partial or even complete rejection of Him by His own blood family, Christ calls all His disciples “brothers, sisters and mother”, saying that they are his real family – those who believe in Him and understand Him.
On another occasion, after he delivered a series of magnificent spiritual lessons to the people who listened to him, one woman, thrilled by this revelation of divine truth, commented to the Lord that His mother must be very blessed and happy to have such a son. However, Christ responded to the words of her statement by saying that those who observe and obey the will of God enjoy a much greater blessing – and thus giving greater evidence that his mother does not enjoy any privileged status in God’s people:
“And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!’ But He said, ‘More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’”
These gospel passages clearly indicate that Jesus publicly stated that He considered His mother quite equal to His other disciples. So let us see if sacred tradition conforms to the truth presented in the Bible. As we will notice, this text was written to Mary, “Mother of God”, who was put on par with many millions of Christians who have lived throughout the centuries, as well as those who live today. All human beings were placed in a position superior and privileged over the whole creation. It is about a “vision of Heaven” allegedly seen by the Venerable Gregory, a student of Basil the New in the ninth century after Christ. After a very careful reading of the description of what was “recorded” in the startling vision of Judgment Day allegedly given to Gregory, compare it with the teachings of the Bible. Here is how our Orthodox literature describes this vision:
“The first one he saw was the Most Holy and Immaculate Virgin Mary, mother of the Lord Jesus Christ. In that hour, the Lord removed from His Immaculate Head a wonderful crown and put it on her head. He said to His Mother, ‘Receive My glory, which My Father gave to Me, for victory over the devil and death which I have overcome, because You received My Body.’ Then He gave her righteous robes with His Royal garb, which He Himself wore as the God-man. He gave her other spiritual gifts, venerating Her in word and deed as His Mother. She then approached Him and sat down on His divine throne in exaltation over all the saints… She exalted the Lord as Lord and King over all the heavenly hosts, who also rejoiced greatly.”
This article gives an adequate summary of what the Orthodox Church believes about Mary. We will discuss these beliefs more in detail later. However, according to the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles inspired by His Spirit, these honors apply to all other Christian believers. Namely, all other believers, who are born again according to God’s Word by the promise of the Lord, will receive God’s glory and sit on the throne of Christ’s divinity – not just Mary. In His intercessory prayer as High Priest, Jesus the Savior in addressing his heavenly Father stated that He would transfer His (divine) glory that He received from the Father to His disciples. Furthermore, Jesus promises to those who keep their faith in Him to the end and overcome sinful temptations that they will sit on His throne:
“And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one.”
“To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”
In addition to these heavenly rewards which await the faithful of God (including the physical mother of Christ the Lord, who was merely one faithful person among millions), Jesus and the apostles mentioned many other honors. Among them is the right to eat of fruit from the Tree of Life that is in God’s paradise (Rev. 2:7), receiving the crown of life (Rev.
2:10), and receiving power over the nations, ruling over them with an iron rod and the morning star (Rev. 2:26-28). Christ’s believers will be also made a pillar in the temple of God the Father, and the name of God, the New Jerusalem, and Christ’s new name shall be written on them (Rev. 3:12). Every believer will receive from the Lord a white stone written with his new name (Rev. 2:17). According to the teachings of the Holy Scriptures, God sent angels to serve and to help those who will inherit salvation (Ps. 34:7, 91:11, 12; Heb. 1:14; Rev. 19:10; 22:8). Thus, the apostle Paul could declare that the saints shall judge the world (unbelieving people) and angelic beings (1 Cor. 6:3), all of which once again points to the glory of redeemed people in relation to the rest of creation. This glory is not exclusive to Mary.
So, as we observed, efforts Orthodox followers through such heavenly “visions” and other extrabiblical “revelations” to exalt Mary, the mother of Jesus, as the Mother of God superior to all other believers simply fall short of truth. Namely, Scripture testifies to the full equality before God of Christ’s earthly followers, including his mother through whom His Father gave Jesus a human nature. However, despite the fact that the Lord Jesus has not exalted His mother to the top of the heavens, as the Orthodox believe, He, as the perfect Son, always worried about her, especially after the death of his stepfather and guardian Joseph. As He was obedient to her in His youth, so He also cared for her even a few moments before His death on the cross. Knowing that her husband had died and she had not remarried (Mark 6:3), and the children had not yet become His disciples (Jn. 7:5), Christ the Lord in that moment entrusted the care of his mother to His youngest apostle John (John 19:25-27).
But regarding specifically this New Testament text that describes the delegation of Mary’s care to John, the Orthodox Church wants to affirm its teaching that Jesus’ mother did not have any other children (because in that case, they believe, Mary would have been cared for by her other children). However, Eastern Orthodox theologians overlook some biblical facts mentioned before regarding this controversial issue. At this point I want to briefly mention them.
As stated earlier, John’s gospel mentions the fact that Mary, Jesus’ mother was present at the cross where her son was crucified:
“When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.”
Surprisingly, none of the other evangelists in their gospels mention this event, not even the presence of the mother of Jesus at the cross. However, they do point out that certain females were present. Of course, it would have been a big neglect for the Apostles themselves to have forgotten her – if, in fact, she actually were present there (as the Apostle John wrote she was). The remaining gospels indeed offer us other descriptions of Mary, mother of the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew describes Mary as the mother of James and Joses. Mark mentions Mary as the mother of James the younger and Joseph, and Luke lists a number of women who had come with Jesus from Galilee:
“And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.”
“There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome.”
“But all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”
As stated before, the gospels inform us that Jesus’ mother with her husband Joseph had several sons (and daughters). Among those children were James and Joseph (who was also known by his other name of Joses). On one occasion, after a noteworthy discussion with Christ, some of the people of Nazareth who knew Jesus from childhood began to mock Him, saying:
“Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?”
“’Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?’ So they were offended at Him.”
Of course, what the Nazarenes did not recognize is that Jesus was not the son of Joseph,
but the Son of God. They were certainly aware that after the birth of Jesus, who was the firstborn, Mary gave birth to several children in the house of Joseph. Therefore, based on the gospel accounts, we can deduce the following about one woman who was present at Christ’s crucifixion:
(1) Mary was the mother of Jesus. (John 19:26-7)
(2) Mary was the mother of James and Joses. (Mt. 27:55-6; Mk. 15:40)
(3) James and Joses were brothers by blood relationship of Jesus. (Mt. 13:55-6; Mk. 6:3)
(4) Mary was from Nazareth, located in Galilee, where she raised Jesus as a boy in His earthly hometown. (Lk. 23:49; Mt. 13:55-6)
(5) Mary is mentioned in all four gospels – Mary, the mother of Jesus, who came from Galilee, is the same as Mary, the mother of James and Joses.
(6) Therefore, Mary had other children and thus was not a “perpetual virgin” as alleged by Orthodox apologists.
On the day of Christ’s resurrection, early in the morning, some of the women who were with Him came to His grave. The reason for their visit to the tomb was to anoint Jesus’ dead body which had been removed a few days earlier from the tree (wooden cross) and laid in a tomb which was owned by Joseph of Arimathea (Mt. 27:57-60). Although the Lord repeatedly had told His disciples that He would resurrect from the dead on the third day after the crucifixion , they did not believe Him (Mark 16:9-14). Thus, even the women who came to the tomb of Jesus did not do so because they expected to confirm the reality of His resurrection. Rather, they were convinced that He was still dead. To complete the rite of burial, they wanted to complete the anointing of the corpse that they failed to do when the body was taken to the grave. That day was the Sabbath, the day of rest (which began on Friday after sunset, Jn. 19:42):
“Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.”
“Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him.”
“It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles.”
From all these texts, we see the presence of Mary, mother of the Lord, during the crucifixion, burial and “unsuccessful” anointment of Jesus, with the difference that the apostles called her the mother of James and Joses. Nevertheless, a clear question arises from these texts: why do some of the gospel writers refer to Jesus’ mother in this manner?
As we know, the evangelists wrote down their accounts of the events of Jesus’ life only a few decades after his ascension to Heaven, rather than immediately when they occurred (in other words, they did not just write articles quickly like journalists). In the meantime, the brothers of Jesus whom John described as not believing in Him during Christ’s earthly mission (Jn. 7:5), then went on to believe in the Lord after his resurrection. The book of Acts reveals that they all had joined the apostles and other believers during the first meetings of the Church:
“And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”
At the time of the murder of the apostle James (brother of John, Acts 12:2), James, the Lord’s brother, was the head of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17, 21:18; 1 Cor. 15:7, Gal. 2:9, 12). The Apostle Paul, during his visit to this one Church, met the son of Mary and said:
“Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.”
It is obvious that Paul was familiar with the fact that Jesus had brothers “in the flesh,” who were sons of Mary, not just from Joseph’s first marriage (as the Orthodox believe, and which will be discussed in more detail later). If these brothers had only come from Joseph’s previous marriage, Paul would have been mistaken to call James the brother of the Lord. However, they both knew that James was the son of Mary.
In the same way as James became one of the first leaders of the church (and author of the Epistle of James), so someone named Judas became the author of the Epistle of Jude named after him. This Judas also was a half-brother of Jesus, not the apostle who called himself “Judas, son of James”. We note that from Jude’s own epistle, where the author James calls himself a brother of James and a servant of Jesus Christ. He does not call himself an “apostle” – in contrast to the way Peter and Paul introduce themselves at the beginning of their epistles. Also, the writer in Jude 17 excludes himself from the company of the original Apostles: “But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Precisely because these half-brothers of Jesus became prominent teachers in the Church at the turn of the first half and the second century, they became well-known among a wide circle of believers at the time when the New Testament gospels and writings were recorded. When Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote about Jesus’ mother as a participant in the events surrounding His death and resurrection, they referred to her as the mother of these famous leaders in the first century church. It is hard to believe at that time (when Jesus’ disciples were few – after His death, many deserted Him – see John 6:66) there were still some of Mary’s children that bore the same name of the mother as did our Lord.
In this way, we have seen most of the details pertaining to the life of Christ’s mother Mary and His close relatives. I intentionally omitted all other details for now so that we can examine them later in this chapter when discussing “Mary in the tradition of the Orthodox Church.”