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Sunday Scripture: Born of a woman

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January 1, 2012

By Terrance Callan

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God: Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21

One week after we have remembered and celebrated the birth of Jesus, we turn our attention to Mary, the mother of Jesus, as we observe the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

On this feast, we remember and celebrate the essential contribution of Mary to the birth of Jesus. And because this feast is celebrated at the beginning of a new year, we also reflect on the way the birth of Jesus was a new beginning for the human race.


These themes appear most clearly in the reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians. In this reading, Paul says that God sent His Son Jesus, born of a woman.  Paul does not name the mother of Jesus. He speaks of Jesus as born of a woman to indicate Jesus’ solidarity with the human race. All of us were born of a woman and so was Jesus. It is through His mother Mary that Jesus is one of us.


Paul says that this happened at the fullness of time, the time when God’s plan to save the human race had reached its appointed moment. Before the coming of Jesus, human beings were slaves to sin, alienated from God who is our destiny.  As a result of the coming of Jesus, those who believe in Him are no longer slaves; rather we are children of God who call God “Abba, Father!” This was a decisive turning point in human history. That is why the reading from the Gospel according to Luke says that the shepherds who went to Bethlehem and found the infant Jesus there glorified and praised God. The angel had told them that the Messiah, the promised savior, had been born. The shepherds rejoiced to find that the angel’s words were true.


In the reading from Galatians, Paul says not only that Jesus was born of a woman, but also that He was born under the law. That is, Jesus was a Jew. The reading from the Gospel according to Luke also emphasizes this. As required by Jewish law, Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day after His birth. This indicates Jesus’ solidarity with the Jewish people. Like all other Jewish baby boys, Jesus was circumcised.  God’s plan to save the human race was accomplished through the Jews. Just as Jesus’ inclusion in the human race occurred through His mother, so did His inclusion in the Jewish people. Mary and Joseph were Jews. They had Jesus circumcised because they observed the law God gave the Jewish people.


But in this respect, too, the birth of Jesus was a new beginning. Paul says that Jesus was born under the law “to ransom those under the law.” The law was not able to save the Jewish people from slavery to sin, and God did not intend that it should do so. Only Jesus brought such freedom from slavery.


The reading from the Book of Numbers records a blessing with which Aaron and his sons, the priests of Israel, are to bless the Israelites. When the priests bless the Israelites in this way, God will bless the Israelites. The priests are to say, “The Lord bless you and keep you!  The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!  The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”


The greatest way in which God has blessed Israel is through the birth of Jesus. It is most of all through Jesus that God has been gracious and given peace to Israel and to the whole human race.


 Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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