The Centrality of Mary's Genealogy in the Salvific Mission by Joachim Chukwudi
THE CENTRALITY OF MARY’S GENEALOGY IN THE SALVIC MISSION
A salvific mission is an undertaken made or taken up in order to bring out of danger a person or persons who are endangered in some way. Individuals and groups have acted right from the beginning of time and continue to act today to free others from different kinds of danger. But all forms or kinds of salvific mission derive their meaning and grace from the one salvific mission of Christ, which is the one divine plan of salvation God has for our fallen humanity. It is a plan in which the divine became human without losing anything of his divinity, holiness and perfection. How this was to come about was central to the divine plan. Mary is the preparatory ground of that how. This article, therefore, reflects on the centrality of Mary’s genealogy in the salvific mission of Christ, the divine son of God born of the Blessed Virgin Mary without any stain of sin.
The genealogy of Mary
There is no record of the genealogy or birth of Mary in the Bible. She is rather mentioned in the genealogy of her son Jesus Christ in Mt. 1:1-17, followed by how she conceived and gave birth to Jesus (Mt.1:18-25;Lt.1:16-38,2:1-7). In the absence of any biblical record of Mary’s genealogy or birth, and in an attempt to explain how the divine son of God was born of Mary without any stain of sin or human imperfection, the church came up with the dogma of Immaculate Conception. This being dogma was defined by Pope Pius I in 1854 as: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.’’1 A study of her genealogy will help us know how and why she was preserved from sin.
The Gospel of the birth of Mary
In the book titled ‘The lost books of the bible’2 we find the gospel of the birth of Mary with chapters and verses. Chapter 1 verses 1-2 present scanty biological/genealogical data of Mary. Verse 1 says Mary “sprung from the royal race and family of David, was born in the city of Nazareth, and educated at Jerusalem, in the temple of the Lord.” Verse 2 gives her father’s name Joachim, who is from Galilee and the city of Nazareth. Her mother’s name is given as Anna from Bethlehem. Verse 5-9 present the life of her parents who were barren for twenty years (v. 5). The lived a prayerful life, praying for the gift of a child and vowing to dedicate him or her to the service of the Lord (v. 6). In verses 7-9 Joachim is reproached at the feast of the dedication in the temple in Jerusalem by Issachar, the high-priest for being childless.
In chapter 2 the angel of the Lord appears to Joachim (v. 1) and tells him that God has heard his prayers, has received his alms and has heard of his being unjustly reproached for not having a child (vv.3-4). The angel further tells Joachim that God shuts the womb for a Purpose: “that he may in a more wonderful manner again open it, and that which is born appears to be not the product of lust, but the gift of God” (v. 5). He gives examples with Sarah (v.6), the wife of Abraham, who later gave birth to Isaac (Gen. 21:1-7); Rachael (v.7), Jacob’s wife, who later gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin (Gen. 30:22-24; 35:17-18); and the wife of Manoah (v.8) who gave birth to Samson (Judg, 13:24). The angel then foretold that in like manner Anna, the wife of Joachim will give birth to a daughter who he will call Mary (v.10); she shall not eat or drink anything unclean (v.11). According to the Angel, the reason for these special favours is: “So in the process of her years, as she shall be in a miraculous manner born of one of the that was barren, so she shall, while yet a virgin, in a way unparalleled, bring forth the Son of the most High God, who shall be called Jesus, and according to the significance of his name, be the Saviour of all nations” (v.12).
In a separate appearance to Anna in Chapter.3, the angel adds that the child who will be born, who will be called Mary, shall be blessed above all women (v.2) and shall, immediately upon her birth, be full of the grace of the Lord (v.3). Chapters 5 and 6 give the account of how Mary got betrothed to Joseph. In Chapter 5, Mary goes to live in the service of the Lord in the temple and is there ministered to by angels. The high priest orders all virgins of fourteen years old to quit the service of the Lord in the temple and endeavour to get married. Mary refuses, having vowed her virginity to the Lord. The high priest calls a meeting of the elders of Jerusalem who seek the Lord for counsel in the matter. A voice speaks from mercy –seat and the high priest obeys it by ordering all the unmarried men of the house of David to bring their rods to the altar. The one whose rod flowers and on which the spirit of God should sit, should bethrod the virgin. In Chapter 6, Joseph draws back his rod and dove pitches on it. He bethrods Mary and returns to Bethlehem. Mary returns to her parents’ house at Galilee. Before they could live together, Mary was found to be with child. The rest of the story follows as we have it in Mt. 1:18-25.
Mat. 1:1-17 presents the genealogy of Jesus in which Mary is mentioned at the very end of the list of ancestors in Mt.1:16 where we read “of her was born Jesus who is called Christ.” Discourse analysis shows that the placing of the phrase ‘of her’ at the beginning of the clause is for emphasis. That is, it was of her and not of any other person that Jesus was born. This is all the more clear as the sentence is a complete break from the “A begot (or was the father of) B” pattern Mathew used for every other birth in the list. In 1:18-25 he proceeds to throw further light on why he did not in 1: 16 say “Joseph begot (was the father of) Jesus by Mary.” Also, by way of precedence, he calls attention to his special focus on the role of Mary by mentioning the names of other women (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bethsheba Uriah’s wife) whose biblical account have something unusual or extraordinary.
In Mt. 1: 18-25, we find why Mathew does not say “Joseph begot (was the father of) Jesus by Mary.” He writes: “Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was bethroded to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.” Here still, the focus is on Mary as she is mentioned first before Joseph. In the sentence, both Mary and Joseph are put in the passive position they are not the ones taking the decision to betroth themselves, but by putting Mary before Joseph, Matthew indicates that the bethrothal focuses on Mary as the direct object while Joseph is the indirect object. This agrees with the account given above from The Lost Books of the Bible. There, it is Mary who, on reaching the age of fourteen, refuses to quit the service of the Lord in the temple to go and get married on account of what to do with her that the high-priest seeks the advice of the elders of Jerusalem but the answer comes from the mercy-seat on account of which all unmarried men of the house of David are summoned from which is chosen the one to whom Mary is betrothed. That choice fell on Joseph and what happens to Mary later the conception of the Son of God by the Holy Spirit happened behind Joseph and without him. Thus, in the taking of flesh of the Son of God, Joseph has a secondary supportive role, while Mary is the principal agent or vehicle.
Matthew’s Projection of Mary
The need to study the background of Mary is further suggested by Matthew’s listing of five women when it was unusual in first-century Judaism to list a woman’s name in a genealogy. Even OT precedents, as can be found in 1 Chr.2:5-15; 3:1-19; Ruth 4:18-22, neither sufficiently parallel nor explain Matthew’s inclusion of five women. So their inclusion must have served some purpose for Matthew. In pursuance of Matthew’s purpose here, scholar usually posit two questions: what do the 1st, 2nd 3rd and 4th women have in common among themselves? How do they prepare for the 5th woman, Mary and for the birth of Jesus? In the attempt to answer these questions, scholars came up with many hypotheses among which are: 1) the four OT women were Gentiles or foreigners; 2) they were subjects of controversy in the Jewish debate about the Davidic Messiah; 3) they were sinners; and 4) although marked by irregular marital unions, they were vehicles of God’s Messianic plan.3 Let us examine the first and the last hypotheses.
1. The Four OT Women Were Gentles or Foreigners
Biblical accounts indicate that three of the women (Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth) were non- Isrealites. The fourth woman believed to be an Isrealite, is identified by Matthew not with her own name but as wife of Uriah who was a Hittite. During the time of the third Reich in Germany, this theory was used to argue that Mary was not a Jew. However, western Christianity in general presents Mary as a Jew; so does The Gospel of the Birth of Mary. Some argue that the four women represent the Gentile side of Jesus’ distaff inherentance, while Mary represents the Jewish side.
Recently, a renowned Igbo biblical scholar, Prof. Ernest Ezeogu, has, on the basis of Mt.1:1-17. Argued extensively, exhaustively and convincingly that Mary is an African. In an Odenigbo public lecture titled: Jesu Onye Africa: Ozioma Maka Uwa Niile, Ezeogu argued three Major point:
i. that the ancient/original Isrealites who wrote the Bible were Blacks not whites;
ii. that Jesus and his mother Mary, were not only Blacks but citizens of Africa of Egyptian Origin; and
iii. that the writer of Matthew’s Gospel was a home with the above point and set out to write the gospel to convince his fellow Jews that although Jesus was a foreigner, God had in a miraculous was through adoption made him a Jew, and that they should believe in him as the promised Messiah whom they had been expecting.4
I am personally impressed by his these and demonstrations, but I have noted some difficulties which I have articulated elsewhere for more serious academic presentation. Relevant here are some of the points he used in demonstrating Mary’s African identity: the fact that the other four women and other women mentioned with the Blessed Virgin at the foot of the Cross are foreigners; the name Mary/Miriam as Egyptian name; a resident of Galilee of the Gentiles (Foreigners).5 If Mary is a foreigner an African, an Egyptian on the basis of other women mentioned with her, what Elizabeth and Zachariah said to be her relatives (Lk.1:36), are they also Egyptians? If Mary is a relative of Elizabeth, and Elizabeth is a descendant of Aaron (Lk. 1:5), then Mary ought to be a descendant of Aaron and an Isrealite. That these passages have no parallels in Matthew is not enough reason to discountenance them. If the name Mary/ Miriam is Egyptian, does it mean that all who go by the name must be Egyptian? Given the number of years (2000) the Isrealites stayed in Egypt, is it not possible that they may have given their children Egyptian names? Does ‘Gentiles’ in ‘Galilee of the Gentiles” refer to the non- Isrealites who moved out of Egypt with the Isrealites or those former inhabitants of the land who the tribe of Naphtali could not drive out? (Jdg 1:3). In either case, Galilee of the Gentiles was populated by both Jews and non-Jews. Mary could well be a Jew living in Galilee of the Gentiles. Christian tradition gives the parents of Mary as Joachim and Anne. This is confirms by The Gospel of the Birth of Mary presented above. It confirms not only the names of the parents but also gives their Jewish village and town and states that Mary “sprung from the royal race and family of David.” However, the genealogy or identity of Mary as an African or Jew, in spite of the fact that the Messianic promise was attached to the Davidic lineage, is not the most primary or most central issue in the divine plan of Salvation. We have to look at the next hypothesis.
2. The four women, Marked by irregular Marital Unions, were Vehicles of God’s Messianic plan.
These women contracted marriage in unusual/extraordinary ways. Tamar posed as a harlot to seduce her father-in-law, Judah, (Gen28: 1-30) and as it were got married to him. Rahab was a prostitute who helped the Isrealites in their conquest of Jericho (Josh. 2:1-24). She later lived with Isrealites(Josh 6:25) and may have been married to Salmon (Mt 1:5). Ruth’s act which led to her becoming Boaz’s wife is also seductive (Ruth 3-4). Uriah’s wife, Bethsheba, got married to David through adultery and murder (2 Sam.11). The irregular or unusual nature of these marriages can make them despicable, yet through these unions, which focus on the women as heroines, God fulfilled his promises and advanced his plan of salvation through selectivity and providence. Through Tamar, the messianic line was propagated; through Rahab’s courage, Isreal entered the Promised Land; through Ruth’s initiative, she and Boaz became great grandparents of king David; and through Bethsheba’s intervention, David’s throne passed to Solomon. By mentioning these women on the basis of their divine selection and providence, Matthew calls attention to Mary as an instrument of God’s providence in the messianic plan. He prominentizes Mary by placing her first in the sentence: “Mary of whom is called the Christ” (Mt. 1:16).
According to Pope John Paul II, in the context of the angel’s annunciation (Lk 26-38), the greeting and name “full of grace” refer “to the election of Mary as Mother of the Son of God.” 6 The Pope goes further to argue: “If this election is fundamental for the accomplishment of God’s salvific designs for humanity, and if the eternal choice in Christ and the vocation to the dignity of adopted children is the destiny of everyone, then the election of Mary is wholly exceptional and unique. Hence also the singularity and uniqueness of her place in the mystery of Christ.”7 For Pope Pius IX, “Full of grace” is manifested in the mother of God through the fact that she has been “redeemed in a more sublime manner”8 as she was “preserved from the inheritance of original sin.”9
This brings us back to the dogma of Immaculate Conception. Being preserved from the inheritance of original sin means being freed of the principle of corruption and putrefaction- the natural human inclination to sin. The corruptive effect of sin can be likened to the fungi effect of yeast. That is, sin does to the human person what yeast does to bread. Bread seasoned with yeast develops fungi fast and spoils while bread without any yeast seasoning lasts long and may not develop any fungi. The chemical definition of yeast is “a substance in a state of putrefaction, the atoms of which are in a continual motion.” That is why the bread of the Presence-the Eucharist –is prepared without any yeast. In the OT, only cakes made from flour without leaven were allowed to be placed as offerings upon the altar of Yahweh (Lv. 10:12). Rabbinical writers refer to leaven as a symbol of evil. The figurative use of leaven as “corrupt and corrupting” is also present in the NT. In Mt.16:16, Jesus cautions against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. In 1Cor.5:6, Paul talks of the pervading effect and power of yeast: “Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?” This is echoed in Mt. 13:33 where Jesus likens the Kingdom of heaven to the leaven. Here, the point of comparison is the hidden, silent, mysterious but all-pervading and transforming action of the leaven in the whole flour to which it is added.
Preservation from original sin as freedom from the principle of corruption is made clearer by St. Paul where he writes: “Your boasting is not a good thing. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our Paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor.5:6-8). That is, the preservation of Mary from original sin is the clearing out of the old yeast of sin and death, corruption and putrefaction so that the new yeast Jesus Christ, the light of the world, the word of life, the conferrer of immortality and imperishability might suffer no contamination. That clearing out may have been achieved through the closing of Anna’s womb for 20 years so that what will come out of it later will be a new and fresh wineskin of Immaculate Conception into which will be poured the fresh wine of new life the spotless Son of God, the Saviour of the world. What Immaculate Conception then means is that Mary was an unleavened human being.
If new wine has to remain new and fresh, then the container in which it is poured and stored has to be new and fresh (Mt. 2:22; 9:17). A vessel or mould gives shape to its content. And if it is what comes out of a person (something unwholesome) that defiles him or her (Mk. 7:20), then Mary who gave birth to the Son of God through the Holy Spirit must herself be holy and spotless. This is what the Bible and the dogma on Immaculate Conception teach and is further elucidated by The Gospel of the Birth of Mary as found in The Lost Books of the Bible. That is her centrality: the chosen vessel made spotless to carry ashore Christ the author and finisher of the divine plan of salvation. The container is central to the preservation and the wholesomeness of the contained. The condition of the vessel is central to the mission of salvation.
1 Pope Piux XI, Apostolic Letter Ineffabilis Deus (8 December 1854): DS 2803. See The Catechism of the Council of Trent, trans. By John A.McHugh and Charles J.Callan, Tan Books and Publishers, Rockford, Illinois, 1982, 14th printing, p.591; The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paulines Publications Africa, revised edition 2001, 3rd reprint 2002, art. 491, p.127
2 The Lost Books of the Bible, translated from the original tongues with a new forward by Solomon J.Schepps, New York, Random House: Testament Books/Crown Publishers, 1979, reprint of the 1926 ed.by world Pub. Co.,Cleverland.
3 See Raymond E. Brown, et al, eds., Mary in the New Testament, Bangalore, India: Theological Publications, 1987 (first published in 1978 by Fortress Press), pp. 77-83; Joseph Paredes, Mary and the Kingdom of God: A synthesis of Mariology, trans by Joseph Daries and Josefina Martinez, Uk: St. Paul Publications, 1991, pp. 52-53.
4 See Ernest Munachi Ezeogu, Jesu Onye Afrika: Ozioma Maka Uwa Niile, Nkuzi Odenigbo 2009, Achidayosis Owere, 2009, pp. xxi ff.
5 See Ezeogu, Jesu Onye Afrika, pp.64,71-74 and 82 respectively.
6 Redemptoris Mater, 9.
7 Redemptoris Mater, 9.
8 Pope Piux IX, Apostolic Letter Ineffabilis Deus (8 December 1854): Pii IX P.M.Acta, pars I, 616.
9 Pope Pius IX, Apostolic Letter Ineffabilis Deus, art. 491.