But you, O Bethlehem Eph'rathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in travail has brought forth; then the rest of his brethren shall return to the people of Israel. Micah 5:2-3 (RSV)
Happy Birthday, Mary!
So, it's your child's birthday. What presents do you have for her? What dreams? What hopes? What aspirations do you carry on her behalf? What is your prayer for your dear little daughter?
Imagine seeing this little girl, whose name we have anglicized to Mary,* and you bring your hopes and dreams forward for her. What would you consider?
OK, let's step back and look at that part of the prophecy from Micah quoted above. First, you'll note that there's a slightly different translation I found and used for our purposes. This one comes to us from the Revised Standard Version and is a more theological translation based on the Greek texts. The one the bishops have chosen comes from the New American Bible and tends to be a more colloquial, or everyday language, translation.
Second, note the use of the word, "travail." Doesn't that just stop you in your tracks? It refers to the hard work and suffering of the labor required to bring forth a child. But, let's look just a bit more at this key text applied to the Mother of God and think of it as one of those sources of meaning for her life that hovered about her before she or anyone else knew it applied to her.
Her life is, from the start, bound up with travail, labor, and suffering. At some later point in time, the Church will see Mary's life intimately bound up with Jesus' suffering and death and resurrection. So, her own travail and suffering are drawn into and given new meaning by her Son's living and dying and rising. This is her meaning.
For our part, then, stepping back to the birthday party of a child we prize, would we dream about, ask for, and hope for "travail and suffering" for any child? It doesn't make sense, does it?
But, isn't that what we do at the baptism of an infant? We immerse the child into the dying and rising of the Victorious Christ, don't we? We say, "You will suffer, but God will somehow and one day bring you to glory." We plunge the child into the tomb of the baptismal font, right?
So, here's what I'm wondering about today in light of Mary's birthday and the meaning of travail, labor, and suffering that characterized her little life from the start. It's a bit of a jump, so get ready.
I'd say that the mainstream Christian churches of the West (and maybe more) have lost our authority when it comes to speaking meaningfully about suffering. I'm not talking about "offering it up" in the sense of either "I don't want to hear it; get over it," or a kind of odd masochism that says, "Just endure it." Rather, I hear almost no meaningful teaching about our being bound intimately to the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
So, it's not surprising when "assisted suicide" gains prominence today. If I suffered from chronic pain, I'd want to get the heck out of it right now, wouldn't you? But, beyond the more tragic cases, what sense does the Church make of "travail, labor, and suffering?"
How and where and when will the Church and the churches begin to address another important issue like this? When and where and how will you and I begin to address our incorporation into Christ's death and resurrection in a more meaningful way?
Happy Birthday, Mary!
*"Mary" is the English word. "Mara" is the Hebrew
name. It means, "bitter."
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook