The four Gospels provide a harmonious yet nuanced picture of the Son of God entering the world in the person of Jesus Christ. John explains the fact that the eternal Logos became “flesh” (John 1:14), while Mark begins his account by presenting an already adult Jesus (Mark 1:1–6). Matthew and Luke are the main sources that help us make sense of the early days of Jesus’ life. As one might expect, Mary has a prominent role in their narratives.
In Matthew, the narrative begins with the genealogy of Jesus. Chapter 1 establishes the Jewish identity of Jesus by showing the genealogical link between Him and the story of the patriarch Abraham and King David. Jesus’ life needs to be read in the context of the covenant promises given to the patriarchs and reiterated through their royal descendants. Jesus is the climax of this story. In Him these promises given to the patriarchs and to the kings are finally fulfilled and eventually delivered.
What is striking in the genealogical list is the presence of some women who are part of the transgenerational family of Jesus. They are all “awkward” women in that their stories are far from being socially irreproachable or religiously clean: Tamar had sexual intercourse with her father-in-law; Rahab was a prostitute; Ruth was a foreigner; Bathsheba was the woman with whom David committed adultery before he had her husband Uriah killed. These women are all clearly unfit to carry on the line of the Messiah, yet they are part of His story. These women are signposts of God’s overwhelming grace, which overturns religious stigmas and heals broken lives.
Mary is introduced as the next woman in this curious series of mothers (Matt. 1:20). Nothing is said about her background except that she is to become Joseph’s wife. Joseph is in the forefront, and Mary is introduced as being related to him. Up to this point, everything seems to be under control. However, they do not consummate their marriage “until she had given birth to a son” (1:25). Thus, Jesus comes into the world in the midst of strange circumstances. In Matthew’s account, Mary has no moral awkwardness in herself, nor does she have any morally deserving qualification. She is simply there because of God’s sovereign and gracious choice. Whatever her profile, she is put in a socially difficult condition (giving birth to a baby whose father is not her betrothed) and becomes an instrument of God’s humanly unpredictable plan. God’s grace overcomes “neat” life conditions and is at work in her through her Son as it was in the women who preceded her. The focus is not Mary herself but God in His apparently strange yet always perfect ways.
This does not mean downplaying the role of Mary; it simply reflects the overall biblical balance in the rather modest presentation of the mother of Jesus. The center of Mary’s remarkable story, no less than the center of history as a whole, is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Dr. Leonardo De Chirico is pastor of Breccia di Roma in Rome, vice-chairman of the Italian Evangelical Alliance, and director of the Reformanda Initiative. He is author of several books, including A Christian’s Pocket Guide to the Papacy.