Although Mary, the mother of Jesus, is commonly viewed as the first disciple and the most famous woman in Biblical history,
the Bible says very little about her life. The four gospels of the New Testament show the life of Mary from the time the
angel Gabriel announced to her that she would bear the Son of God to the time of the death of her son. Although there is
little about the life of Mary in the Bible, the gospels reveal a lot about the character of Mary throughout their stories.
A character type characterizes an individual in a story by revealing traits of that individual throughout the story, giving
the reader a sense of familiarity with the character ("Character" 137). Mary, the mother of Jesus, held some difficult
roles. One is that of Joseph's betrothed, who becomes a virgin mother for which she is socially criticized ("Mary").
The other role is that of a mother, forced to watch her son suffer and die ("Mary").
Fitzmyer states that Mary is not only the mother of Jesus, but that she also holds a role in a relationship that goes
beyond that of the natural family (71-72). In the gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus reveals that his family is those who
do the will of God, not the members of his natural family (Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35).
Membership in Jesus' family is not to be based on the relationships of kinship that are valued in society. (Pazdan)
Along with these roles, many characteristics of Mary are portrayed throughout the gospels. The gospel of Luke first shows
Mary receiving the news that she will bear the Son of God in spite of her virginity (1:26-38). This parallels the story in
Luke 1:57-66 of Zechariah's receiving the news of the angel Gabriel that his barren wife, Elizabeth, will bear a son (Fitzmyer
65). Mary's humility is portrayed through her reaction to hearing the greeting of the angel Gabriel, when she was "greatly
troubled by" and "pondered" his greeting of, "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28-29).
In the canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-55), she shows her deep love of God as she proclaims his goodness. In Luke's story
of Mary's visiting Elizabeth (1:39-45), her blessedness is portrayed. Fitzmyer says that Mary is both "blest" because
she was chosen by God to bear his son and "blessed" because she believed and responded in faith (69).
Not knowing God's plans for her, Mary was still willing to allow God to carry out His will. Mary's eagerness to follow
God is illustrated in Luke 1:38 when she says,
Behold I am the handmade of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word. (NAB)
I believe this verse also portrays Mary's bravery, along with the gospel of Matthew. In the gospel of Matthew, Mary is
first introduced when she finds out that she's "with child" that is not of her betrothed, Joseph (1:18-25).
At a time in history when people were stoned for adultery, which is what this appeared to be the product of, she was submitted
to a lot of social criticism. Not only did she have to deal with this, but also she and Joseph were to travel to Judea (Bethlehem)
from Galilee (Nazareth) while she was still with child (Luke 2:1-5). In Bethlehem it came time for her to give birth, and
she had to have her child, the Son of God, in a manger (Luke 2:6-7). After Jesus was born, they were to travel again; this
time they were to flee to Egypt in order to find safety from Herod's plan to kill Jesus (Matthew 2:13-18).
Mary's obedience is also portrayed in the story of their flee to Egypt. When she and Joseph were told to flee, they obeyed
(Mark 13-15). Mary's expression of the virtue of patience is portrayed especially in the gospel of Matthew, when she, Joseph,
and Jesus stayed in Egypt to await the death of Herod (2:15).
In the story of the child Jesus in the temple, Luke's gospel shows that Mary doesn't have everything figured out. She
was informed that she would bear the Son of God, but in this gospel story, she is portrayed as not comprehending this fully.
She worries when she cannot find her son (Luke 2:41-52). His reply when she and Joseph find him is,
Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I would be in my father's house? (NAB)
The stories of Mary not only reveal characteristics about her, but they also disclose more about the character of Israel's
God. YHWH shows his power again, but in a whole new way through Mary, when he does the "impossible" and makes Mary
the virgin mother of his son. Because of the gospels' accounts of Mary, it has also been revealed who the true family of
YHWH is. The societal view of a family is not what Jesus states to be family (Pazdan). Jesus rather states that his family
is those who hear and act on the word of God (Luke 8:19-21).
Despite the lack of information about the life of Mary outside of Jesus' lifetime, quite a bit is revealed about her throughout
the gospels. The writers of these gospels reveal Mary's character type piece by piece and give the reader a sense of familiarity
"Character Types." Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Ed. Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, Tremper Longman
III. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1998. 137-38.
Fitzmyer, Joseph A. "Mary in Lucan Salvation History." Luke the Theologian: Aspects of His Teaching. Mahwah:
Paulist, 1989. 57-85.
"Mary the Mother of Jesus." Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. CD-ROM. Ed. Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit,
Tremper Longman III. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1998.
New American Bible. NY: American Bible Society, 1991.
Pazdan, Mary Margaret. "Mary, Mother of Jesus." Anchor Bible Dictionary. CD-ROM. Ed. David Noel Freedman.
New York: Doubleday, 1992.