Blessed Valorous Mary, Mother of James

Mary visits Elizabeth, by Hanna-Cheriyan VargheseWe recently received Scot McKnight’s book, The Real Mary, at the library where I work. Since I work there, I got first dibs on the book. It’s a good read – meaty enough for a good mental chew and cooked enough to get rid of the academic gristle.

Now, I’ve posted before about McKnight’s mashup of Mary’s Magnificat and James’ letter. (See my comments regarding his post.) So, I am pleased that he addresses the connection a bit more fully in his book. He encourages his readers:

Sometime read the Magnificat quickly and then read the letter of James quickly. You’ll notice at least the following similarities, and if we want to know about the real Mary and the real James, it is worth our time to ask if some of this is a family connection. Surely one sees such potential influence of Mary in James’ blessing of the poor and then his stiff warnings for the rich and his call to care for widows, as well as in his emphasis on mercy, faith, humility, peace, and wisdom. But, when in James’ letter he quotes Proverbs 3:34 in his fourth chapter, saying “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble and oppressed,” and when he goes on to say, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up,” he’s reintroducing pure Magnificat. This is probably the message he heard at home his entire life. (McKnight 2007, 104-105 [hyperlinks added])

Given the affinities between Mary’s song and James’ letter, I decided to prepare my Sunday school lesson on the Magnificat as a subversive declaration of God’s victory over the powers of this world. I actually picked up McKnight’s book specifically to prepare for the lesson, and I was not disappointed. He states:

…by reading the Magnificat in context, we can imagine Mary to be wiry and spirited and resolved and bold and gutsy. Maybe we should call her the Blessed Valorous Mary instead of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (McKnight 2007, 19)

Indeed! It is a fun exercise to imagine young James on the floor playing with his big brother while Mary quietly sings to herself this gutsy song of victory. James and Jesus overheard this bold tune that resounded with the same notes of Miriam’s song at the Red Sea and Deborah’s song after the defeat of Sisera. Perhaps the tune informed James’ eschatology. In this great reversal, the proud would one day be dispersed, taking the low place of the once dispersed twelve tribes. For James the cosmic revolution promised in the song was initiated by the birth, death and resurrection the Lord of Glory, while the righteous and wise are to wait patiently and prayerfully for its consummation.

Who knew that James’ Epistle (when paired with Mary’s Magnificat) could be an appropriate Christmas text?

May we heartily celebrate the birth of James’ older brother – who was humbly born as a babe, was exalted in his obedience and who now stands at the door ready to return. May we sing our subversive Christmas songs – declaring the victory of the soon coming King.

Veni, veni Emanuel!
Captivum solve Israel!
Qui gemit in exilio,
Privatus Dei Filio.
Gaude, gaude, Emanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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