The parable of Mary reveals God’s face

Mary & Jesus- Ethiopian manuscript

Mary and Jesus are depicted in a 17th-century Ethiopian manuscript (© Walters Art Museum, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license)

From the National Catholic Reporter by

The angel Gabriel tells Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.”

Joseph might not be Jesus’ physical father, but Mary was to be his mother, his physical mother, like mothers from Eve until now. She would conceive in her womb, carry the child in her womb and deliver him from her womb. And I wonder, always, did he resemble her? Did Jesus have his mother’s mouth? Her eyes? Her coloring? Could you find a similar cleft in each chin? An unruly lock of hair that no amount of water or combing could tame? Did the neighbors in Nazareth say, “Oh, that’s Mary’s boy, for sure. Anyone can look at him and tell.”

It’s one of my favorite parables. For, if Jesus resembled his mother, that meant she resembled him, as well. We hear in Genesis that God created us, man and woman, in the divine image, bearing something of the Creator in our flesh. Perhaps it’s the magisterial language — “Let us make human beings after our image, after our likeness.” — that makes it hard to connect God’s being with our own lumpy bodies and lined faces, our own human beings. I understand how my Uncle Dick, as he aged, looked just like his mama, that is, if Mother Curry had been bald and worn a suit, but I have trouble looking in the mirror, or looking in the face of a stranger, and seeing God looking back.

So, in his conception and birth, Jesus does what he will later do with the stories of robbed and beaten travelers and ungrateful sons and housewives searching for lost coins: He takes an example so daily and so plain as to be familiar to every hearer. It may be hard to connect one’s own flesh with the One who spoke the world into being, but we can all identify with a mother and son who have the same scattering of freckles across their noses. And we can take the story from there: God looks like us and we look like God. Which means that all human faces bear the holy features.

How, then, shall we live?

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