Studying God’s Word

Numbers 6:22-27     Galatians 4:4-7     Luke 2:16-21 [18C]

Each year on January 1, Catholics celebrate the solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. On this solemnity, we celebrate Mary’s motherhood of Jesus, the divine Son of God. Beginning with the Council of Ephesus in AD 431, the Church Fathers gave Mary the official title Theotokos (in Greek, literally, “God-bearer” often translated as “Mother of God”) because they intended to affirm the divinity of Christ. In upholding Jesus’ divinity, the recognition of Mary as “Mother of God” was natural and sensible. The first reading comes from the Book of Numbers. The Book of Exodus and the Book of Numbers recount Israel’s forty years in the desert, dated to around 1200 BC. The Book of Numbers narrates events from Mount Sinai to the arrival at the eastern edge of the Promised Land. Today’s first reading is actually a prayer originally intended for Aaron and his sons to offer as a blessing over the Israelites in the desert. The prayer is read each year as the first reading for this Marian feast day. It speaks so well to what Catholics believe about Mary: the Lord blest and kept Mary, bestowing Mary with the abundant grace necessary for her role as Mother of God.   The second reading comes from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. It was written late in AD 55. Paul’s passing comment on Mary where he refers to Jesus as being “born of a woman, born under the law” is the New Testament’s earliest direct reference to Mary. (Interestingly, Paul makes no other reference to Mary in any of his other letters). In today’s reading, Paul picks up on an earlier discussion in his letter (Gal 3:2629), where he argues that through faith in Jesus, all people (Jew and Gentile alike) are “children of God.” Paul connects this idea of the Gentile Christians in Galatia being “heir[s]” through “adoption” as children of God through God’s grace. He is showing these Gentiles that Jesus’ Jewish identity (born under the law, with Mary as his mother), does not prohibit any of them, as Gentiles, from receiving the Jewish status as “son” of God and “heir” to God’s promises to Israel. Paul cites as proof of his conviction the fact that in their hearts, the Gentiles cry out, “Abba, Father!” Their confession of faith is evidence of their newfound status as “son” and no longer “slave.” In this way, Mary is the mother of all who believe in her Son, Jesus. The Gospel reading for today is the visit of the shepherds to Mary and Joseph and the newborn Jesus. The shepherds came to confirm and bear witness to Mary and Joseph the angelic message they received: “Today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Lk 2:11). Luke does not tell us Joseph’s reaction; he only reports that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Luke concludes with a transitional statement that affirms Jesus’ Jewish (human) identity. Mary and Joseph followed the precepts of the Jewish law and had Jesus circumcised after eight days, thus initiating Jesus into God’s covenantal people. But Luke also affirms Jesus’ divine identity by reminding us that the newborn’s name of “Jesus” was of divine origin.  Throughout the ages, Mary’s identity as Mother of God has served as a reminder to Christians that her divine Son, Jesus, is our Lord and Savior. While we Catholics honor Mary today for her role in salvation history, we also affirm on this solemnity our belief that with God nothing is impossible.

Dr. Daniel J. Scholz

Questions of the Week

Luke 2:16-21: How do you imagine Joseph reacted to the shepherds’ visit and message?

Numbers 6:22-27: This prayer was originally for the Israelites in the desert. How do you think this prayer of petition gave them strength and encouragement?

Galatians 4:4-7: Why do you think Paul makes no other reference to Mary beyond what he mentions in Galatians?