I meant to start this series of inquiry into Mariology at the end of May. In a post back then, I outlined four angles of Mary’s identity that I would explore: her theological, relational, human, and soteriological identities. I quickly realized that I was woefully unprepared to delve into such controversial topics so lightly, so I waited a bit, and did some research and reading. Now I’m ready to give it a try.
Mary’s identity, theologically speaking, is a type of Israel and of the Church. I once posted and commented on a hymn that demonstrates how this works. The pivotal point of that post is this:
Mary, then, is in a unique place in this framework. She’s both the last Israelite who leads to Jesus, as well as the prototype Christian who follows Jesus…. And so if Israel is blessed because of Jesus, and the Church is blessed because of Jesus, so too is Mary blessed because of Jesus. She’s the living link between Israel and the Church in terms of the earthly reception of Christ Jesus.
Please feel free to click on the link and read the hymn and my thoughts around it, as I’m not repeating them all today. What needs to follow now is some Scriptural backing for the typology that the hymn assumes.
Typology: Mary is the daughter of Zion
First, a review of the definition of ‘typology.’ A type in the Bible is usually something that foreshadows something else. It’s not purely an allegory because it’s grounded in reality. For example, Moses is a type of Christ because he leads God’s people out of slavery and mediates a covenant between them and God. Moses isn’t a mere allegory though; he was a real guy who really did that stuff. Therefore he’s a type – a foreshadowing – a living example of the kind of things Christ would do. There are lots of types of Christ throughout the Old Testament. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that some (if not many) of those types of Christ are accompanied by types of his mother, Mary.
One such type of Mary is the concept of “the daughter of Zion.” The phrase appears about 28 times in the Old Testament. It’s a common figure of speech that refers to the Israelite people as a whole. But, just like “Son of David” it can be seen to refer to not only a group of people, but a particular person. Every King of Judah was a son of David, but only Jesus was the son of David. Similarly, every Israelite is a daughter of Zion, but only Mary is the daughter of Zion. Why? Because she’s the Israelite woman who brings the whole point of Israel to its culmination by birthing the Savior. Israel existed to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham to bless all nations, and that promise is answered in Jesus. Mary is the daughter of Zion who finally brings Jesus into the world.
Typology: Mary embodies (or recapitulates) Israel
Taking the above section one step further, we see that Mary’s role of birthing Jesus puts her in a position that represents the entire Israelite nation. Her motherhood is a fulfillment of the entire nation’s purpose in terms of salvation history. This motherhood concept is embedded in the Old Testament already: the fact that people are called “daughter of Zion” reveals a switch between thinking of Israel as a man (Jacob and his descendants) to Israel as a woman (a mother of children). This added image for Israel that points to the motherhood ministry of Mary is complementary to the way Jesus himself embodies all of Israel particularly in his baptism and sacrificial death.
And, from a more mundane (but no less significant) angle, Mary (along with Joseph) is the one who raised Jesus to be a faithful Jew. She mothered him, brought him to the synagogue, taught him the laws and customs, enabling him to be the perfect keeper of the Law. All the history and growth and teaching of Israel came down to that one moment in history: raising up the Messiah in the midst of this one specific family. Just as every parent acts as a conduit from society to their child, Mary was Israel’s top representative to Jesus as he was growing up.
Typology: Mary embodies (or prefigures) the Church
This typology is arrived at from multiple angles. The first is pretty basic: the Church is called to communion with Christ. As Jesus’ mother, having carried him in her womb for nine months, Mary had some pretty intensely personal communion with him. Granted, her union with Jesus is by virtue of motherhood, whereas our perfect union with Jesus at the end of the age will be by virtue of being his bride, but in both cases there is a “one flesh” level of union. She was intimately close to Christ in a way that we are also called to be.
Perhaps more prominently, though, is Mary’s receptivity to and (cooperation with) God’s will. Although she was surprised at the angel Gabriel’s prophecy that she would bear God’s son in her womb, she did accept it. And then, after she accepted God’s will, it took place. It was not “divine rape,” but a divine-human joint project. Not to say that Mary had any ability or power of her own to enable the virgin conception of Christ, but that she was a willing member of the plan. God seeks to work through his people. Mary’s willingness to work with God’s intentions sets her as a model of Christian obedience to God.
Putting the two above paragraphs together, Mary is also the first person to receive Christ. After all, we’re not just here to obey God’s every whim, but to be in communion with Christ. The two come together in the reality that we are to accept and receive Christ into our hearts. As St. Paul wrote:
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
In Mary’s case, an angel was sent to preach (prophesy) to her, and sure enough when she heard she believed and called on God’s name (accepted the plan). This is the perfect prototype for what every Christian must go through. This event (known as the Annunciation) helps make Mary a ‘type’ of the Church, but it’s completed at another event: the crucifixion.
Very few of Jesus’ followers were present at the cross when Jesus died. Mary was among them. She had been there in the beginning when the Word became flesh in her own womb, she had been there when Jesus began his first miracle at the start of his ministry, and she was there when Jesus made his sacrifice upon the cross. We, too, are called to marvel at the ministry of Jesus, and model our own after him. We, too, are called to the foot of the cross to accept his sacrifice on our behalf. Mary is, again, the forerunner of the Church.
Mary’s identity, theologically speaking
So we see there is a typological connection between Israel and Mary as well as between Mary and the Church. As the mother of Jesus she’s both the last Old Covenant Israelite and the first New Covenant Christian. She’s an embodiment of both Church and Israel, particularly as one who receives God within this world.
Next in this series will be her identity from a relational perspective – especially motherhood and its implications.