Monday, August 17, 2015

Fr Georges Massouh: "Behold the Maidservant of the Lord"

Arabic original here.

"Behold the Maidservant of the Lord"

 There is a fundamental difference between the account of the annunciation to Mary in the Gospels and the annunciation to her in the Qur'an. The holy apostle Luke closes his account of the annunciation by the angel Gabriel to Mary with her accepting to give birth to Jesus, the Lord, the "Son of the Most High". When Mary heard God's call to her, she did not hesitate for even a single moment, but rather accepted this divine calling and said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord, may it be for me as you say" (Luke 1:38). Mary's response is not forced. It springs from responsible human freedom. Mary's freedom is safeguarded even before the power of the Most High. Instead of requiring her to give birth to Christ, God respected her freedom which He Himself gave her. God waited for Mary to say yes and it was within her power to say no, but she said yes. Her begins Mary's story with holiness.

As for Surat Maryam, it does not mention the response to the angel when he brought her tidings of "a son most pure" from God. Before Mary who wondered "How can I have a son when no man has touched me nor am I an adulteress?" the angel could find nothing else to say to her but "Thus did your Lord speak: 'It is a matter easy for Me. We shall make him a wonder to mankind and a mercy from Us - a decree ordained'" (Surat Maryam 19-21). Mary's response is missing and God's response is present in force: "a decree ordained" meaning "Jesus' creation was a decree foreordained in eternity and in the knowledge of God, may He be exalted," according to one exegete.

Here lies the fundamental difference between the view of the Gospel and the view of the Qur'an toward the figure of Mary and her free will in accepting and rejecting God's words to her. Where the Qur'an is silent about Mary's response, the Gospel considers Mary's response as something that deserves being mentioned because it is a central response that expresses Mary's obedience and her acceptance, in the fullness of her will and her freedom, to carry out God's will. At the same time, Mary's response expresses God's respect for His creatures and his not compelling them to do something that they do not want to commit to doing.

Therefore, patristic tradition interprets the verse from the Bible that says "God created man in His image and likeness" (Genesis 1:26) such that what is meant by "image" is not corporeal image, but rather the freedom that distinguishes man from all the other creatures. In His exceedingly great love for humankind, God gave man His image-- that is, His freedom. The proof of God's love for man was nothing other than this supreme freedom. However, with this very freedom man chose to depart from God, who is the highest good, and fell into evil. God did not seize this freedom from humankind after their fall, despite their sins, because He remains faithful to the way in which He created them. Ever since He established the human race on earth, He has remained faithful to the freedom that He gave them.

The freedom of Adam and Eve, who symbolize every human being, brought man into perdition, because it deviated from the love that God desired there to be between humans. Freedom came to mean someone doing what he desires and what seems good to him, imagining that he can put himself in God's place. Is this not precisely the temptation that the serpent, the symbol of evil, used when it said to Eve, "On the day that you eat [from the tree] your eyes will open and you will become like gods, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5)?

Mary, the New Eve, came to return freedom to its proper path. In place of Eve who in her disobedience to God wanted to be a god, Mary said, "I am the maidservant of God" and obeyed God's word. The irony lies in the fall of the one who wanted to be a god and the elevation to heaven of the one who affirmed that she is "the maidservant of the Lord". The first eve was in paradise and fell. She was not protected by the fact that she was in paradise. Mary, however, was in the world and the fact that she was in the world did not prevent her from preserving herself from its stain. Thus we see that Mary's reply in nothing other than a direct response to Eve's answer to the serpent. For this reason, it is fundamental that Mary was free, just as Eve was free. Just as the first Eve's freedom led to her fall, the second's freedom led to life.

Mary's response, "Behold, the maidservant of the Lord, may it be for me as you say," is what made Mary's identity. Mary's response is Mary herself.

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