Today’s readings for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception present the panorama of salvation history. Adam and Eve have it made in the Garden of Paradise. They have everything but they want more. They want to be God.
The account from Genesis is a classic description of wrongdoing and denial. Adam and Eve are in denial. It was the serpent’s fault. The Devil made them do it! Adam was hiding from God like we all hide from God when our nakedness is exposed. Yet, we should not fear. We should have the courage to stand naked before God. God knows we are not perfect yet. We only come to know God when we let go, drop the barriers, and stand in our nothingness (nakedness) before the Creator.
But Adam is fearful. He is not going to find God. God is going to find him. The blame game starts. Adam blames Eve. In a way, Adam is blaming God. It was the women that God put in the garden with Adam that caused Adam to eat the fruit. It was God’s fault. Note Adam’s detachment. Adam is not even claiming Eve as his wife. Because of God Adam is stuck with this sinful woman. This shows the lengths we will go to deny our accountability for our own actions. Scapegoating absolves us of responsibility. But the story is not finished. When God confronts Eve, she blames the serpent. The serpent tricked me. Tricked me. Denial runs rampant here. As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense.
Paul helps us not to despair. In spite of our sins and transgressions—our human frailty—God is merciful and compassionate. In the broad sweep of salvation history, we know that we have been adopted by Jesus the Christ. We know that all will work for good, for the accomplishment of God’s purpose:
In him we were also chosen,
destined in accord with the purpose of the One
who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will,
so that we might exist for the praise of his glory,
we who first hoped in Christ.
We truly can sing a new song because God has worked wonders in our lives. God is ever calling us from sin and denial to transformation in Jesus the Christ. It is an ongoing process.
Mary, the pregnant maiden who has not completed her betrothal to Joseph, becomes the model. We are afraid when we stand naked before God. Mary had to be trembling when she stood before the Angel of God. She could face being stoned to death for her transgression; however, she is servant, handmaid, before God. The messenger told her, “Be not afraid.” Her “fiat” undid the denial of Eve. Mary is servant, like Israel. God will lift her up.
Her “Magnificat” shows her as servant. Those who humble themselves before God will be raised up. The greedy and arrogant will be brought low. We often overlook the fact that the woman who utters these words will become the first teacher of Jesus. We now know where Jesus’ strong thirst for justice comes from. It came from his mother. As Jesus grew in wisdom, age and grace, Mary taught him. Mary taught him to seek justice. Mary encouraged him to set captives free and to liberate the oppressed. Mary taught Jesus to lift up the lowly and to bring down the proud. Jesus picked the scroll from Isaiah to serve as his inaugural address because it contained everything Mary had taught him.
Simeon warned Mary that a sword would pierce her soul and indeed it would. As Jesus went forth preaching, teaching and healing, he challenged the structures that the high and mighty imposed on his compatriots. He set his jaw like flint and went up to Jerusalem for the final confrontation with the powers and principalities. He eschewed violence and went to his death on the cross. He was executed as a common criminal, naked and suffocating to death, Jesus questioned, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Remembering his mother’s teaching, he then accepted God’s will, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” Mary’s soul was pierced with the sword.