Mary: Mother and Passer-by
Thomas 79: A women in the crowd said to him, “Lucky are the womb that bore you and the breasts that fed you.”
He said to [her], “Lucky are those who have heard the word of the Father and have truly kept it. For there will be days when you will say, ‘Lucky are the womb that has not conceived and the breasts that have not given milk.”
In Thomas 79, Jesus destroys the notion that family members can claim some kind of spiritual privilege, simply by association to a prophet or enlightened being. This may bring into question the position of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who has had a contentious history among Christian denominations for some time. Marian Theology is a powerful force in the Catholic faith; arguably outweighing the importance of Jesus, in the sense that people turn to Mary in times of need. The ethical dilemma of placing the mother of Jesus in such a high position, to the point of giving her the title of ‘Queen of Heaven’ in the Early Middle Ages, has its problems—particularly when we put her in the context of the Gospel of Thomas. The issues surrounding Mary would require a lengthy thesis in itself. However, for the purposes of this commentary, we can speak of Mary as someone who would have surely felt the pain Jesus mentions in the last line of Thomas 79: ‘Lucky are the womb that has not conceived and the breasts that have not given milk.’ Mary would have suffered greatly to see her son killed in such a brutal manner, but, for Jesus, this saying is less personal than it is didactic. It speaks of times when all mothers, and indeed fathers, wish they had not had children, as they experience great torment and suffering because of them. When a child is sick, or has an accident, or rebels against the family, these events bring suffering and turmoil. They are a result of the physical/material world and its imperfections. These are the primal urges humans battle throughout this life (see commentary for Thomas 7).
At this point, we might consider the role of women. How were they perceived and what is their position in the eyes of the modern Catholic Church? In Jesus’ time, women were marginalised (Thomas 114) and would have had definitive roles in society—as would men of that period. The primary role of the woman would have been as a mother and a wife. This role would have been subordinate to the husband’s role, in all aspects other than the nurturing of children. This aspect is one Mary, the mother of Jesus, has become venerated for, particularly in the Catholic Church. A difficulty arises when this role is combined with Mary’s increased status when observant Catholics refer to her as ‘ever-virgin’. Mary was married to Joseph; this is supported throughout the narratives in the Gospels of the New Testament. Joseph and Mary went on to have other children (Thomas 99) and this was not through divine intervention. The premise of this intervention is also a contentious one, since Mary was only in her early teens and naïve to the facts of life. Children of that time would have been protected from such carnal knowledge. This reality does not denigrate her position as virgin. This conundrum could cause grief to those Catholics who place Mary on the ‘ever-virgin’ pedestal, but it should not be seen as an obstacle. Reconciling the reality that is this realm with Mary’s veneration depends upon the definition of virgin. The answer is found in the context of the Gospel of Thomas, through 77th Pearl: The Perpetual Tree, which illuminates this treasure.
In Thomas 22, we see Jesus point out that to enter the Father’s Kingdom people need to break down their perceptions of what they are. In this sense, humans are not female or male, they are a soul, which is both of these at the same time. Venerating Mary for her position based on being female is incorrect, just as it is incorrect to think of the Father (the Source of all things) as we might our biological father (Thomas 83). So it follows, venerating Mary as ‘ever virgin’ is incorrect—if people perceive this virginity as having to do with the act of sexual intercourse. The way people are required to look at Mary is as someone who attained enlightenment, because she took up the path that her son created for all human beings. Mary can be considered ever virgin, because she became untouched by this realm, knowing her soul to be separate from her body. This is the sacred mystery of Mary, as revealed through 77th Pearl: The Perpetual Tree—she was as Jesus instructed, be ‘passersby’ (Thomas 42). She took up the task of having to be a mother to the greatest being that entered into this realm. On this difficult journey, Mary profited by recognising she was to be untouched by this world. Even though she had other children and the same concerns and obstacles all mothers do, she let all this pass her by and attained to the realm of the Spirit. This is the greatest of lessons the Virgin Mary has given humanity. This is what we must learn at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Otherwise, humans injure the dignity of all women, because they think their sexuality is a barrier to attaining spiritual enlightenment. In truth, all humans can attain to this level of inner peace—when they become untouched and passersby of this realm (Thomas 42).
In Thomas 79, as in other sayings, Jesus is concerned about the individual’s potential to escape the distractions of this world. Filial love is certainly one of the most powerful of these distractions. In Thomas 55, Jesus asks that we hate our parents and siblings as He does. In doing so, people may free themselves from the suffering these connections carry with them. This is not a literal hate of the person, but a disdain for the physical body and the hormonal mechanisms that drive it. They are the desires to breed, to be loved, and to have pride in the other. All these things are transitory and fade away, but the Soul is constant. Humans are often veiled by the emotions love encompasses. As a result, the soul is pushed back into the darkness. When people see things for what they are, then they are able to be passersby (Thomas 42). What is crucial in Thomas 79 is that people recall what Jesus affirms: ‘Lucky are those who have heard the word of the Father and have truly kept it.’
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