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Portraits of Mary # 3: Scandal in Nazareth

Lori Colbo loves to write about her Christian faith and the Bible to encourage and inspire others.

For with God nothing will be impossible.”

— Luke 1:37, Gabriel to Mary

Mary Suffered

It would be wrong to assume that because Mary was the mother of Jesus and blessed among women, she had an easy life. Everyone suffers and faces trials, even Jesus, who suffered a heinous death on the cross for the sins of Mary and you and me. Jesus said, "In this world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). This includes Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and everyone else. Of course, there is a glorious promise there, that He will overcome the world.

Mary faced unbelievable tribulation in her life.

  • There was the rugged travel to Bethlehem at nine months pregnant and giving birth to the Savior in a barn.
  • Then Herod put a contract out on her baby's life and they had to flee to Egypt for a few years; a foreign land, without family, friends, a familiar culture, or Jewish religious practices.
  • When Jesus was twelve years old, he traveled with his parents to Jerusalem for Passover. After their time there, Mary and Joseph assumed Jesus was in the caravan they traveled in on their way home to Nazareth. But after a couple of days, they realized Jesus wasn't there. They were fit to be tied, worried sick, and had to turn around and go back to Jerusalem to search for Him. There were millions of people to wade through. But they found Him safe and sound, inspiring the religious leaders.
  • Since Joseph is not present in any future passages, it is assumed he died, which means Mary would have been a widow.
  • She watched her Son die on the cross. He was unrecognizable from the beatings he took. It's hard to imagine how that must have felt for Mary.

But before all that, Mary had to face scandal. The scandal of being pregnant before she and Joseph consummated their marriage. We aren't given a lot of details, but knowing the customs and religious laws of the day can help us get an idea of how it might have been.

Mary went through tribulations big and small. But she was an ordinary woman with an extraordinary Son in extraordinary circumstances.

Mary suffered.

Mary suffered.

Breaking the News

After Gabriel's announcement to Mary that she, a virgin, would give birth to the Son of God, she asked, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" (Luke 1:32). Gabriel told her it would be a supernatural conception. The Holy Spirit would impregnate her womb (vs.35). That was amazing and a great honor and blessing but it wasn't going to be easy. Her reputation was at risk

In Portraits of Mary #2, we learn Mary immediately went to see her relative Elizabeth. She was gone three months, plus the several days travel to get there and back. By the time she got home, she was probably beginning to show a bit.

Mary was betrothed to Joseph. Betrothal was the legal side of marriage. The families of the bride and groom met and decided the terms of the dowry, and the bride and groom had to sign the agreement. This made them legally, man and wife. However, they both went to their own homes and waited a year to get their affairs in order in preparation for their coming life as man and wife. Getting married did not always include love. Marriage was arranged by the families. Some couples never met until the betrothal took place. After the year, there was a celebration and the marriage was consummated. They became one and began life together.

When Mary's story began, she was betrothed to Joseph. They were in the waiting year and had not consummated the union yet. Put yourself in Mary's place, having to tell her family that she was pregnant. Her story was too unfathomable to believe. Mary was known as a girl of virtue to her family, husband, and community. She had to have been struggling with anxiety and fear, maybe even foreboding when she had to face her family. How could they ever believe her? How disappointed, even angry they might be when she told them. Whether she told Joseph herself or her father told him, she knew there was at risk of divorce and public shame. But Mary could not deny within herself that that great angel of God had appeared to her and told her the inexplicable news that she would give birth as a virgin to the Son of God. She had trusted God that it was to be. She accepted it. She could never dismiss or diminish it. Her visit with Elizabeth gave more confirmation in her heart that her Child would be the Lord of glory. Perhaps, holding on to all if that gave her the strength to tell her family.

It's not far-fetched to think Mary prayed her heart out before telling her family. She was trusting the Lord, but the gravity of what was ahead must have been difficult still. She might have asked God how to break the news and that they would believe her story. Women don't conceive without the seed of a man. It's never happened. It's an outlandish story. And what would they think when she told them she was going to give birth to the Son of God? "You, Mary? You're an ordinary peasant girl. Who do you think you're kidding?" they might say. We don't know what her father was like. Would he be enraged, weep in disappointment, tear his robe, and wail? Cast her out of the house and disown her? And what about her mother? Would she shame her, stick up for her, take her aside and beg her to tell the truth, warn her what consequences would come if she didn't change her story?

Joseph's Struggle

So far, this has all been speculation, of course, because the bible says nothing about the family's reaction or Mary's struggle and feelings. It only tells us how Joseph reacted. Now, let's put ourselves in Joseph's place. He hears the news. We don't know who told him, or when on the timeline it was exactly, but it was devastating news. Perhaps he felt like someone had just slugged him in the stomach, or pulled the carpet out from under him, or maybe he was speechless in a state of shock? He might have been outraged. We don't know those specifics, but we know how he responded. Matthew tells the story in chapter 1:

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly (vs 19).

Matthew first notes that Joseph was a just man. The word "just" means righteous, upright, keeping the commandments. 1 He was a righteous, God fearing Jew. But he cared so much for Mary, apparently, that he did not want to publicly shame her. There should be no doubt that the Lord put that into the heart of Joseph. He loved her, despite the devastation of thinking she had been with another man. It's not glaringly clear whether he was filled in on the story of the angel's appearance and message when he was told about her pregnancy, but later on, an angel would explain it all. His leaning was to divorce her secretly. Remember, Joseph and Mary were legally bound in marriage. He thought Mary had committed adultery. What I find impressive is that he did not focus on his own humiliation, but hers. Joseph was a man of great character. This also gives us another picture into what Mary was like. A virtuous young girl. A man of such character chose to marry a girl of great character. But he must have been deeply saddened at this unexpected turn of events. We are not directly told Joseph was angry, but it is in the realm of possibility. He was a man of character, but still a betrayed man. The turmoil on what to do was a great challenge.

The Lord intervened in the situation:

But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet saying:

"Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us." Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS" (vs 20-25).

There is something about being in the presence of a proclaiming angel, even if it is in a dream, that got people's attention back in bible days. After they came and talked to people, what they prophesied and advised always came true. Joseph knew this angel was worthy of his trust. He didn't reject the angel in his dream, or offer questions of disbelief or doubt. No, he woke up and did exactly what the angel told him to do, to the letter. What a relief it must have been to have some affirmation, direction, and assurance. He remained with Mary through the pregnancy and did not have relations with her until after Jesus was born. And when the baby was born, he called Him Jesus. That's how Joseph got through the scandal. He and his bride faced it all together. He loved, protected, and supported her. A marriage blessed by God.

The Angel Spoke to Joseph

Though we are not privy to the details of how Mary struggled after the news Gabriel gave her, we cannot dismiss it and say it was a piece of cake (or Manna). But Mary was given grace and strength to face what was before her with Joseph at her side. As The Portraits of Mary series continues, we will see hallmark moments with her and Joseph, handling one crisis after another together with the Lord's help. But let us not forget what the angel Gabriel said to Mary, "For with God nothing will be impossible.”


1 Strong's Concordance. Strong's Number G1342. "Just."

© 2021 Lori Colbo

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