Suppose a man marries a woman, but after going in to her, he dislikes her and makes up charges against her, slandering her by saying, “I married this woman; but when I lay with her, I did not find evidence of her virginity.” The father of the young woman and her mother shall then submit the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. The father of the young woman shall say to the elders: “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man but he dislikes her; now he has made up charges against her, saying, ‘I did not find evidence of your daughter’s virginity.’ But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.” Then they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the town. The elders of that town shall take the man and punish him; they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver (which they shall give to the young woman’s father) because he has slandered a virgin of Israel. She shall remain his wife; he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.
If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
So these, then were the rules – the rules for a woman marrying as laid down in the old testament. These are the rules that would still have applied when Gabriel told Mary that she would bear a son. While Mary knew she was a virgin – by the time she was married it would probably be obvious to everyone that she wasn’t. Or at least, as far as outsiders were concerned – they would know nothing of the divine message she had been given, of the impending birth of the Messiah. How brave was Mary then? Where did she find the courage to do what God asked of her? When there would be those who could call for her to be “stoned to death”
I can identify with her dilemma in some way. I was an unmarried pregnant teenager forty years ago – and even in the 70s, choices were limited – and I was afraid. While there was nobody to call for me to be stoned, there was plenty of censure – and indeed I was given two choices, marry the father – or go away for a long holiday and have the baby adopted. I hung my head in shame for many months after his birth – and while I have to say he has been a blessing to me every day of those forty years – it was a long and lonely road.
Mary was little more than a child, a child with a burden to bear – it was a huge thing to ask of her – and yet, somewhere she found the strength to trust God, to do what was required of her. To risk censure, to risk her all – and say “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
I stand in awe of her.
you know our hearts,
you know us in our fragility
and in our fearfulness.
In the times when we feel most alone,
help us to recognise you are still with us.
We are grateful for the comfort and the strength we find in you.
Ann Honey is a Church Related Community Worker at Robert Stewart Memorial Church in Newcastle.