I’t s no real surprise that the perfect model for obedience is Mary. We see this on obvious display when the angel Gabriel comes to Her, and She consents to the Incarnation in total faith and complete obedience: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). It’s what separates Her response from Zechariah’s (Luke 1:18). And Mary invites those who will hear Her to the same faithful obedience: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). But being obedient to the angel or Christ in front of you is one thing. Being obedient to other people – whether it’s a boss, or a parent, a religious superior, or perhaps hardest of all, a husband – is the bigger challenge. And this struggle is at its worst when you know you’re more qualified than the person you’re trying to obey.
Here, we see the absolute depth of Mary’s obedience. On this point, I’m in debt to my dad, who introduced me to Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis’s amazing commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, Vol. 1. In it, Leiva-Merikakis talks about how after Gabriel announces the Incarnation, Mary never receives another word directly from Heaven (at least so far as we know). Instead, things go through St. Joseph, Her spouse, and even then, they come to him in dreams, not through an angel on his doorstep:
- Already married (Mt. 1:19), Joseph and Mary move in together because of a message which Joseph received from an angel in a dream (Mt. 1:18-25).
- When an angel appears to Joseph in another dream, the family flees their home to Egypt (Mt. 2:13).
- After an angel appears to him in a third dream, they leave their home in Egypt to return to Israel (Mt. 2:19-20).
These are some major life decisions, and Mary exhibits complete humility and obedience in the face of them. She has no way of knowing if Joseph’s dreams are actually apparitions from an angel, an overactive subconscious, or the result of a bit too much hummus before bed. But She obeys anyway. Just as She uproots everything to follow Joseph to Nazareth for the census, She uproots everything to go to Egypt, and two years later, to leave Egypt.
God chooses to respect Joseph’s headship over his Wife and Child, even though his Wife is sinless and his Child is God. God takes the one member of the Holy Family who, while an amazing model for men everywhere, is still the least qualified of the Three. And of course, these are only the times in which Joseph is receiving dreams. The rest of the time, the many years between the conception of Jesus Christ and the death of St. Joseph, he’s apparently running things without any direct revelation whatsoever, just doing the best he can. And both Mary, and even Jesus Christ Himself, submit to him.
My point is simple: there were almost certainly times when Jesus or Mary knew what should happen better than Joseph did, or times when they wondered about the wisdom of some course of action he laid out. And I have no doubt that a man of his holiness was more than open to hearing what his Immaculate Wife or Divine Son had to say on the subject (he worshiped his Son, after all). But just as Jesus was quite content to obey Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:51), we see sinless Mary submitting to sinful Joseph at every instance. This is a perfect model for priests, for wives, for children, for those of us with bosses, and for all of us. Short of the person God has put in authority ordering you to do something sinful, you should do it. He would do it, in those cases, as would His Mother; what more is needed?