Unexpected Holiness

Ben Quash
University of Cambridge

I am very interested in how holiness can appear on what seem be to the margins of a given situation. In some cases, this corresponds to a failure on the part of someone who should do something (or who you would expect to do something) so that God designates someone else to do it instead. As a consequence the landscape feels like it has been re-ordered, and we look at everything in a new way.

I am drawn to look at the figure of Mary in this regard. In a sense, for Christians, she is prophet, priest and king. She speaks words of judgement on the mighty and the rich in the Magnificat (prophecy). She is mediator in the incarnation of God-with-us, and in some sense offers the Lamb who will be sacrificed (priesthood). She builds a new Temple, the Temple which is Christ's body, like the outsider Cyrus, King of Persia, who rebuilt the Temple after the exile (kingship). She is prophet, priest and king, but not where one would expect. Cyrus himself was of course an outsider, but Mary is even more surprising, as she is not even a king; she is what we today might call a 'single mother'. And yet she is a sort of paradigm of holiness for Christians in her grace-filled openness and her attitude of thanksgiving (a very important aspect of holiness in my view). And she prefigures the work of her Son who himself reveals holiness outside the walls of the city in a place of accursedness ('on the tree').