I always laugh when I think of the time that I picked up my youngest son from the sitter’s and was told by the incredulous young woman that he didn’t know a particular song they had sung that day. I looked her straight in the eye and replied, “Yeah, he’s my third born…”
Now, had she been the sitter of my first-born son, well, he would have known all the words to the song and would have been able to write the musical score!
First-born sons have always held a place of prominence, whether in faith traditions, societal values or simply as the one who gets the most one-on-one time with parents.
The first-born Jewish son, who “opens his mother’s womb,” is said to belong to God. When God’s chosen people were in bondage to the Egyptians, and Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the Jewish people go, the Egyptians experienced a number of plagues. The last, and greatest, was when God took the lives of the first-born Egyptian boys but spared the first-born Jewish sons.
Pidyon Ha-Ben became the practice in which Jewish parents “redeem” or “buy back” their first-born son from God. It is a cause for celebration among Jewish families who observe the traditions of their ancestors and occurs thirty-one days after the birth. This is in keeping with Numbers 8:17 which states, “Indeed, all the first-born among the Israelites, both of man and of beast, belong to me; I consecrated them to myself on the day I slew all the first-born in the land of Egypt.”
Critical to understanding of the redemptive properties that belong to the first born son is the phrase “opened his mother’s womb.” In other words, a first-born son who was delivered by Caesarean would not require redemption as he did not open his mother’s womb. Neither would any son born after the first.
Some might disagree with the value placed upon the first-born son but it is scripturally sound and plays a role in understanding Mary’s perpetual virginity.
Most Christians agree that Christ could have entered this world in any number of ways and we thus look at his birth in a manger as a message of humility and meekness — ways in which we must live in order to most fully follow Jesus. Instead of taking on a cloak of majesty He was swaddled in rags and slept on hay. The images of this earthly beginning, from which to begin His work of salvation for mankind, are too numerous to mention but have all played a part in our own personal journeys. When we strive for humility, we call to mind Christ’s own birth. When pride gets the better of us, we get ourselves back on track when we contemplate Christ’s unassuming entry into this world.
Mary’s perpetual virginity — from the conception of Christ through His birth, and after — includes the fact that Christ did not “open the womb” of Mary when he was born. When we remember that Christ was born and died a Jewish man, and that His mother was a Jewish woman, the practice of Pidyon Ha-Ben supports Mary’s perpetual virginity in that had the Savior opened His mother’s womb, He would have needed to be redeemed which is, of course, a ridiculous concept to any Christian — Catholic or Protestant — and most fully supports the Catholic teaching of Mary’s perpetual virginity. In an interesting way, exploring the Jewish roots of our Faith often holds the key to understanding, more fully, our own teachings and practices.