For the better part of forty years, Mary didn’t do anything for me. And that sounds like something a loser would say: “Hey, Mary didn’t do anything for me…”
Except, of course, she did something that no one has ever done; something that no one else will ever do. She gave birth to Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the Redeemer. Surely that ranks pretty high on one’s resume.
Yep. Of course, I knew that over the years. But I couldn’t relate to was the ever-so-meek and mild, complacent, virginal, pleasant, and practically perfect aura which has surrounded her for so many centuries…until I studied every word she said that is recorded in the Bible (see words below), and until I became a mother myself.
Her gift to the human race can best be summarized with one word: Yes. And it wasn’t a momentary “Yes”— it was a yes that would last her a lifetime, with all the pain and agony and joy that love brings.
When Gabriel approached Mary, he tells her, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” Her unspoken response (and this is as important as any spoken response): But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. (Luke 1:28-29)
She’s a smart girl. Most people do not wish to be high on the radar of say, cosmic forces, oncologists or fire departments. Mary knows that she was on God’s radar. Of course she was troubled. Of course she considered in her mind what sort of greeting “this might be.”
She knew the scriptures: how the Angel of Death went through King Sennacherib’s camp, causing 185,000 Assyrian soldiers to die (2 Kings 19:35); how Jacob fought with an angel and was disabled (Genesis 32:24-30); how an angel had issued a call to war by causing a fire to spring up in front of Gideon (Judges 6:11-21).
Hard not to be afraid, especially because she only betrothed to be married, not yet married—and punishment for adultery was stoning. Neither Joseph nor her parents would understand—and yet somehow, she found the strength and faith to tell Gabriel, “Let it be to me according to your word.”
After her visit (which seems like more of an escape, away from prying eyes and ears) to Elizabeth, and after the birth of Jesus in a stable because the young couple could not find shelter in Jerusalem, she is visited by shepherds and wise men alike. Luke says, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”
That phrase would again be used by Luke when Mary and Joseph lost track of Jesus on their caravan (many families traveling together) home from Jerusalem. Unbeknownst to them, he had stayed behind to teach in the temple. When, after three days, they finally located him, Mary was beside herself. “Why have you treated us like this? We have been in great anxiety!”
And although Mary did not understand her son, Luke says, again, that she “treasured these things in her heart.”
About eighteen years later, Mary is at a wedding with Jesus at Cana in Galilee, and the host runs out of wine, a terribly embarrassing problem for first-century hosts, whose celebrations would last for days. In classic mother style, she volunteers Jesus to fix the problem. Bringing him to the servants, she says, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Jesus, in classic grown son style, refuses, saying, “My time has not yet come!” But he does what his mother tells him to do…and all are happy. Perhaps she had seen him practice miracles around the house; she knew it was his time. Clearly, the fruit of “pondering things” in her heart was taking shape.
Such mother-privilege, however, did not seem to count when Jesus refused to see her when he was busy healing people, saying, “all who believe” were his family members. Again, probable consternation.
Finally, the day came that must have been the hardest day of all: Jesus’ death, at which she stood and watched the life drain from her beloved boy. How does one come to terms with that? How did Mary? We don’t know, except to know that Jesus “gave” her to John, one of the sons of Zebedeed ( many scholars believe John was her nephew), following the crucifixion.
Mary could have refused Gabriel’s request; she could have said no to Gabriel. God would not have demanded she bear his son—after all, God is the primary believer in free will and designed this world to have it. What might have happened had she said no, or run away? I believe it is fair to say that Jesus–at least the Jesus we know–would not have been born. God would not have gone down block, looking for another mother.
Here’s the point: God invited Mary into a radical life-transforming experience. She agreed, and opened herself to a life of love, self-sacrifice and divine intervention in world affairs. And as a result, the world will never be the same—and neither will we.
By saying yes, she didn’t know all the details that would come her way. She knew she would bear God’s son. By saying yes, she was in–in for all the joy and pain that love can bring.
What has Mary done for me lately? She’s shown me the way of love. I hope she does the same for you.
What did Mary say?
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)
Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the
thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful
from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to
to Abraham and to his
When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” (Luke 2:48)
When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” (John 2:3)
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)
How much do you think Mary understood about Jesus’ life when he was a baby? A boy? A man?
Out of the millions of souls on earth, why do you think God chose Mary to be Jesus’ mother? Was it that the time was right? Was it that she was right?
If an angel came to you from God, how easily would you believe whatever s/he said?
What emotions might you have struggled with if you had been in Mary’s place? Fear? Pride? Love? Desire?
Do you know anyone whose inner strength seems unshakable? How do they approach life?
Copy above adapted from Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter. Published in 2014 by Forward Movement.
Artwork: Painted by Karen N. Canton, From The Scarlet Cord: Conversations with God’s Chosen Women, published 2010 by John Hunt Publishing