By Joan Schell, Pine Street United Methodist Church, Williamsport
One of the women quoted in the Bible is Mary, the mother of Jesus. Scholars state that over 190 of her words are quoted. Mary is one of the five women named in the genealogy of Jesus, along with Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. The Living Insights Study Bible states, “As a devout Jew, Mary knew that God was with her and her people…She was the recipient of God’s grace, the one selected by God to help carry out [God’s] purposes…and plan through the promised Messiah, God’s one and only Son.” In addition to her genealogy, why was Mary selected for this important role?
To other people of her time, Mary was viewed as a young teenager, living a simple, sheltered life in a little village. It is hard for us to imagine how plain her life was. She was poor and only able to offer “‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons’” as a sacrifice at the Temple (Luke 2:24b NIV). Her future with Joseph was predictable and all planned out. There was no special reason that she would be noticed in life or remembered afterward. She probably looked very ordinary in her person and her dress.
However, God loved Mary and knew her potential. God said about another one of His servants, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart” (Jeremiah 1:5a). God then sent an angel named Gabriel who appeared to Zechariah, her relative’s husband, and then to Mary. Gabriel told her that she was “highly favored” and “the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). Although she appeared to be ordinary, God knew her and called on her to live an extraordinary life filled with challenges. Mary accepted Gabriel’s words even though she was “troubled” by them and needed to ask questions . She then said, “I am the Lord’s servant” (Luke 1:38a). The Jeremiah Study Bible tells us that Mary traveled forty miles to discuss these events with Elizabeth who said, “Blessed is she who has believed what the Lord has said” (Luke 1:45). There Mary created her praise song, “The Magnificat.” Although The Abingdon Bible Commentary suggests that Elizabeth created the song, her devout life more probably was one of the religious influences of Mary as a young person.
Mary’s song is a “bookend” to Hannah’s praise song in 1 Samuel 2:1-11. The Jeremiah Study Bible points out that Mary’s song and her wording have several parallels in the Hebrew Bible. This reflects Mary’s devotion to her religious studies. The Bible Reader’s Companion states that Mary may have heard Hannah’s song as she worshiped at the synagogue or from her parents’ religious instruction at home.
The Companion divides the song into four parts: “personal adoration and praise, celebration of God’s attributes, God’s correcting injustice, and praise for the mercy shown Israel.” Mary’s song starts in the present as she glorifies and rejoices in God. She describes herself as humble and being a servant of God. She accepts the responsibility of being God’s servant. Mary has “effect” and then “cause” statements. For example, she says, “all generations will call me blessed.” Why? Because “the Mighty One has done great things for me.” Then Mary talks about others, in the present and the past. She contrasts God’s treatment of the proud and mighty with the humble and disadvantaged. Mary ends by mentioning Israel, also God’s servant, and God’s covenant with Abraham. Her focus is on God.
Mary accepted God’s call in an intelligent, joyful way. She didn’t know that her future would hold so many challenges. She didn’t understand when Jesus stayed at the Temple, talking with the teachers. Later, she wanted Jesus to turn water into wine, even though he said, “My time has not yet come” (John 2:4). She wanted Jesus to remain the head of the family, rather than leaving to start his ministry (Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-33). She witnessed Jesus’ execution. In spite of all this, she still retained her faith. Her story starts before Christmas and goes to and past Easter. Today this “ordinary” person from long ago is still known and remembered all over the world.
Prayer: Help us to remember Mary as we go through our lives. God loves us too and has known about us and our potential even before we were born. Let us listen for God’s call and meet it with joy and acceptance, based on our religious knowledge and faith. Let us have religious mentors like Elizabeth. Remind us that it is acceptable to ponder events in our hearts and to ask questions, as Mary did. Comfort us as the angel Gabriel did when he said, “Do not be afraid” (Luke 1:30). Help us to face the challenges of the present and the future. Even though we may seem ordinary, help us to live extraordinary lives as God’s servants. Amen.